February 6, 2011

An Explanation of Chicago Trade Tokens

Editor's Note: We've recently featured a number of images of trade tokens from local area watering holes. (Type "token" into the search bar at the top and they should pop up.) Regular correspondent Bill Matteson explains their purpose.

Bill Matteson
Uptown Chicago History Correspondent

In most bars in the 30s 40s and into the early 50s there was a "26 girl." She was in a small booth or kiosk as we would describe it today. Her job was to entice customers into spending more money by gambling, shaking the container with dice in it. They would play a game called 26.

I think if you threw the five dice and it totaled up to 26 points you won. But they couldn't give you money--that's gambling. But this being Chicago, there was always a way around the law.

You were paid off in tokens or chits that were good for drinks only. If you lost, the "26 girl" kept the money and at the end of the night she would split with the bar. Of course, she would accept drinks from all the patrons, which she never drank; she would split that money, also. And she got tips.

When my mom would find tokens or chits in my dad's pocket, there was hell to pay; she was only 4'11", but when she got her Irish up, we all ran.

Speaking of working around the law. Bingo was outlawed, too. Hello Darto! We had carnivals come around the neighborhood every so often. In a vacant lot on Leland, just east of Winthrop, a carnival with rides and pitch games would set up for a day or two before moving to Leland and Clarendon. They played Darto, since Bingo was outlawed. Numbered balls were pulled just like in Bingo. It was strange to hear the caller: D5 A22 R30...

Only in Chicago


If you have questions for Bill of what it was like to grow up in Uptown, e-mail us at editor(a)compassrose.com and we'll pass them along. Also, if you have your own memories of Uptown you'd like to share, we'd love to hear them. And if you have pictures, all the better!


clarendon park said...

aah, those 26 girls, they were an attraction, very good looking, and very savvy, if you already had a few cocktails you couldn't win at 26, because after you rolled the dice and started your count, the 26 girl would palm one of the dice. It didn't matter how hard you tried 4x6 is only 24, as my mother told me, she even demonstrated it to me

Anonymous said...

This is the way 26 was played. There were 10 dice and a dice cup. You picked a number on the die - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. Then you rolled all 10 dice 13 times. Say you picked 6 as your number. If the number 6 came up 26 times or more in those 13 roles, you won. A 25 cent bet paid $1.

Darn near every bar, nightclub or tavern had the game until it was oulawed in 1962. Even fancy hotels had 26 girls. At one time the Tribune said 5,000 26 girls were working in Chicago.


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