February 06, 2016

The Waterman’s Token

[Posted on L&P on May 16, 17, and June 25, 2012.]
        The Waterman’s Utopian tokens are sometimes mistaken for poker chips, but an article in American Stationer,
Sept 14, 1907, pp.16, 18, shows that their original purpose was as good luck “souvenir coins”. The article also helps to put a time stamp on their first availability and currency.
        David Nishimura wrote, “It is not as simple as all that.  A number of us have been aware of the 1907-08 ads for these pieces as good luck tokens, but as the years went by and various caches of tokens were discovered in colors other than the original black–and colors that correspond directly to those used for poker chips–it became clear that something else was going on.  While it is likely that these tokens were originally intended as promotional talismans, there can be no question that at some point the colored versions were run off as gaming tokens.  My theory is that Frank D. Waterman had them made for his personal use, for the same sort of milieu as the Prohibition Pen [a liquor flask disguised as a safety eyedropper fountain pen].”
        And I wrote, “An article titled “Poker Chip Industry” in Am. Stat., June 2, 1906, p.20, reports that in the US “a new industry has sprung into life” during the previous decade, the making of poker chips, which before had been done almost exclusively in Japan.  It goes on to say that US industry is now doing this “patriotic work in furnishing these essentials of the national card game”.  Now, I understand national flowers, and national birds, even national sports, but did you know that the US had a national card game?  Perhaps the Waterman’s red, white, and blue tokens were also part of this nationalistic urge to repatriate this “essential” work.  I’m not making this up. They actually said these things.

George Kovalenko.