Monday, April 16, 2012

Antique Caro Dealing Shoes, the Real Deal

If you happen to be a collector of casino dealing shoes you should definitely have at least one antique Caro shoe in your collection. I happen to be fortunate enough to have two of them. Both are six-deck chemin de fer shoes, both are made from mahogany, but they are not identical.

The first shoe has green hardware and a handle at the rear. I bought it in a small antique store in France, in a small town, and was told that it came from Monte Carlo. I have no way of knowing if that's actually the case, but if true it would be one of three shoes that I own, that were supposedly used at the Casino Monte Carlo. I actually sent a few emails to the Casino, along with pictures, but have never received any replies. I guess the people that work there now were not even born at the time those shoes were supposedly used there so I guess they don't really care and probably couldn't tell me much, anyway. I was just hoping they might have archival photos that might show various shoes that were used at their casino throughout the years. I guess I'll never be able to verify the provenance of those shoes without going there in person. Even then I wouldn't count too much on their cooperation. So, without a proper way to check the provenance I cannot really take those claims for granted, for the time being, but nevertheless, I still like owning all those shoe because they are definitely genuine antiques and when I touch them I really feel like I have a piece of gambling history in my hands.

I'm not sure how rare these Caro shoes are, but I've only come across two of them, and I bought both. I just couldn't resist, especially because the first shoe came with the original six decks of cards. I bought the whole thing for 28 Euros, which was a bargain. The cards alone are worth more than what I paid for the whole thing.

Antique Caro French Dealing Shoe
The other shoe is almost identical to the one above, except that it doesn't have a handle and the hardware is black. The beauty is in the details and I'll use the second shoe to show you what I mean.

These shoes are not some rinky dink products made by the lowest bidder in China. They're the real deal. As with any antiques, the only way to really experience the full appreciation for the quality and the craftsmanship that went into making these objects, is to spend some time handling them. Since I don't have a showroom where I could invite people to see these objects I'll try to do my best with pictures and descriptions. Let's have a look at the second shoe, shall we?

Caro Baccarat Casino Dealing Shoe
The body of the shoe is made from mahogany and the hardware is mostly bass. I tested the metal parts with a magnet and discovered that the faceplate is made from a piece of ferrous sheet metal. I imagine they decided not to use brass for the faceplate because it is thin.

The next detail is the maker's name, which is marked as G. Caro, from Paris, 252 Boulevard Voltaire. The word JEUX is French for "games" and I don't know if it is part of the maker's name. There is a French company called Caro Developpement, bu t I believe it is a different company that has nothing to do with the old Caro company, except that they are also in the business of making gaming equipment. I tried to find out for sure, so I went to their web site and send them an email (written in French, to make it easier for them) but I guess the person in charge of answering their emails must be a close relative of the person in charge of email correspondence at Casino Monte Carlo. Up to this day I have not heard back as much as a whisper, so I can't tell you anything for sure, but I do believe that the old Caro company has been out of biz for a very long time. But all that's history and I'm not a historian, so I shouldn't speculate too much. What interests me are details about these shoes.

Jeux G. Caro Paris
One detail that makes these shoes look and feel like high-end products is the ratchet mechanism for the braked roller. Some shoes are still made this way, but they are not common. The ratchet mechanism really makes this shoe feel special.

Antique Wooden Casino Dealing Shoe
If you ever get the chance to spend some time around a Rolls Royce, take a moment of that time to open and close the hood. Don't look at the engine, just listen to the sound of the hood closing. How should I best put it? The hood of a VW doesn't produce the same sound. It is the sound of the hood closing, amongst other things, that makes a Rolls Royce feel like a tank. And you get the same kind of feeling when you put six decks of cards into one of those shoe and put the roller behind the cards and listen to the ratchet mechanism produce a sound that's unlike anything you've ever heard any other dealing shoe do. This shoe sounds like a musical instrument and feels like it's made for people who drive up to a casino in a Rolls Royce. And once the cards and the roller are in, you place the cover on top of the shoe and lock it in place, which is yet another handling procedure that makes a serious sound that makes this shoe feel like a tank. If there is such thing as a Rolls Royce of dealing shoes, perhaps this one is it.

There is another uncommon feature. This roller doesn't simply roll down the slanted ramp. There are two metal rails running down the ramp and the roller has four miniature brass wheels, an uncommon feature that makes the roller look like a miniature vehicle running down a track. The roller is also weighted with led inserts at both sides. The wheels don't really spin as well as they should, but I'm sure they worked fine at the time.

Dealing Shoe Roller
The detail that distinguishes this shoe as a chemin de fer shoe is the plaque at the side. The plaque also bears the name G. Caro.

Baccarat Chemin de Fer Rules
One bad thing about this shoe is that it might be totally useless nowadays. The reason is the interior width of the shell, which is narrower than any of the dealing shoes made today. In other words, you cannot put standard poker-size cards inside this shoe. All the cards shown in my photos are old French cards that were noticeably smaller than standard playing cards produced today.