I have the good fortune to know Allan and Lila Weitz, two wonderful Mahjong collectors from Canada. They send out a card every year. This is the card I got this year. Of course it is always fun to see the two of them, and the lovely boxes and set really caught my eye. Needless to say, although hard to see clearly in the photograph, I knew the set was a beauty. Allan kindly sent me photographs, and the story of the acquisition is at then end of the post.



The box is one of the most deeply carved boxes I have ever seen, with a Foo dog handle and two doors. Already the piece is a stand-out.



This is a very unusual One Bam crane. The other Bams are Bodhi leaves, from the Bodhi tree, important to Buddha. On rare occasions these leaves appear on Bam tiles in Mahjong.

Here is the One Dot-how delightful is this?!



1-law_0009_bThe other Dots are pumpkins, a gourd important to the Chinese. Each pumpkin has a lot of seeds, thus its associated with the wish for many children.



The Craks are surrounded by garlands, with chrysanthemums at the top and bottom. Many of you eagle-eyed readers may also notice the Chinese numbers are different. This number system is the way numbers were written in the Chinese banking world, because the numbers could not be altered on checks and other banking forms.



The Flowers are beautiful and delicately carved. The ones on the right are those plants associated with the seasons, chrysanthemum, bamboo, orchid and plum blossom. And look how thick the bone is! The creature on the Green Dragon looks to be a leopard.


The Red Dragon features a fabulous hawk. If you look closely, the bird is holding a ribbon which surrounds Chung, a symbol for Center, representing China. Many of you know that a hawk  on a globe means Chinese military strength, and I think that is what this means here too.



The winds have plants. The East looks to be a carrot or parsnip, West is a lotus root, North a Bamboo shoot and South a gourd.


Here is the story, written by Allan, about how the set got to the Allan and Lila Weitz collection.

Here is a brief history of set #1

The hallmark of a true collector is patience and knowledge.  For the last 19 years, I have been acquiring mahjong knowledge and am still learning facts every day. Patience was willed to me by my father. He was a perfectionist and in his retirement, built violins by hand from scratch. I observed him working on a front or back for weeks and if he was not satisfied, onto the scrap pile went the piece and he would start again.

 I source my sets from many areas. One area in particular is appealing. There are dozens of small auction houses with websites not associated with platforms such as Invaluable, or eBay. They do not send reminders on key words. Months of patient regular checking can go by without a hit. In November, 2015, a mahjong set poorly described and photographed popped up from a small company in Canada.  My knowledge told me that this was a special set.  If I was  correct, I witnessed two similar sets sell for $8000US and $12000US. I telephoned in my bid the day before and waited. Two days later, my phone rang and I was informed that I had won the set. My heart stopped and I asked the hammer price.   $650Can + 20% . I quickly paid by credit card and instructed the local UPS store to mail the package to me. I had previously done business with this store and they were very efficient. The same day, UPS sent out the box with tracking.  I was able to follow to follow the progress of the package and delivery was scheduled for two days before Christmas Eve. I stayed home all day waiting for the driver and at 5.00pm, the tracking site flashed "Package Delivered" I rushed to the front door and found........nothing. Patience went out the window. What was my next move? I decided to go and search for the box.  It was dark and freezing cold,  The plan was to search in concentric circles from my house. I live on a crescent with about thirty homes. I walked along the middle of the road and checked front doors from left to right. About six homes up I spied a large box in the shadows of the front door. I quickly scaled the stairs to the door and there was a large box. Before touching the box, I rang the front door bell-no answer, I rang a second time- nothing.  I picked up the box and read the address label. Allan Weitz  12.... from UPS.  As I walked down the stairs, I looked at the address of the house posted on a narrow column. It was number 21, But because there was little room on the plaque, the 2 was on top and underneath was the 1. The UPS driver was probably super tired and read the address wrong. I floated home and placed the box on the kitchen counter. Slowly I unpacked the set and my heart stopped again.  The set is magnificent and is listed in my top ten sets.  This is an example of what collecting is all about. 

So, this holiday season, in addition to the really important wishes and prayers we have for family, friends, our country and the world, maybe we can be hopeful something wonderful like this set can show up in our lives too!







From time to time I get to see beautiful and special boxes that house Mahjong sets. I want to share this one with you, and on this last day of May it seems especially fitting.

A reader sent me photos of this lacquer box, featuring the Mayfly, although at first I thought an artist took a lot of liberties with a butterfly. The Mayfly has special meaning to the Chinese and can symbolize (from strength, peace, harmony, purity, good luck, prosperity, childhood, living for the moment, joy and transparency. Quite a lot for one little insect! Mayflies actually have a very interesting life cycle, and you can read more about them by visiting a website I have linked at the end of the blog.




