December 9, 2010

Soapy Smith play money (1923-1938)

(Click image to enlarge)
Circa 1923-1938
(Side A)

(Click image to enlarge)
Circa 1923-1938
(Side B)

Play money to use for gambling has been a fun part of the annual Soapy Smith wakes (parties) in Skagway, Alaska and Hollywood, California for many years. A post on this blog from July 14, 2009 has videos that show some of the play money in action at the Hollywood event. The main website has a page on the wakes that shows the front and back of the modern day "Soapy bucks." I have several pieces in my personal collection and by far the one pictured at the top is the oldest I have, but perhaps not the first issue of the bills.

My connection at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park sent me the following about the above pictured $20.

Most accounts give 1923 as the beginning date for the "Days of '98" show which was initially started as a fund-raiser for the Skagway Hockey team. The musical pageant "Days of '98 Show" appears by 1926 (not sure what the difference was). As the steamers of the 1920s-1930s were often in port in Skagway for 36 hours, the passengers were an ideal audience for these early "Days of '98" shows. Those fund-raisers were first held at the White Pass Athletic Club, which also had a dance floor. I believe the club was located on 4th Avenue, east of Broadway before it was demolished. By 1938, the White Pass Athletic Club (with dance floor) was no longer in use. Not sure when the "Days of '98" show moved to the Eagles Hall.

Si Dennis, Jr., who played drums in the "Days of '98" show during the 1960s, looked at the photo and remembers money similar to this. The guests would gamble before the show for about half an hour using this play money. The person winning the most fake money got a statue of a prospector from Jack Kirmse. Si said they changed the money every 2-3 years probably as they ran out of the older fake money and he thinks this dated to before he worked there.

So, I would suggest that the money pictured probably dates to the time when the show was at White Pass Athletic Club (ca 1923-1938) given the "White Pass Dance Hall" imprinted on the fake money.

The "Midnight Sun" newspaper advertises the "Days of '98" show in the 1930s. Howard Clifford describes the beginnings of the "Days of 98" show in "The Skagway Story" (pages 164-65.).


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