The End of Chipping History — ?

Taghkanic

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I was looking today at a buy-it-now eBay listing for 20 off-white Paulson THC starbursts. The listing claims they are “mint,” though the photos clearly show some edge nicks, and “rarely up for sale,” though I bought a couple barrels of these a few months ago—mistakenly, thinking they were plain, bright White. Overall they do seem to be in above-average shape. Listing price: $45 + $5 shipping.

So: $50 for 20 starbursts in an unexceptional color, or $2.50 each.

All of the above, I mention as a preamble to the question: Have we reached the end of finding good deals on collectible chips?

The development of the web over the past quarter century has changed every industry which focuses on collectibility: antiques, art, coins, stamps, you name it. The rise of eBay and other auction sites (both high and low), along with the widespread availability of other price data, specifications, production histories, personal speciality sites, not to mention chat sites, means that the highly-specialized information once limited to hobbyists and serious collectors is now widely and readily available.

For example, a good friend who has been dealing in 19th Century American landscape paintings and portraits for over four decades says that his business has shifted dramatically in the past 15 years or so. He used to find new inventory at good prices via sheer legwork: Attending tons of obscure country estate sales, tag sales and auctions, keeping his eyes peeled, working contacts, using his hard-won knowledge and instincts along with persistence and word of mouth to find good deals on known artists, or to rediscover lesser-known figures—and then sell them at a nice profit to collectors. He was in the business of both hunting for value among known quantities, and creating new markets for artists whose talents had previously been under appreciated.

Now, this friend says, the deals and the discoveries have dried up. Everyone has seen Antiques Roadshow, and imagines they have a fortune lurking in grandma’s attic. They have Google and other search engines, to determine whether in fact that old dusty thing is a $5 painting or a $500,000 one. He still makes a living as a dealer, but the profit margins he says are getting narrower and narrower.

So this art-dealer friend has had to find new angles (e.g. buying castoffs from bigger dealers, who sometimes buy large lots of paintings from an estate just to acquire a handful of choice items within it, who then sell off the rest of the stuff they didn’t want cheaply. Another friend built an auction business by developing a relationship with a much larger, international house, which sends along items they handle for estates which they consider “beneath” them—generally good stuff, but worth less than $30-$40K.

Now, I have only been actively collecting for a couple of years. But it feels like for the main types of chips I collect that I came into at the very tail end of a once wide-open market. I got my base sets at (what now seem like) good prices, though at the time I was worried that I was overpaying. I’ve about doubled the size of my two main collections though small purchases on eBay, member-to-member sales here, and occasional finds on other vintage or auction sites. But in the past six months alone, there seems to be some major price inflation. The $2.50 off-white Starbursts above I would not have expected to see for sale for more than $1/each when I got started.

We saw this play out recently as a brand new member—who clearly had no clue about the value of her Paulson collection, and was here only to sell—tumbled onto the site, asked around, and eventually sold her big collection of Starbursts for what presumably was a solid price (since my reasonable-but-lower offer was rejected).

On the plus side, people can find stuff for sale which would never have come to our attention in a pre-Internet world. On the downside, it is hard to know where to look for deals. There are more sellers, and more opportunities to buy, than ever before. But almost no one is giving it away at less than true market value. And that value keeps creeping up, especially as deeper-pocketed collectors become attuned to a once-obscure market, and begin to pay prices which others once considered inconceivable. Then every seller starts to think: Rather than just sell these at cost, or a modest profit, or even a nice profit, I’m going to shoot for the moon and try to get Eff You Money.

So where can one still look for value? What for chip collectors is the equivalent of having an “edge” at a poker table? These are the main categories I can think of:

(1) The Ignorant: This would be deals from sellers who neither understand the value of what they have, and don’t bother to find out. Maybe someone’s unmarried uncle dies, and leaves behind a garage full of poker gear. His niece or nephew treats it as just stuff to put out at a yard sale, or on Craigslist. And somehow they don’t think to Google “value of old poker chips” or talk to an appraiser. Problem: These are increasingly few and far between. And if you don’t live nearby, you will probably miss the deals.

(2) The Impatient: There will always be sellers who either do not have the patience, or the interest, or the financial necessity to liquidate good chips at top value. They just want to get rid of them, or don’t have the time to research and properly sell what they have, or just don’t just need the money badly enough to try hard. As with sales by The Ignorant, finding these is likely to be a fluke.

