Old Vintage Placemats - What are they worth?

  • Posted on: 23 October 2016
  • By: Gina


Most of the “Old” casinos in Reno and Las Vegas are gone now, blown to smithereens to make way for bigger, better, grander buildings, some casinos, some office buildings or whatnot.  Anyway, one of the funkiest old casinos was Harolds Club in Reno.  It’s entire theme was “cowboy”, and it played it to the hilt. 

When I was growing up my father did not like to travel, but the entire family, every year, would go to Clear Lake, California and then on to Reno, Nevada (with side trips for a day to Virginia City.) So, I spent a lot of time while growing up visiting Reno.  My parents weren’t gamblers, they just liked the atmosphere, the restaurants, and going to Virginia City.

Anyway, I have memories of what “old” Reno looked like, even though the only time I ever got into one of these old places was if the family was going to dinner in one of its restaurants.

Little as I was, I remember the huge mural over the entry doors.

Harolds Club neon letters and painted casino front mural

Anyway, while moving I came across something I’d bought at an antique store a few years ago and thought I’d share it with you.  It’s a paper placemat from a restaurant in Harolds Club, and it is in perfect, unused condition. 

So, a little history on Harold’s Club.  It was started by Harold Smith in 1935.  It was funky from the beginning, but it quickly became “the place to visit”, due to an ingenious advertising campaign by Harold’s father Raymond, who went by the moniker “Pappy”.

Raymond created what most believe to be one of the top 10 advertising campaigns of the 20th Century. He did a takeoff of "Pike's Peak or Bust" that created consumer curiosity and established Harold’s Club as a must-see attraction. As oldtimers, employees and even Smith family members have said, "it wasn't much when you got there, but you had to get there." Pappy placed "Harold's Club or Bust" signs all over the country starting in 1941. An old map once hung in one of the hallways and was covered with pins that represented the location of a Harolds Club or Bust sign. Because of this ingenious advertising, and its results, many believe Pappy basically created the Nevada gambling industry. The joint never had gourmet food or expensive decor, but the dealers were friendly and the facility clean. Pappy would even tour the casino and double the bets of table game players. He also had the reputation of sometimes returning ten percent of the losses of hard pieces of evidence exist as testament that some kind hearts which once beat within an exploitive someone who had “lost it all”, and then telling the gambler to use the money to leave town. Who knows how true that is, but there is evidence that the Pappy had a kind heart; the casino's dealers had standing permission to advise players when they were making a dumb bet. Whoa, that wouldn’t happen today!  And Harolds was the first casino in Nevada to hire female dealers. Even after Howard Hughes Summa Corporation purchase of the place in 1970,  the original Smith family employees would stop and advise a player against making a self-defeating play, or give advice when asked.  Again, totally unheard of today.  Even then, at competitors casinos such as the Mapes or Ponderosa, those type of actions would bring automatic firing.

However the casino’s main floor wasn’t the only draw at Harold’s.  There was the 7th Floor Fun Room (no, not THAT kind of fun room),  and  the 3rd floor lounge which usually featured well known, major entertainers until the early 1980s. The original owners of Harold’s, the Smiths, also placed a world class gun collection behind the high-ceilinged third floor bar.  That drew sightseers from everywhere. America has always had a warm heart for cowboys with sixguns, so the collection became a large draw.

But the 3rd floor bar also had something you won’t see in casinos today…a small clock among the guns displayed behind the bar.  Never thought of that?  Well, next time you go into a casino try to find a clock. You won’t, because they don’t want you to know what time it is.  You might leave to go to bed, to a meal, to meet friends, etc.  And you won’t find windows either.  Again, they want a timeless atmosphere in there.  Casino layout is pretty basic. Use red bright, gaudy, lots of art, statues, gold, crystal etc., because supposedly these things eventually irritate a gambler into betting more. And they stay open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, because they don’t want you to leave after winning…nope, they want you to keep gambling and start losing. 

Billionaire Howard Hughes, who supposedly came to Nevada to launder Mafia investments into legal businesses, bought Harolds as a token northern Nevada property after acquiring six Las Vegas operations: the Desert Inn, Frontier, Landmark, Sands and Castaways hotel-casinos and the Silver Slipper Gambling Hall. At Hughes' behest, the Nevada Legislature, during the administration of single-term Gov. Paul Laxalt, legalized the licensing of corporations, paving the way for the Nevada of today. Prior to that only individuals could hold gaming licenses.

Harolds Club was closed in 1995 and sadly,demolished in 1999.  Like so many of the original casinos, it is now merely a memory, its artifacts have become antiques and, for some who remember being there; cherished souvenirs.

What is this paper placemat worth today?  I’ve seen them for $4.99 up to $8.99 each, depending on condition.  This one, as it is excellent condition is probably worth the $8.99 price. 

Why would you want one paper placemat?  It’s a great old picture and would look fabulous in a rugged frame hanging on a wall in a western themed room.  Or even just by itself.  It’s very colorful and reminiscent of the old west, and the old casinos.


Add new comment