This is the side of the box, with a charming bird looking at a cicada from the branch of a plum tree. From Primaltrek: The cicada is a symbol of rebirth and immortality because after surviving underground for a long period of time it emerges and flies into the sky. Note the five blossoms on the flower, the give-away for a plum blossom in Chinese art. The plum blossom is also one of the four plants associated with the seasons. What is fascinating about Chinese art is that everything has to be put into context. Although the plum blossom is usually associated with winter, because of its pairing with the cicada it is associated with spring, and rebirth.




The box of the box features a crane (symbol of longevity) standing under a pine tree (yes, another symbol of longevity!) And that darling cicada is making himself known again.

Even the top of the box is decorated in the theme, with bees buzzing. The bird is perched in bamboo.  Bamboo is a symbol of strength as well as ideals of the Confucian scholar, because both are upright, strong, and resilient ( Bamboo is also the plant associated with summer. Even the handles of the box are embellished with what looks like bamboo leaves, and they may be made from a semi-precious metal known as Paktung.



What a Mahjong Treasure!

It is my feeling that some of the greatest artists in China in the 1920s, the time when Mahjong was the 6th biggest export from China, went to work in the Mahjong business. This box certainly would be a big argument for that being true.

There is a long history of the Mayfly being part of Mahjong, starring as One Bams. You can click here to see reader Tony Watson's write-up for this blog.

Katherine Hartman sent us some lovely photos of Mayfly One Bams:



Michael Stanwick's website also features other examples of Mayfly One Bams.

For more information about the Mayfly you can go here:

Just found out there will be an article about the mayfly in the next Mahjong Collector Magazine. If you are not already a subscriber and you want to be, here's the email address you need:






Friend and blog reader Cari took this lovely photo the other day of  the National Mah Jongg League's 2015 hand. It calls for 2 Flowers, followed by the year repeated three times in the three suits. In all hands calling for a zero, the White Dragon is used. What is wonderful about this hand is that many of the most special tiles, the Ones, and the Flowers are used, and often the White Dragon is quite lovely too.

So, I thought it would be fun to celebrate 2016 showing the great variety of styles and images on Mahjong sets.  A big thanks to the readers who took photos and sent them in, including Barney, Tracy, Geraldine, Debra, Gail and Cari, as well as the others. We have a delightful array of sets, showing the great variety of ways designers and craftsmen have added beauty to this fabulous game, ranging from paper cards, to wood, to bakelite, Chinese Bakelite, bone and bamboo, and mother-of-pearl. All of these sets are treasured by their owners, and all have brought great happiness to the players around the table. What better way to celebrate the new year than by looking at art that has made people happy?


A mass-produced and highly collectible Chinese Bakelite set with unusual Flowers and Bams
A mass-produced and highly collectible Chinese Bakelite set with unusual Flowers and Bams


a recent set, made in Asia
a recent set, made in Asia


A Lung Chan set, with two tone (blue) backs. Lung Chan features a suite of bird Flowers.
A Lung Chan set, with two tone (blue) backs. Lung Chan features a suite of bird Flowers.


The tiles in the middle feature mother-of-pearl faces set in wood
The tiles in the middle feature mother-of-pearl faces set in wood


Rust colored Ashton & Rietz
Rust colored Ashton & Rietz


Black Bamboo
Black Bamboo


Delightful Bone and Bamboo set with animal Flowers
Delightful Bone and Bamboo set with animal Flowers


from back to front: Waterbury Button Company, Marke Pehafra, rare Chinese Bakelite two-tone pillow-top set
from back to front: Waterbury Button Company, Marke Pehafra, rare Chinese Bakelite two-tone pillow-top set

The following eight contributions belong to one collector:

Contemporary plastic set
Contemporary plastic set
 wood set
wood set
Contemporary plastic
Contemporary plastic
contemporary plastic
contemporary plastic
miniature plastic traveling set
miniature plastic traveling set
children's Royal Depth Control traveling set
children's Royal Depth Control traveling set
TYL two-tone Bakelite set from the 1940s (backs are chocolate-brown)
TYL two-tone Bakelite set from the 1940s (backs are chocolate-brown)
Contemporary set with Day-Glo colors
Contemporary set with Day-Glo colors


Mother of pearl faces on ebony
Mother of pearl faces on ebony
Beautiful Thick Bone and Bamboo tiles, Peach (longevity) Dots with One Dot encircling a coiled Dragon, different longevity symbols on Craks with Bank-style Chinese numbers, Bamboo shoot Bams with hovering hawk symbolizing China's strength
Beautiful Thick Bone and Bamboo tiles, Peach (longevity) Dots with One Dot encircling a coiled Dragon, different longevity symbols on Craks with Bank-style Chinese numbers, Bamboo shoot Bams with hovering hawk symbolizing China's strength


