Monthly Archives: January 2014


This thick bone and bamboo set recently sold at Addison's Auctioneers in the UK. Please forgive the quality of the photos taken from their website, but the Flowers are certainly worth the look. The people are much bigger here than we are used to seeing, and the images almost resemble portraits. The other tiles are lovely, with simple slightly rounded  Bams, elaborate Craks, and flower petal Dots.

Here is the same photo turned around


And here is another


And the last one of the Flowers in the set.


$_57-2This pristine set was recently auctioned on ebay. The One Bam is the familiar peacock, but all the bright red accents make it unusual. The other Bams are in the barbed style.

The Craks have the elaborate Wan, and the unusual green Arabic numbers.

$_57-1The green and red color palette seen here is quite lovely.


The Craks have the elaborate Wan, and the unusual green Arabic numbers.


$_57-3But the Flowers are what makes the set. Here a train and ship are captured while moving, as is evident of the smoke coming out of the smokestacks. Passengers are seen on both carriers. It is not really known what specifically these tiles were made to celebrate; some feel it is the opening of a commerce line linked by rail and sea.


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This lovely set with thick bone is elaborately carved. It was not intended for export as can be seen by the lack of Arabic numbers on these tiles. The Bams are in the elaborate, "barbed" form, with lovely shadings on the stalks. The crane, signifying longevity, is swooping on the One Bam.

Many of us feel these monochromatic sets are Japanese in origin, but Michael Stanwick, one of the best Mahjong historians, does not feel we can make that assumption. He feels this set was most probably made in Shanghai, and exported to Japan.

Michael's website can be seen by clicking here.


The One Dot is the flower within a flower we have seen before, and the other Dots continue in the flower design, with their centers being the five petaled plum blossom, a favorite of the Chinese. It symbolizes the five blessings: health, wealth, virtue, longevity, and dying a natural death.

This is a good online quick spot to find symbolism on tiles:


The elaborate form of the Wan is seen here. Craks (and Winds) are the hardest to "read" if the player is unfamiliar with Chinese writing, but a little bit of study to learn the numbers can really open up your play opportunities.D571_35

Here the Winds are laid out as they should be in play: East, South, West and North. You will note the Flowers are a slightly different color than the other tiles. This often happens in sets played with according to some Asian ways of play, because Flowers are often not used or are used as bonus tiles, thus they "age" differently.


This set opened up quite a few eyes when it appeared on ebay. The open drawer revealed elaborate framed Craks, similar to some seen in the collection of the former Japan Mah Jong Museum. It is easy to see why so many people looked to see what the other tiles looked like.



The Bams with their stylized leaves are fabulous. The winds have frames reminiscent of the strings of cash seen in some early sets.




The Dots change from a flower within a flower on the One Dot to a flower within a circle on the others. The One Bam is a very stylized phoenix. As is the case with some sets designed for Asian play, there are no Flowers, although it is possible that the Flowers were lost along with one of the other tiles.


23257209_1_lThis inlaid mother-of-pearl box sold at Clars Auction Gallery. Its set is missing, but hopefully the box will house another wonderful set some day.

23257209_9_lYou can see here a goldfish, birds, and plants on the front panel. According to Patricia Bjaaland Welch in Chinese Art, goldfish is symbolic of material success in China because the its name is a homophone of the Chinese words for gold and jade. (Many objects and creatures are symbolic because of their homophones).The goldfish has fabulous details on his body and his wonderful tail. Surrounding this scene is a meander, an abstract design named after the very winding river Meander in Turkey. Abstract designs such as these figure prominently in Mahjong.

23257209_2_xThis side panel features the familiar bird standing on a rock, a bird in flight and a butterfly, and a peony on the left.

23257209_4_lTwo abstract versions of longevity can be seen as parts of the central meander. A plum blossom (five petals) is center bottom.

23257209_5_lThe top of the box features flying birds and plum blossoms in the center. What might be two pomegranates, a symbols of fertility because of all the seeds they contain, are on the left.





This is the front panel of a Mahjong box. Note the delicate carving on the tree branches, flowers and the bird. Although I cannot identify the kind of bird represented, I love the details given to its neck, wings and even its claws holding it upright on the tree branch.

