CHICAGO – Potter & Potter Auctions will hold a sale titled Gambling, Playing Cards & Chips on Thursday, March 17 and Friday, March 18, starting at 10 am Central time on both days. Thursday will feature playing cards, cheating paraphernalia, rare books and casino and gambling chips, and Friday’s lineup will showcase coin-op selections, vintage advertising and beer taps and knobs. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Unsurprisingly, the lineup will feature antique American-made coin-op machines, such as a late 19th-century Caille Bros. Puck 5 Cent musical cabinet estimated at $12,000-$18,000. This working example is 63in tall and includes its original keys.
A second strong entry is a circa-1910 Mills Novelty Company large standing On the Square roulette game, estimated at $8,000-$12,000. The machine was made in Chicago and distributed in Paris; it was modified for French coins by the William K. Company. It features a coin-operated music box, a wooden cabinet with brass fittings and a central medallion depicting Lady Luck.
Books related to gambling and cheating are led by a first edition copy of S.W. Erdnase’s The Expert at the Card Table, estimated at $6,000-$9,000. It was printed by the author in Chicago in 1902 and is illustrated with more than 100 drawings “from life” by Marshall D. Smith. This book is described by Martin Gardner in his introduction to the 1995 edition as “the most carefully studied book ever published on the art of manipulating cards at gaming tables.” In 2019, Potter sold a similar example for nearly $17,000.
Equally notable is F.R. Ritter’s Combined Treatise on Advantage Card Playing and Draw Poker, estimated at $6,000-$9,000. This 1905 volume is from the Ken Klosterman collection and is illustrated with halftones showing blot-out, shade, line, scroll and other marked cards, as well as hold-outs (including the first-known published photograph of a Jacob’s Ladder-style sleeve hold-out), false cuts and deals. In 2018, Potter sold a fine copy of this book for $12,000.
Examples of playing cards and gambling chips on offer include a near mint set of Murphy Varnish transformation playing cards, estimated at $4,000-$6,000. This circa-1883 comical transformation deck was published by Andrew Dougherty. The card backs are decorated in red with leaves and a charioteer in a Murphy Varnish chariot.
Another standout is a pack of 12 of Jerry’s Nugget Casino Las Vegas playing cards, estimated at $3,000-$5,000. Printed by USPC in Cincinnati in the 1970s, the grouping includes six shrink-wrapped red backs and six shrink-wrapped blue backs.
Eminently worthy of mention is an assemblage of Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) chips from the collection of Robert Eisenstadt, estimated at $2,000-$3,000. The grouping includes around 1,000 examples organized in three binders. The chips are made from clay, metal, plastic and composition materials and are decorated in numerous ways. Some have denominations and others do not.
Vintage cheating apparatus is, of course, a key category in the March auction. Of particular interest is a Will & Finck gaffed faro box, estimated at $1,000-$2,000. It was manufactured in San Francisco at the turn of last century and made from German silver.
Another Will & Finck item to watch is a faro case-keeper estimated at $1,500-$2,500. This hand-painted example was produced in San Francisco in the late 1800s and features a hardwood frame and boxwood faces in the suit of clubs. It is marked with a star symbol and the Will & Finck mark.
The auction also includes selections of breweriana, erotica and antiques that defy traditional categories. Certain to turn heads is a 1920s-era American Fotoplayer Style 35 silent movie player piano/sound effect machine, estimated at $20,000-$40,000. It is comprised of a player piano flanked by two matching cabinets containing drums, tambourines, horns, wood blocks, sleigh bells and other sound effect-producing devices. The machine comes with its original bench and a cabinet filled with about 120 rolls, approximately one third of which are original vintage Picturolls. This is an uncommon relic of the silent film era and one of perhaps 50 or fewer surviving examples.
Rounding out the highlights is a right-facing sculpture of a young woman, carved to decorate a dance organ or a similar automatic music machine. Estimated at $2,000-$4,000, it takes the form of a bare breasted maiden with flowers in her hair and castanets in either hand. The signature of its sculptor, G. Van der Merch, is carved in gilt letters on the base. Lot #706 in this sale is the matching, left-facing carved dancer of this pair.
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