|By Larry LeMasters
Many people think that collecting anything is gambling since one never knows how much something may resell for. However, as gaming devices go, spinning dice are worth the risk.
Teetotums (or T-totum) are gambling spinning tops that were known in Roman times. Teetotums have four-sided bodies marked with letters or numbers. Spinning dice are hand-made gaming devices made by sailors and prisoners in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Sailors made spinning dice to gamble on board their ships or to send home as a gift to a loved one, and prisoners made spinning dice, and other novelties, to trade to guards for tobacco and other necessities of life. These dice were especially popular in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars (1793 – 1815).
All authentic spinning dice were hand-carved, often of bone (prisoners carved them from the mutton bones they were fed) or ivory but sometimes sailors carved using exotic woods. Spinning dice were, usually, hexagonal (6-sided) and about 2-inches in length.. In essence, a spinning dice is a combination of a dice and a spinning top. Placed between thumb and forefinger, the dice is given a good snapping motion, sending it spinning across a flat surface until it loses momentum and falls, revealing one side of the dice. The person spinning could then spin again or bets were placed on what single number would be revealed.
Reproduction spinning dice have been made via the plastic injection mold process, but collectors want the authentic, 18th and 19th century spinners.