(3) The Desperate: OTOH, one may sometimes run into sellers who just need some cash in a hurry, and knowingly part with chips (or other goods) below market value to get it. As with the previous two categories, such sales are less and less likely thanks to eBay and other sites. If you put a desirable collection up for sale, you can reap a windfall within a week or so; if you put a Buy It Now price on it, then you could cash on it within hours.

(4) Goodwill & Fair Trades: Within the chipping community, it appears that there are still opportunities to acquire something you want at a fair price by trade or other mutually-beneficial exchanges. Here, you’re not really getting a “deal” per se, but the profit element is taken out of the equation.

(5) Underdeveloped Markets: As with venture capital and other investments, sometimes you have to look much farther afield to find a deal, or identify some strange niche which others are overlooking. Say if, hypothetically, someone spotted some type of Bakelite or Catalin chip once made by a certain manufacturer, which had some under appreciated appeal, there appear to be tons and tons of those resin chips out there for cheap, waiting to be picked over... And maybe by promoting the history of this particular chip, and promoting its virtues, some kind of market could be redeveloped for them. (Unlikely, I know. Just trying to imagine an example.) But are there really any such neglected niches left to explore?​

Maybe I’m way off base here, or exaggerating the problem. If so, I am sure people will say so. Just as The End of History has been declared many times for world events, probably there are many chapters left to write for chipping. But I do kind of think the chip “industry” and community of buyers and sellers has now reached some maturation/saturation point, where finding good deals is going to just get harder and harder.

[And I know, I know: TL;DR]
 
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allforcharity

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Deals are hard to find. Sometimes when you find one you can get screwed. I am almost completely out of the market until by buyer fraud dispute gets resolved.
 

moose

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You are talking about a guy who wants to sell paintings for a profit. Are you suggesting that you wish to do the same for chips and lament the lack of value that you can profit from?

I am not understanding your complaint here. If you are a collector or in need of chips you pay what the market rate is for chips. If you feel the market is unaffordable then don't buy. $2.50 a chip for starbursts is a terrible price but you were willing to pay it. So you have established what you are willing to pay for the chips you want. If no-one was willing to pay that price then the listing would have gone unsold and in general prices would fall.
 

Taghkanic

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(A) I did not pay that $2.50 price; the example was meant to illustrate the opposite, what I am not willing to pay. At least, for that color, and in that condition. When I bought two similar barrels a while ago, the prices were lower, and the condition of the chips better.

(B) This is not so much a complaint as my honest description of a situation as I see it. I think that situation is unfortunate, but also kind of inevitable. I also try above to set forth the limited situations where decent deals still can be had.

(C) I am not in the chip “market” as a seller. Moreover, I have no intention of selling the chips I have bought, except potentially (i) to get rid of unwanted chips I might get in a larger lot, which is analogous to how the art dealer above still gets some good deals; or (ii) if I decide I wish to replace some part of my collection with something else.

For example, if I could find some more butterscotch chips, I would start to have enough Paulsons in a second set of colors to make a separate cash set, and would probably liquidate my H-molds. In either case, I would only be looking to get back reasonable value, not to make a large profit.

(D) My chip collections are meant to be used. I have one large tournament set, and another of similar size which I use for cash games. The chips have utility beyond their “market” value, and thus do not have to increase in value to be a good purchase. That said, I don’t like to overpay for anything, including poker chips.

Like most human beings, I take some basic pleasure from getting good deals, whether it’s on concert tickets or a used car or poker chips or whatever. It’s better than feeling like you got fleeced, anyway. That said, I’m mainly just saying that it seems more and more difficult now to add to or improve my collections without overpaying.

(4) While the art dealer’s motivation may be in some ways different—mainly, he is trying to make a living—I think it is still a relevant example in that it shows how markets are shifting in the internet age. It’s an effect of more accessible and widespread knowledge, and maybe from the demographics of this particular market. (Very rich guys tend to like stuff like fancy cigars, high-end booze and assembling a glitzy game room in their McMansions.) His motivation is also similar in some ways: He loves art, and likes to profit from his interest in art. I love poker, and ideally I can make money from that interest, far more from playing than collecting.

