Stu Ungar Artifact For Sale (Collecting Poker Memorabilia)
One normally doesn’t think of poker as a game with memorabilia.
After all, poker isn’t like football or baseball — where balls, bats, uniform jerseys and other rare artifacts can sometimes fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars. No matter how rare or unusual the item, it’s hard to imagine any poker artifact being worth much to a collector or viewed in the public eye as a cherished national treasure.
Some notable exceptions could be old decks of cards used in the old World Series of Poker championships dating back to the 1970s, and other keepsakes like table felts, chips, and various items which are exceptionally rare and have a unique story behind them. Too bad most of them are long gone now. For instance, if someone could dig up Doyle Brunson’s famous 10-2 off-suit, and by that I mean the actual cards that won world poker championships back-to-back in 1976 and 1977, one presumes they would attract significant interest at Christie’s Auction. However, most items which may have ultimately become collectible were either tossed away or destroyed — except for poker chips, which is now a cottage industry all its own (see some of Andy Hughes postings on Facebook about chip collecting, which are history lessons in themselves).
Recently, I was contacted by a person I don’t know who is currently auctioning off a unique item on ebay. He somehow gained possession of Stu Ungar’s official chip count slip from the 1997 World Series of Poker, after players bagged chips at the end of Day One. Ungar went on to win the Main Event that year. These slips are quite common in tournament poker today, used almost daily by top pros, and aren’t particularly valuable. Even slips of paper with the signatures of contemporary stars — such as Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu — probably wouldn’t be worth very much. They’re just way too common.
However, a major exception might be Stu Ungar’s chip count slip, and not just because it’s from the final triumph of his storied career. What makes this item quite especially unique is that it’s one of the more readable autographs I’ve seen from Ungar. Perhaps some background here is in order.
Stu Ungar lived 45 years. He died in 1998. While he lived, he rarely signed anything. Ungar didn’t have a bank account. He never wrote a personal check. He didn’t use credit cards. At a time when he was pretty much acknowledged as the best player in the world, there was no market for his autograph. Poker players weren’t celebrities like they are today. And so, Stu Ungar autographs have become exceptionally rare. That this item also bears significant historical connection to his third world title (a record unlikely ever to be broken), means that it’s priceless.
I have no connection to the seller, Frank J. Marci. I have nothing to gain from him attracting a higher bid or eventually selling this item. Nonetheless, I do find the subject interesting. Somewhat concerned with how these poker artifacts are trafficked, I contacted Mr. Marci and asked how he managed to obtain the chip count slip. I was there at the 1997 WSOP when Ungar won, and didn’t recall his name.
He wrote back to me with the following explanation:
The story is not very glamorous but it is the truth. I had always wanted an Ungar autograph but had come across nothing but poor forgeries. I suppose when Ungar was in his prime, poker autographs were not really sought after. My first attempt at a legit autograph was to actually go to the Oasis Motel where he was found dead in the hopes that the motel might have kept the log book that Ungar supposedly signed before his demise. The motel manager whose name I believe was Peter said the log book was most likely in a land fill somewhere.
A few years later, Leaf trading cards released a product called Razor Poker which contained genuine poker player autographs and was boasting that one genuine Stu Ungar auto would be in a pack for a lucky finder. Well that auto to my knowledge never did surface. After this, I decided to email the owner of Leaf trading cards who told me that he had 3 Ungar chip count cards remaining. These were similar to the one he put in a pack of Razor Poker cards. He sent me scans of the cards and I began to see if I could attach the chip count from any to an actual tournament. When I saw that one matched immediately to his 1997 World Championship, I bought it immediately.
I wish Mr. Marci well. I hope someone buys this item and will take care of it as the rare treasure that it is, one of the few remaining collectibles from poker’s past. Too bad that we don’t value things from history as much as we should. Perhaps if we start holding onto the reminders of our past that matter, we can enjoy and reflect upon them later, and future generations can come to know the name Stu Ungar, and other departed greats.
No doubt, this item is One of a Kind.
Click HERE to see the auction page on ebay.
Here’s the official daily report from the first day of the 1997 WSOP Main Event (produced by Conjelco.com — courtesy Chuck Weinstock), which authenticates Stu Ungar’s chip count: