Beautiful French Ivory with 16 Flowers

Today's post is about a rare French Ivory set that was owned by Katherine Hartman. Many of you know Katherine has been studying Mahjong and its history for quite a few years, and she has a lovely collection of sets and ephemera. This is a set she sold several years ago.

French Ivory is made by layering two slightly different colors of plastic on top of each other to mimic real ivory. If you look carefully at these tiles you can see these lovely striations on the tile faces. The Flowers are unusual in that there are as many as 16, and they feature somewhat quiet looking vignettes of ladies having tea with much more active and wild scenes of combat, as seen on the bottom tiles. The carving on all the tiles in this set is especially lovely and delicate.

Following this photograph are the translations and related research for the Flower tiles, provided by Ray Heaton. You will notice the tiles read from right to left.

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The first row are 蓮花公主, Lian Hua Gong Zhu meaning "Lotus flower princess". I don't know who this is referring to, but I came across a Chinese play with Princess Lotus Flower as the title. In the early 1900s Chinese theatre developed "Chained-sequence plays", or Luanhuanxi, which was a programme of alternate live theatrical performances and film screenings, with 5 or 6 transitions. The requirement of having the same actors on stage and on film was logistically complex and too expensive and so they went out of fashion. Princess Lotus Flower was one such chained-sequence play from 1925 and is mentioned in the book Chinese National Cinema by Yingjin Zhang.

Second row are 文明世界 Wen Ming Shi Jie meaning "A Civilised World", and seems to be a fairly common phrase on various MJ sets.

Third row are 春風得意, Chun Feng De Yi, (May You Rise High with the Spring Wind).

This can be translated along the following lines; "to be pleased with oneself", "be flushed with success" or "be proud of success" and is a phrase that may be used when referring to the passing of exams, for instance.

The fourth row are I think, 深山鬥法, Shen Shan Dou Fa. A rather challenging set of words for me to understand when placed together! The first two mean "remote mountains" or "deep in the mountains". The second two have two distinct meanings, either "the exercise of magic powers against each other" or "to use stratagems"! So if we use the images on the tiles to help, maybe this is about practising military strategy or martial arts deep in the mountains. I haven't found other references to this phrase anywhere else.

HI, the 深山斗法 mean someone challenge in mountains

Make sure to note the ladies are smoking cigarettes! You can see this row 2 tile #1, and Row 3, tile #3!  Many collectors have to deal with cigarette damage on tiles, but here the tiles themselves have smoking scenes, probably to make the ladies seem more elegant and cosmopolitan, as they thought at that time. Interior design elements abound, including tablecloths and fabric patterns on the chairs.

A completely different kind of location is shown on Tile 1, Row 1: a lady is standing on round circles. These circles refer to clouds, meaning the scene is taking place in the Heavens.

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These are typical of the remaining tiles from the set. You must have immediately noticed the beautiful White Dragon, seen here as four butterflies.

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