The chips that I buy are objects I appreciate aesthetically, and also hope to profit from owning (but mainly by being a winning player, not by smart chip investments). I also can justify their purchase by knowing that if I either lose interest in poker someday, or need that money back, or just pass them on to heirs, they will likely retain their value, or increase in value.

I still feel that from what I have observed here, on eBay and elsewhere that the chip market, if that is the right world, has reached a point of maturity and saturation which makes it difficult to get what I want without paying through the nose. It’s like if you always coveted some kind of vintage car, and finally got the cash together to buy one, but then for some reason (say, a Hollywood movie comes out featuring that car) it becomes trendy and the price jumps, again out of reach.

But maybe you don’t have this problem. That’s fine. I am just throwing it out there to see what other people think. It’s possible this is not happening with other types of chips than the ones I collect. But if anything, I seem to see even more intense bidding and price inflation on the true “collectibles” than, say, Starbursts.
 
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Milo013

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I think it is a natural progression of anything that is collectible. Far worse in my eyes are the people who think they "have something" and are looking for top dollar for something that is just not that valuable at all. "These dice chips have been in the family since Grand-pappy came back from Viet Nam" Buy it now for $500.00. I see this all the time with older shaving gear. somebody has a straight razor that belonged to their grandfather and thinks that, because it's 100 years old, it has to valuable. Never mind that the blade has been honed down to half it's size, is rusted to hell and has a nice chunk taken out of the middle. They might list that as "a little wear". LOL

Just have to look harder and longer to find what you're looking for, and know what it is actually worth beforehand.
 

Taghkanic

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The deals are out there but require effort and attention bordering on obsession:

Your $325-for-3,700 chip haul: Now that’s living the dream. It may not happen to any of us, no matter how assiduous we are in scanning sites like Craigslist. (Analogy: I won an incredible quads-over-quads hand last year, and may never have anything like that happen again at a poker table.) The seller would appear to fall in category (1), (2) or (3). Congrats.
 

Taghkanic

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P.S. If you want to sell subscriptions to that email feed, you might have at least one taker here...
 

Trihonda

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I think these prices has spurned an interest into CPC customs. Certainly makes them a more viable option given the prices of Paulsons.
 

dennis63

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The OP says a lot. But there have been many other factors and happenings which have changed the landscape of chip collecting.

I got into this 10 years ago. At that time, the saying was simple. If it didn't cost $1 or more, it wasn't a real casino chip. New Paulsons were around $1.25, and used were at least $1. There were a few boutique chips around, like Proteges, for $1.25 or more.

Paulson was still making Classics, National Poker Series and World Top Hat & Cane chips and selling them to the public. I think T.R. King was still making chips, or had just folded. Blue Chip Company was still making clay. ASM was making chips for casinos and card rooms, and made chips for people on the blue site in between, pretty much for cost. Jim offered quantity discounts, and was probably going below cost on some orders.He wasn't trying to get rich on the home players. He just wanted to keep the people and machines working at the plant in Portland in between the larger orders.

The "chip designer" carried the colors and spots of all three companies. There was actual competition for home market orders. And when someone with a big collection of chips decided to go for a new set, they needed to sell their old chips below cost. I got my first 1,600 used Key Wests for about 89 cents each. I still have all of them, and they look like new.

Paulson sold to GPI, and GPI got out of the home market. They also bought out just about everybody else, or their equipment. T.R. King and Blue Chip went out of business. Jim happily retired, and Michael Daumbach took over at ASM. Shortly after, ASM moved to Vegas and stumbled into the hands of a guy who hated this hobby. ASM eventually closed, and for 101 days, GPI was the only company in the world actually making clay chips.

Lucky for us that Classic Poker Chips stepped in bring back the old ASM process.

Ebay promotes itself as a place you can get a good deal. In reality, people on ebay sell things for high retail price. If I want to know what something actually costs, I look on ebay and subtract 10 percent.

Craigslist? If I want to buy stolen goods, or get stabbed in an alley by a guy advertising something he never had to begin with, I'd look on Craigslist.

The players have changed. The times have changed. The prices have changed. You also may be simply looking in the wrong place. I don't think it's the end. It's just different than what it once was.
 