I believe the flowers are magnolias, according to the look of the flower and the bud. From the beginning of time, magnolias were prized by the Chinese. In early times, according to Wolfram Eberhard, only the Emperor was allowed to own this plant. On occasion if someone pleased him, he would bestow upon him a magnolia root, thus owning such a magnolia would be highly prestigious. The magnolia also symbolizes a beautiful woman.

Click here to read more about magnolias

The set was missing a few tiles when bought, and Dee Gallo was asked to carve their replacements.

Which tiles are which?


I think you can only tell because the replacement tiles are "cleaner" having not been played with. (They are the top tiles) Thank you, Dee!

More information about Dee can be found here:


The One Bam is delightful, and the bird almost likes like it could be singing. The other Bams are simple rods.



The Craks look like they are running off the tiles.



The One Dot is unusual in that it combines a flower blossom center with squares set at different angles in the circle. The red 8 Dots are seen from time to time.



The light touch seen on the Crak carving is evident here as well. The Green and Red Dragons are like those used in the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America, and this may well be one of their early sets. The Green here is the word for a male Phoenix, and the red is the word for Dragon.



The Flowers represent the four arts of the Scholar and the four plants of the seasons.

Our thanks to the people at Mahjongmahjong for providing these photographs.

To see more of their personal collection, click here.







This bird One Bam is quite delightful and somewhat rare.  I have only seen a few like this.


It is part of this set of Chinese Bakelite tiles with green wafer backs. The carving is quite lovely and detailed. These tiles were not meant for export, and Western indices are missing. You will note there are numbers added to some of the tiles (the 5 and 6 Craks seem to have caused some confusion thus "needing" Arabic numbers) and letters and numbers added to the Flower tiles.


The West and South caused problems too!


The set came with this collection of counters and dice, the old and the new.






There are some unusual details in these Flower tiles that belong to the set discussed yesterday. The gold numbers seen on the suits have continued onto the left hand Flower tiles.

The boats are delightful, and the fishing pole sticking out from the shelter of the boat's cover on tile 2 is a lovely touch. The two flying birds on the West tile are done with more precision than usual. Tile 4 shows us a lotus blossom and bud, and the blossom also appears over the stair railing (an especially detailed one.) The lotus is the symbol of purity, and is one of the Eight Buddhist precious things (Wolfram Eberhard A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols). According to Patricia Bjaaland Welch in her book Chinese Art: A guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery, when the lotus flower and bud are shown together they symbolize "the union or marriage and fertility."  Orchids appear on the East and #3 tiles, and a chrysanthemum on the West.

The tiles can be translated as:

Right hand set are North=Winter, East=Spring, West=Autumn, South=Summer (Dong, Chun, Qiu, Xia).

Left hand set are 1=West, 2=Lake, 3=Beautiful, 4=View.  So that's "Beautiful view of the West Lake".  (Xi, Hu, Jia, Jing).

A mention of the West Lake appears quite frequently on Flower tiles

Click here to read more about West Lake



The gold letters continue here.

Our thanks to Ray Heaton for the translations and to Mahjongmahjong for the photographs.


To see more of this set, click here




bamboo-BB8The bamboo shoot One Bam should by all logic be the most often seen symbol here in the Bamboo suit, but it isn't. You have to remember the suit really did not start out being Bamboo at all, it just began to look more and more like that ever-present and important Chinese plant with so many uses. This Bamboo shoot has a brown head, although in other sets the shoots can be red or tan. I love the style of the other Bams: they always look to me as if they are standing on feet.

circle-BB8The flower center is carried through on all these Dots, a more difficult bit of carving than the rings within rings so often seen that are made with hand-drills. It is interesting that the Arabic numbers vary in color.

character-BB8That bit of unusual color we just saw appears here on the Craks, where each Arabic number has been painted in gold. (I can't remember seeing this before.) The Chinese 4s are carved in a much more rectangular way than usually seen.

There will be a continued write-up tomorrow of the rest of the set. Our thanks to mahjongmahjong for providing these photos from their personal collection.

To see more photos of this set, click here