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.
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.
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.