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colter ripton

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I still find deals once in a while, but I agree the price of chips has gotten rediculious..... when I first started collecting back in the blue wall days I was paying probably like 1/2 to 1/4 of current prices, and that wasn't that long ago.........
When paulson stopped making home market chips the price went way up......i think the only way to get it back down, is if they started making them again.

And I also agree the customs have become more popular and a much better option since the price of casino chips have gone up...... I have been considering my first custom set myself....... maybe next year, going to be paying for a pretty expensive set this weekend.
 

Taghkanic

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But there have been many other factors and happenings which have changed the landscape of chip collecting.

Great review. There are always structural shifts driving social/economic changes, and that’s obviously as true of chipping as anything else.

As far as looking in the wrong places: I’ll be transparent, and disclose the places I look at most:

eBay
Craigslist
Etsy
FB Marketplace
PCF
ChipDonkeys
Rubylane
1stDibs
LetGo
EBTH

Some of these seldom if ever turn up anything. But I still look.

What am I missing? ;^)
 

MatB

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If average price of poker chips is $1.50 then $1 is a good deal.

If average is now $3 then $2 is a good deal.

there will always be good deals.
 

Ethan

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“The chips that I buy are objects I appreciate aesthetically, and also hope to profit from owning.”

This is the source of your anguish. You (and honestly... I) hope to profit off of our pleasure. Collecting chips. The possibility and ease of doing so is dimishing.

Edit: I think I made a mess of what I meant late last night in my muddled state. :confused: I don't collect poker chips to make money. Heck, we all enjoy good deals. I will certainly supply them just as I have been fortunate enough to receive them when I part with chips.

Also, thanks for the tips on the search methods, @Taghkanic (y) :thumbsup:
 
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Taghkanic

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“The chips that I buy are objects I appreciate aesthetically, and also hope to profit from owning.” This is the source of your anguish. You (and honestly... I) hope to profit off of our pleasure. Collecting chips. The possibility and ease of doing so is dimishing.


Per above, the profit I was referring to is winnings from playing in games using these chips. Long-term, I’m a winning player in the games I host. Not the most winning player in these games, but up there. My chips are “profitable” in the sense that if they contribute to a quality game which consistently attracts players, then they contribute to any winnings from it.

Also per above, my basic hope is that my chips will retain their value, so that in effect I am just “renting” them at low or no cost. If someday I sell them for what I paid (plus inflation), that rental winds up being free. If I sell them for a modest profit, great, but I am not banking on that, or requiring it. Indeed, I am just a little dismayed by the relatively rapid inflation which I see happening, as it means a bigger outlay for expanding/improving my sets.

If said “anguish” derived solely from wanting to make a profit off resale of chips, I should be all in favor of rapid inflation—since I already own several thousand choice chips, which are increasing in value.
 

Taghkanic

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If average price of poker chips is $1.50 then $1 is a good deal.

If average is now $3 then $2 is a good deal.

there will always be good deals.


I get that in theory. The thing is, this assumes there will always be a ready supply of below-market sellers. I’m suggesting that supply is drying up, because of the internet, scarcity, and other factors such as the ones well-enumerated by @dennis63.

My sense is that the deviation from that steadily-increasing average is getting smaller on the downside, meaning fewer and fewer sellers who offer chips below whatever the current average is. The gap between the average and the deal appears (to me) to be collapsing. Higher prices, but fewer good deals.

The formula above posits good deals at 1/3 off the average. $1.50 : $1 is followed by $3 : 2. But I expect the next step in that curve is $4 :$3 and then $5 : $4 etc., until the gap is quite small. Only by a fluke find and a truly ignorant/careless seller might one land a “good” deal. I’d love to be wrong. But when was the last time I really felt I made a score? Not lately.

Meanwhile, it seems more and deeper-pocketed buyers are entering the market, driving that average up at a faster rate than before, and giving sellers less and less incentive to just let them go at the former, more “reasonable” markup.

My main takeaway from reading the comments and thinking about this some more, is that it just makes forums like this more essential to chippers—since trades are going to become the best avenue for those without unlimited budgets.
 

