by Gene Trimble
ALPINE CLUB, KETCHUM, IDAHO, 1938
Casino chip collectors will collect any chip that is not already in their collection. I know because I am one of them. Chips with initials can be very hard to identify, where they were used at, and most collectors do not even try. I have a passion to know where, when, and why. The GMH chips are what collectors call “Illegals.” Illegal casinos flourished in the US from right after prohibition through roughly 1960. I have well over 2,000 different identified chips from illegal casinos and at least that many that may never be identified. That will give you some idea just how many illegal casinos there was. Estes Kefauver put a big dent in them with his hearings in 1952. Bobby Kennedy ended the era of the illegal casinos in 1961 when he closed 150 Kentucky casinos that had been operating since the middle 1930’s. The Arrowhead Inn 5 part series is a 30 year history of one family that ran illegal casinos.
The GMH chips were left on the doorstep of a children’s After School Program in Riggins ID as a donation. Diane Thach, one of the volunteers at the program had some spare time and went to the internet to try to find out something about the chips. She found me and both of us have been on a search mission for several months.
Clay chips with hot stamped initials and insignias on them started appearing in the early 20th century. Some of the 1st ones were made at the United States Playing Card Company in Cincinnati, OH, roughly 1915-47. USPC has made their records available to collectors but they only have records for chips with inlays on them. The GMH is a hot stamped chip. They were manufactured as blanks by USPC and sold to distributors for hot stamping and then sale. The 25 small rectangles around the rim of the GMH chip is called a mold. This mold is called the HUB Mold. Most of the old distributors had molds unique to their companies. All HUB mold chips were distributed by the H.E. Mason & Co, Chicago, Newark, St Louis, and San Francisco, 1926 through the early 90’s. In their heyday Mason was perhaps the largest chip distributor in the US.
A number of the old chip distributors records have been found and purchased by collectors. The Mason records with some 15,000 cards is one of the records purchased by collectors. The Mason records are now owned and copywritten by Gaming Archaeology in Minden, NV. The Mason record for the GMH chips shows they were sent to L.D. Sweeney, Hailey, ID, 1938 for use at the Alpine Club in Ketchum. Note on the card says “See C.H. Davis.” After studying and researching 100’s of these cards, the note tells me C.H Davis also bought chips for use at the Alpine but they had different initials on them. The cards are in alphabetical order by the initials on the chips. It would be a major undertaking to look for the record of the C.H. Davis chips. Just having this information should be enough but remember, above I mentioned my passion.
What does GMH stand for in relationship to the Alpine? In most cases the initials stand for the name of the club or the person that is operating the gaming in the club, which in most cases is the person buying the chips. In some cases I have found the initials stand for one initial of 3 different people. I believe that might be the case here. After a number of phone calls to some very helpful people in Ketchum, I found Glendora Owens in Shoshone who bought the Alpine from Ted Tintinger in the 50’s. She told me she thought Tintinger had moved to Las Vegas and opened a bar. I live in Las Vegas so it should be easier from this point on. No such luck. No record of any kind that Tintinger ever stepped foot in LV. No drivers license, no business license, and no gaming license. My purpose for helping the After School Program identify the chips was to add value to the chips to raise money for them. The information I had obtained to date was good enough to sell them into the chip collecting hobby.
Diane had emailed the Ketchum Library for information on the Alpine and received a reply about this time. They had sent her pictures of Ernest Hemingway with comments from his wife about gambling in the Alpine. It seems it was one of Hemingway’s favorite spots in Ketchum. A picture formed in my mind, H in GMH = Hemingway? Not much of a chance but I asked for more time to research the chips. At least we know Hemingway more than likely held some of these chips in his hand as he made bets on the roulette table.
I was going through posts on the chip collectors bulletin board and by chance opened a post from a fellow collector that was putting up a web site for casino ashtrays. He was showing a tray from the Alpine Club in Ely NV which closed in 1956. I had never gotten around to researching chips from Ely but this tray certainly caught my eye. I emailed him and in a few minutes he posted a scan of the ashtray from the Alpine Club in Ketchum/Sun Valley. It was apparent I had found Tintinger. Tintinger was listed in the 1955 Ely phone book. Not listed in the 52 or 56 phone books. He had come and gone, no further record of him. NV Gaming Control was formed in 1955 so there was no record of a gaming license and the information it would contain. In my calls to Idaho residents and the library information we received, there are two names that came up more than once. Lou Hill and Posey Gruener could possibly be the H and G on the chips. Lou Hill was mentioned as a possible owner of the Alpine before Tintinger. We have now come to a dead stop of information and hope this article will spur some memories. Did Tintinger own the Alpine in 1938? Did Lou Hill ever own it? Who is GMH?
UPDATE - In September 2009, Diane emailed me as follows:
"I had a phone call from Doug Lighfoot, (who recently moved back to Sun Valley) on Sunday saying he thinks he knows what the GMH stood for. The former owners of the Alpine Club in Sun Valley were George Merrill and Lou Hill. These were the chips that Ernest Hemingway possibly played with when he was living in Sun Valley."
Special thanks to Teddie Daley at the Blaine County Museum, The Ketchum Library, Karen Peterson, Chris Millspaugh, Kerry Ann Armstrong, Glendora Owens, Stefany Mahoney at the Sun Valley Chamber Of Commerce, Gaming Archaeology, and my friends in Ketchum Karen and Mickey Taylor for helping on this project.
I welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org