My first trip to Nevada was in 1981, and I swiped a few ashtrays as souvenirs. I did think the chips looked cool, and would make neat souvenirs...but the "thrifty" side of me said that picking up chips as souvenirs would be like picking up money as souvenirs...who would do that? I did pick up 1-3 fractional, but that was it.
Jump forward in time, probably around 1991-2, found a "Joe W. Brown's Horseshoe Club" ashtray. Who? Didn't Benny Binion own the Horseshoe Club? Bought the ashtray...it was about a quarter, at a local flea market. Checked a couple of books that I had (Green Felt Jungle, and something by Barney Vinson), and found no mention of Joe W. Brown. More or less forgot about it.
A year or two later, at an antique/collectibles show, found a postcard with the Million dollar display...Joe W. Brown's Horseshoe Club, Million dollar display. Him again? Who is he?
Bought the postcard and sent a letter to Barney Vinson asking if he knew who Joe W. Brown was. I think we left for Las Vegas before I received the response...or maybe I did get a response from Barney, before going to Las Vegas. Anyway, I took a copy of the postcard to Las Vegas. We were at the Horseshoe eating breakfast, I think, and there were a couple of guys at a nearby table. They were obviously "suits" from the 'Shoe. I got up the courage to go over and show them my photocopy, and ask them about Joe W. Brown. They told me that He owned the Horseshoe for a few years back in the 1950's...or something like that.
A day or so later, we were at an antique shop and I saw "our" ashtray. I asked an employee about it, and she told me to wait a minute, there was someone else who could tell me about him. A man came in and when I asked about Joe W. Brown, he got very excited! He told me to wait, he had something to show me, then literally ran up some stairs, and came back down with a Joe W. Brown's Horseshoe Craps Game. He told me the story about Benny going to prison, and Joe W. Brown taking over the Horseshoe. He told me that when he was a kid, he'd helped the Binion kids stuff the craps game boxes!
Soon after, we were at the Gambler's General Store, and I saw Art Anderson's book on Casino Ashtrays. I flipped to the Horseshoe page, and saw my Joe W. Brown ashtray...and the story about Benny going to prison. And the value of my Joe W. Brown ashtray was listed at $12-$15 (I think)!!! And I'd only paid a quarter! And there were other ashtrays that I'd gotten back in 1981...and THEY were worth $5-$10 each!! And they had stories too!! I HAD to buy that book!!!!! I used to laugh at myself for buying a $20 book to get the story of a .25 ashtray. Now I laugh at myself for the thousands of dollars we've spent on ashtrays, to justify the purchase of a $20 book!
And that's how we started collecting casino ashtrays. We used to see the late Bob Matthews at antique/collectible shows, where he sold ashtrays, chips, postcards, etc. He had applications for the CCGTCC, and I decided to join...thinking that if there were people out there that collected chips, some of them might collect ashtrays, too. There were a lot of great ashtrays in the book, and pickings around Michigan were pretty slim (this was before I discovered webtv, or eBay...or computers). Because ashtrays in Michigan were few and far between (once we'd bought Bob's), we bought a few chips from Bob...and started buying postcards, matches, dice, and pretty much anything else we could find from Nevada casinos.
Sorry to be so long-winded...but thanks for the opportunity to reminisce.