Chips, tokens, tallies and cash coins

Tokens were used by businesses all over North America and Chinese businesses had their share. Some were used as gambling chips in clubs. Some games sets (dominoes for instance) contained a single ceramic piece, of unknown use (unknown to me) . Some domino sets also contained black and white "gumdrop" chips, undoubtedly used in betting. Wooden, bamboo and bone "tokens" or tallies were used in commerce and also in gaming. The bamboo tallies had many uses. They are often called "bamboo money". I have read where these have been used in stores as markers identifying a product. The marker was taken to the counter and used to get the item from storage. Also, these were used in gambling halls. The gamblers would purchase them at the door and take them into the gaming room to use as gambling chips. Upon leaving they would be cashed in at the door for real money (if the gambler was lucky and had any left!).

Jerry Schimmel's book "Chinese-American Tokens from the Pacific Coast" was used to identify the chips and tokens. I don't intend to try to build a large collection of tokens, but will obtain those that come my way. There are far too many!

Large clay gambling chips: The red and blue chips were used in the Paradice Saloon in Locke, California. It is thought that the red was $1 and the blue, $10. The pink and green chips are thought to have been used in a travelling game in the Locke (Sacramento County) area. The left pair are Jung Gwok (Middle Kingdom), the right pair, Gum Lee (Golden Profit). The Canadian dime is shown for size comparison purposes.

Large clay gambling chip: Unidentified in Schimmel. Seller listed as from Sacramento. SQSQRT border. Both sides identical.

Large clay gambling or Casino chip. SQSQRT border. An identical blue chip is identified in Schimmel as Lyun On but no red chip is shown. Both sides identical.

Large clay gambling or casino chip. Unidentified in Schimmel. Seller listed as Feng Tien from Oakland, CA, crest and seal chip.

Large clay gambling chip: CSC--Chinese Social Club. Nobody has been able to translate the Chinese character on the reverse.

Old tarnished brass tokens: These were used in the Nam Fong Club in San Francisco in the 1930s. The Nam Fong club was located at 838 Jackson Street in San Francisco and is listed in the San Francisco telephone directories for 1932 and 1933. The photo is enhanced to make the printing on the tokens easier to read.

Scarce brass trade token from Bakersfield, California, Line Wo Co. "GOOD FOR IN TRADE"-- showing both sides of the token. Characters are "Unity" and "Harmony".The token is listed in the 1976 book California Tokens by Charles V. Kappen and is assigned catalog number K-59.

Aluminum token used in the Mai Chow Social Club in San Francisco, California, showing both sides.The token is listed in the 1976 book California Tokens by Charles V. Kappen and is assigned catalog number K-1517. One Chinese character in the centre reads "pretty" and the other one reads "house".

This aluminum token was made in San Francisco but the use is unknown. The obverse side reads Lyun Chung (together we prosper, in Cantonese). The reverse side character is Yat (one (dime), in Cantonese). Thanks to Jerry Schimmel for the translations.

Rare Stockton, CA, Berlin Co. 25 cent brass token. The reverse side characters read, CCW from right, "Five Lakes Grotto". The central characters read "chien baht"= two bits.

Seattle, WA, Ing Jau (Five Continents) aluminum token. Reported to have been used at the Town Club Lido, 511 King Street. Reverse side Ing Houh=50 cents.

Washington State, unlocated token--- aluminum Lok Han (Happy Leisure), reverse side Ing Houh=50 cents.

Portland, Or., Wing Hing Co. Good for 1 cent in trade-- a large tarnished brass token. Wing Hing Co. Portland City Directory 1929-1931 53 1/2 6th N.

Stockton, Ca.--Chung Doh, American Company cigars--1942-43, 1948 on S. Eldorado St. The token is old tarnished brass with both sides the same.

California unlocated, maybe San Francisco. Gung Wo 5 cent and 10 cent brass tokens, good for trade. Obverse and reverse sides of both tokens shown.

California unlocated nickle alloy token--Sam, Good For 25 cents in trade. Both sides are identical.

Unlocated brass token--L.V.M. 10 cents in trade. Both sides are identical.

Unidentified aluminum token---- Yellow Front, Good For 25 cents In Trade. Obverse and reverse sides shown. Obverse reads "Woh Gung" = Harmony (or Peace) Together. According to Jerry Schimmel this token is of a style from the late 1920s, or 1930s and "Yellow Front" possibly refers to a Chinese Political club.

California Dung Wan (East Bay)(Oriental Club) copper token:

Large brass Wah Mee token from the Wah Mee Club, Seattle, Wa.-- 39mm in diameter-----

Min Chin Co. brass token, 24mm in diameter, probably from Portland or Seattle.

Sang Fat Company, Oriental Merchandise, Watsonville, CA. City Directory 1927-1935 listed at 178 Main street--has been erroneously listed as Seattle in other compilations. San cheung gat (new luck profit). Thanks to Jerry Schimmel for the information in his excellent book, Chinese-American Tokens from the Pacific Coast.

Hing Fat Ching, 715 Webster Street, Oakland California-- found in the telephone directories of 1918-1919. Prosperity, abundance and luck.

Yee On nickle alloy token, 5c in trade from Watsonville or Pajaro, California. This company has not been traced despite extensive searches.

Fat Choy (get rich) tokens of Stockton, Ca. Probably issued by The American Company or Palm Club but the issuer is not known for certain.


Here is a string of odd old bone tallies.

Some of these bamboo tallies or "bamboo money" came from an old Chinese store in Florida. As previously mentioned, bamboo money was used in some gambling dens. Wooden tallies were definitely used in the game of Chong Un Ch'au, a dice game.

9 cash coins found in a section of the "Chinese Wall" near Hangtown (Placerville), California (showing both sides of the coins):

Cash coins from other areas. Some of these were purchased from a treasure hunter who found them in the Nevada desert and in Northern California. Others came from Chinatowns in Vancouver, Victoria, Keremeos and other parts of British Columbia. I purchased several of these from the small Pender Street caligraphy shop in the 1970s. Some were dug in Chinatown digs. I have been told that although such coins were originally used in the game of fan tan, eventually a switch was made to white buttons because the buttons could be swept to the floor if the site was raided by police, gambling being illegal.

Reference material is hard to come by and very important. This is a small self-published booklet, "Chinese-American Tokens" by R.F. Herberg, 1970. It predates the Kappen book and provides quite a bit of information on Chinese-American tokens. I recently picked up a copy of "Chinese-American Tokens from the Pacific Coast", compiled and edited by Jerry F. Schimmel. It is an excellent book and a gold mine of information on the establishments that issued the tokens-- a must for any Chinese-American token collector!