Mother-of-Pearl counters, hand-made by the Chinese between 1720 and 1840 are by far the most exquisite example of gambling items made by man.
Many, if not most, counters were made in sets and commissioned by individuals (note the script “L” on the counter in the photo).
According to Dale Seymour, in his book Antique Gambling Chips, “counters can be dated to within fifteen years by style and within two years from records.”
It is estimated that somewhere between 2000 to 2500 monogrammed counters sets were made.
Counters in the U.S. were used in card games and referred to as “Chips”.
M.O.P. comes from the inner shell of the pearl oyster and is of the same material as a pearl. The Chinese would remove the outer portion of the shell by grinding and then hand carve the inner shell and then polish the final product. This was a very time-intensive activity resulting in many man hours to complete a single set of counters.
Check out the nice selection of Chinese M.O.P. counters for sale at Old West Antiques.