Chinese Game Company with special Dragons
Chinese Game Company with special Dragons


The wonderful variety of mahjong sets, including paper cards, wood, and Portland Billiard Company (the first set behind the front cards)
The wonderful variety of mahjong sets, including paper cards, wood, and Portland Billiard Company (the first set behind the front cards)


beautiful sloping circles, label unknown
beautiful sloping circles, label unknown


Red MJ
highly carved set featuring crane (longevity) Dots, peacock Bams, and Craks with bats (longevity and prosperity) on the sides


Magnificent Bone and Bamboo set with lacquer box
Magnificent Bone and Bamboo set with lacquer box
Shanghai Luck Bone and Bamboo
Shanghai Luck Bone and Bamboo


close up of Craks 2016
close up of Craks 2016

Here's a close-up of the Craks suit from this hand. If you look carefully, you can see peaches on the top and bottom. Peaches are symbols of longevity in China. And on the left and right there are bats, also symbols of longevity, but because of the way the Chinese word for bat  is pronounced, the bat also symbolizes prosperity. Dragonflies, seen on the White Dragon, represent pureness of character according to Confucian ideals.

So let us hope that 2016 is a year of longevity, prosperity, and pureness of character.







Recently I bought a beautiful mahjong set and lacquer box, both supposedly from the 1920s. The set itself is in incredible shape, with wonderful tight dovetails, thick bone, and some unusual Flowers. And the box was virtually perfect.

But I started to wonder how a box could still be in this wonderful shape when it was about 90 years old.

Here are a few comparisons I made with this set and some older ones.

DSC_0115 box

Newest set, beautiful red lacquer. I noticed a few things:

There are screws anchoring the top medallions to the box


DSC_0117 box


!920's-1930s Foochow lacquer box #1. Notice no screws on the medallions.


DSC_0121 box

1920s-1930s Foochow #2, also no screws on the medallions


DSC_0120 box

Relatively thin handle, and lack of handle "bumper guard" ornamentation meant to prevent handle from hitting the lacquer top


DSC_0118 box

Foochow #1 Thicker handle and bumps to allow the handle to fall open without ruining the box


DSC_0121 box

Foochow box #2, thick handle, and bat ornaments allow the handles to drop


DSC_0122 box

Red lacquer box has handle buttons to protect the tiles from the screws/nails used to attach handles. The other older boxes have handles anchored inside the front of the drawer, and the handle screws do not penetrate the drawer.


DSC_0127 bix

Red box front panel: very little wear, other than where the handles touched the front


DSC_0128 box


Foochow #1 you can see where the panel hit the handles. When there are handles or button pulls, often there are signs of wear. If there are butterfly pulls, and they are still in good shape, there may not be any signs of wear on the front panel.

With Foochow #2, the panel is a drop down one so there was not evidence of use.


DSC_0125 box

The real give-away: Made in Japan.

This label did not exist until 1949. Thus this box is considerably newer that I had thought.

I don't know if this all holds true for everything, but on quick inspection of the boxes in my collection, these are good things to look for.

Anyone, any other thoughts?



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There are times that some people just get lucky. 

Here's a photo of one lucky find.  To begin with, it certainly is an unusual box, with the very tall brass handle and big brass fittings. The inside is just as wonderful, but you will have to wait to see it!

02082011 979

I recently received this email from a reader:

"Thank you, I have no prior knowledge of these so your help is invaluable. It was posted on a vintage facebook group I am in and I was drawn to it for some reason..  I had to have it, I just loved it.  I purchased it needing some tlc for $50 aud.

The lady found it in her bathroom 10 years ago when she purchased her home in Fremantle, Perth (Australia). I bought it 3 days ago in the same condition she found it. The only piece of paper that came with it is written in Dutch 

On some tiles the brass had separated from the timber base, I have glued both them and drawers back together. One drawer is missing the back piece, (I have not replaced the piece, not sure what to do about that) everything else is intact. I have not cleaned the tiles, I am reluctant to until I know more about it. The history is important to me and I would be devastated if I ruined the story.

Most of the set is glued together, no pins on the tiles just some type of adhesive. The drawers and handles are glued, however the runners are brass, these have screws. The screws are small and with the angle its hard to see if they are machine made. I could see circles on one though so I suspect handmade but cant be sure.

The base of the cabinet has some residue adhesive on it, and you can see some brass pins, as the front of doors also overhang the base, I suspect there is a missing base plate. The cabinet is very heavy for its size. Someone has suggested it may be palm wood. The back corners of the cabinet are dovetailed, to my eye these are handmade by someone very skilled. There are slight irregularities which indicates to me a machine was not used (keep in mind though I can only compare from what I know about antique furniture, I have never looked into something so small before)

The pieces (tiles) measure 32mm long x 21mm wide x 16mm deep. There are irregularities in the engraving so this also tells me handmade. The two dice have a blank side for the one and the four is painted red. 

