Gaming Counters

Gaming counters, or gaming tokens, were held by individuals and used over and over again when playing a wide range of games, particularly gambling ones. Values would be set at the start of each session and payment would be made at the end, when each player would again collect up their own personal counters for use at another time.

1720-1727 counters

Counters were made of various materials, some simple metal or wood cut as a circle or square, and etched or stamped with basic marks. (see pic to right)

Wealthier individuals could, of course, have elaborately designed counters created for them, personalized in some instances, and using costly materials such as mother of pearl, ivory, and rare woods. If specially made, ofttimes the counters were kept in sturdy velvet-lined boxes for protection as well as ease in carrying to the Gentleman’s Club or gambling establishment.

boxes counters
game counters

As you can see from the examples above, the possibilities were endless. Fish shapes, as it happens, were popular during the Regency. Jane Austen noted this in Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he received at the other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger of Lydia’s engrossing him entirely, for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fond of lottery tickets, she soon grew too much interested in the game, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes, to have attention for any one in particular. … Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won…

While actual lotteries did exist, in this passage Austen is referring to a card game called “Lottery” with fish used as the counters.

The bowl in the above picture was a common addition in games with a “pot” or “pool” for the winnings. Note the variety of counters in the bowl, this being typical because each player would bring their own counters to the game. This meant that special bowls were also created for particular games and/or establishments. To the rights is a bowl of pained wood, specifically for Quadrille, a fashionable card game that required the use of ivory or mother-of-pearl gaming counters. The “pool” kept the counters orderly on the card table.

For many games generic counters were adequate, but there were games that required tokens designed just for the game. Some examples are below.

Quadrille pool 1780-1800
counters for the game of reversino, a French board game
whist tokens
whist markers
whist markers
whist markers



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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Great info! I love it when you tie it into your book excerpts! My S.L. folder is growing into an encyclopedia of regency info. Grin.

Brenda Webb

Thank you for sharing this Sharon. Who knew that the ‘fish’ were markers? I have to agree with Stephanie that the game of “Go Fish” makes one think of the possibility of it deriving from the fish markers. Something to ponder.

Steve Diatz

I actually have about 75 of those mother of pearl counters: rounds, squares, diamonds, rectangles, ovals and ‘fish’ shapes, assorted. Bought them 27 years ago on Portobello Road market….the whole lot for 10 pounds. Keep them in a nice inlaid small wood box. Even though I have been involved in many instances of (re-created) Georgian gaming (at balls, soirees, living history events, etc), I rarely trot these out, since they are very delicate and just haven’t found a situation that called for such a nice bit of gaming accoutrements, save for just display purposes.

Jennifer Redlarczyk

Some of these counters are really beautiful! Love it! ~jen red~

Stephanie L

For once in my life, that comment about fish won and lost makes perfect sense. I always slide over it because my brain always goes to the childhood game of “Go Fish” and assuming its a card game because of that. You are just a wealth of knowledge my dear. =D Always improving my mind and understanding.

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