Update: The 19th century gambler’s case sold for $6,765.
What you see: A circa 1880 American-made gambler’s case, with several sets of mother-of-pearl chips, a pistol with a mother-of-pearl handle, a full set of playing cards, a cigar cutter with a mother-of-pearl handle, a two-bladed pocket knife with a scrimshawed ivory handle, an ivory dice cup, and miscellaneous dice. Potter & Potter estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.
Why would a gambler need a case with all this gear? Why not rely on house equipment? “You don’t want to miss an opportunity for a game,” says Gabe Fajuri of Potter & Potter. “You’ve got your deck of cards, your chips. Put in your ante, and let’s go.”
The lot description says this 19th century gambler’s case is ‘one of the few gambler’s boxes we have seen composed of apparently all-original material.’ What does that mean? “The problem is, a lot of gambler’s cases end up being put together. Collectors call those ‘fantasy pieces.’ I don’t think that’s true here,” Fajuri says. “Can I prove the dice are original to it? No. Can I prove the cigar cutter, the knife, the gun are original to it? No. But the pieces fit together. The style fits together. They all have the same age and wear. It’s what an antiques dealer would call ‘right.'”
How complete is this 19th century gambler’s case? “It’s hard to say. It’s not like this was a catalog item,” he says. “My guess is [the gambler who commissioned it] said, ‘Please make this to my specifications’ around the gun or the chips.”
Is anything in the 19th century gambler’s case gaffed or altered? “There’s nothing crooked about any of this stuff,” he says. “If you find real cheating devices in a case, you almost have to dismiss it out of hand. It’s not a magician’s case. It’s not hidden away.”
Ivory and mother-of-pearl are luxury materials. Does this mean the gambler who owned this case was successful? “It could be to intimidate [other players] or put them at ease, depending on what he was going for,” he says. “Or maybe he shot somebody and took his stuff. I don’t know.”
Have you had a genuine gambler’s case before at Potter & Potter? “One or two. This is nicer,” Fajuri says. “Again, the feel, the fit, the material used to make it has a quality and an authenticity that makes me feel good about it.”
How to bid: The 19th century gambler’s case is lot 978 in Potter & Potter’s Gambling Memorabilia Auction on May 6 and 7, 2017.
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