Taghkanic

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This highlights one of my angles on searching for deals—put words like “vintage” or “clay” or “old” in the search, but leave out words like Paulson, Christy & Jones, THC, RHC, ASM, HCE, H-mold, A-mold, etc. If the seller even knows such terms, they are unlikely to be cheap. Sometimes I just search for poker chip cases, as some less-knowledgeable sellers think the case is more valuable than whatever old, chalky chips happen to be inside.
 

upNdown

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I hear what you’re saying. I’ve only been paying attention to poker chips for a couple of years but I feel like I’ve already witness this ramping up of crazy demand and willingness to pay crazy prices.
Not a crazy example, but the one I think of (because I own some) is the Golden Eagle $5. Spinetti’s had these sitting on the shelf for who knows how long. Last year he offered them for sale here at $240 per rack, and still couldn’t dump them all, quickly, Now, a year later, they’re finally gone, and people are listing them at $300 a rack and they sell within minutes.
Probably a better Spinettis example is the TRK chips - I didn’t track those closely so I can’t quote prices. But I know a year ago, Spinettis had a lot of TRKs for what seemed like pricey prices, but a year later they’re all gone and we’d probably all jump at them for those old prices.
And I know this has been going of for years. I’ve read the prices that the chip room sold some of its chips for, back in the day.
I would have guessed that there wasn’t room for things to get much crazier, but all of a sudden we have the Star chips and people are tripping over one another to pay $5/chip or more for those. So who knows where it ends?
 

Taghkanic

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I hear what you’re saying. I’ve only been paying attention to poker chips for a couple of years but I feel like I’ve already witness this ramping up of crazy demand and willingness to pay crazy prices.


Is it just that more chippers are being born every day, and supply is not really expanding much? Or that interest in chips is not just expanding, but expanding among people with more disposable income? Or maybe just that the original chip community is older now, and has more to spend?

(I’d put the Empress/Aurora Star phenomenon in a different category than vintage chips which have sat on the shelves for years, then suddenly get hot.)
 

Rhodeman77

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I think these prices has spurned an interest into CPC customs. Certainly makes them a more viable option given the prices of Paulsons.

It was one of the key factors in my decision to get my custom set. It very hard to justify when I could buy PCA secondary chips for $1 each. Now that those days are gone most of what I have been spending my chipping dollars in is CPC customs.
 

upNdown

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Or maybe just that the original chip community is older now, and has more to spend?
Maybe they have more disposable income because of chipping. All those mint PCA’s they bought for a buck that they can sell for $4, etc?

I have no idea where the new chippers are all coming from. I remember looking into Paulsons back around the poker boom years, read they were a buck a chip, and decided dice chips were fine. Why did I decide to take the plunge a decade later when they’re harder to get and prices are higher? No idea.
 

Taghkanic

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I have no idea where the new chippers are all coming from.


Me neither. (And in fact I can’t prove there are more—but anecdotally, it sure seems like it.)

Influxes of new poker players have been attributed to TV and movies (e.g. Moneymaker boom, Rounders). I wonder if somehow TV is generating interest in chips, though I can’t ever think of chips being a focus of a broadcast...

I do remember my own interest being piqued just by the sound of chips being riffled in YouTube hands. Thinking, huh, that sounds way cooler than our home game chips from Wally World. I know, pathetic.

Did I miss something on PokerGo? Some article in GQ or the Robb Report? OK, I got nuthin’.
 
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Poker Zombie

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To the collectors that lament the prices of 7-10 years ago...
  • There was a recession. The largest since the Great Depression. Some people were dumping everything just to keep their home. Some were dumping everything because they lost their home and had no place to keep poker chips.
  • Black Friday. People were buying poker chips, tables, accessories like crazy from the mid 2000s until Black Friday came along. While most of that was just junk, there were plenty of "less serious" poker players that were buying nice chips, because they were within their economic grasp. Then the country soured on poker. Poker wasn't on TV as often, and less serious home games dried up. Those chips came flooding back onto the market.
  • Expendable income. Look at the number of chippers here that have just paid off their homes. Look at the "Decade you were born in" thread. Your biggest competition for buying chips are other collectors, and many of us are in that age-group where we suddenly can find the extra money to spend it on chips.
I'm not discounting that the internet can make anyone with a little inclination to do some research as knowledgeable as the lifetime collector. But really, if your biggest gripe is not being able to take advantage of someone's ignorance for your own profit - you might just want to reassess what kind of human being that you really are.
 
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