There are no markings that I can see on anything at all. 

Under the handle there is a small rectangular mark, I wonder if something had of been glued there at one stage."

So now for the big reveal:

A five drawer chest

02082011 986

You will notice the tops of the tiles are brass, glued onto the wood backing.   Everything about this set is unusual. The Wind indicators are octagonal painted brass pieces, that fit into the large piece with the four big screws. The dice and the counters are also metal. I love the brass counters with the red trim on some of them. That blue color of paint is rare.

02082011 994

Looking at the set like this, I get a nautical feeling about it. Certainly those big rounded screws around the wind indicators bear a resemblance to portholes on ships, such as this one from the mid 20th century. Brass was often used for ship fittings.

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 7.59.38 AM

Many portholes have three screws to hold the window in place, but not all as you can see above.

02082011 987

The carvings are highly unusual, with great style.

02082011 987 1-3

The Crak characters look like European versions of the design, as do the renderings of the Chinese numbers which are also highly stylized. I love the way these three numbers almost build to a triangle. The Arabic numbers are very clearly carved, with elaborate versions of the numbers.

02082011 987 5-9

Look at the way the Chinese 7 is carved. It really looks like Neptune's trident to me:


Here's Neptune in a statue in Virginia Beach, VA, with his trident which is quite similar to the Chinese 7, right?

The One and Two Dots have stars inside

02082011 994 close up

The One and Two Dots which are more elaborate than the other Dots which are circles within circles. To me these are very similar to the Nautical compass, or Rose Compass, with the two outside circles surrounding the eight pointed star:


This image is from:


The 7 Dots has a different design too, although we have seen this before on some other sets:

02082011 987 7


The Bams are unusual too:

02082011 987 1and2

It almost looks as if  the Two Bams are tied with a ribbon.


The Flowers, and there are only four as is common in many types of play:

02082011 987 floers

You will see the plants associated with these designs:

plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum, but all lacking the Chinese characters we often see. I don't know the reason behind the "pip" on the top of the tiles, unless they are there to readily and quickly identify the tile by touch as a lucky or bonus tile.

Here is the translation of the piece of paper found with the set:

"Environmental pollution the Chinese way.

The government of the British Crown colony Hong Kong has, in the context of their environmental defensive, started to combat the Chinese passion: the game of Mahjong.

According to the government, the noise of the mahjong tiles on the gaming tables, disturbs the evening calm of the highly populated areas of Hong Kong, in a irresponsible way.

The government however does think twice before forbidding mahjong. Instead it suggests to cover the tables with cloth to hush the echo."

Many of us know how futile it would be to ban the playing of Mahjong; table covers are a much better way of dealing with the noise problem!


Some closeups of the box, so that you can see the wood used and the brass runners for the drawers:



Reader Tony Watson has weighed in with some thoughts about the wood used:

"I've had a really good look at the wood on these tiles; it's definitely NOT palm, the nearest thing I can associate it with is Laburnum, looking at the side grain. But the end grain is so straight, the tree diameter would need to be massive not to show any curvature so I don't think the wood is 'natural'.
I think this is plywood, but not your ordinary stuff; I think it's a load of veneers glued together - thats the only way I can see to get the grain looking the same on the end and the side; most evident on the edges of the top panel of the box. Down the side at the dovetails, you can see that the sanding has revealed the layers of the veneers (I think?) Don't know what the wood is, but it has flecks like beech, but so does iroko, so this might be a better candidate? "


Given that Fremantle is a major port in Australia, I would hazard a guess that the set was made for someone in the shipping business, perhaps a ship's captain who spent time in Europe, hence the piece of paper with the notice about noisy mahjong players translated at the beginning of the piece.

The sharp edges of the tiles indicate that the set was not made in China since the Chinese don't like sharp edges. The set's carvings somewhat resemble the mother-of-pearl one we saw earlier this year.

What a wonderful, probably one of a kind, find.


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To learn more about Mah Jongg, you might want to take a look at this book that I wrote with Ann Israel, published by Tuttle. To see more about it:


To order it click here:

or here from Amazon



Above we have a beautiful black and gold lacquer piece made in 1595, and found on Wikipedia's website.  You can see the delicate paintbrush work, using only the color gold, yet capturing people, sky, mountains, water, boats, and pagodas, with perhaps the moon or sun seen just to the left of the calligraphy. So many of the key aspects of Chinese landscape painting are seen here.

Following are the sides and front of a black lacquer Mahjong box. The artist has decorated the box with a landscape, featuring temples, trees, mountains, and people, all treated in an almost abstract manner. It seems pretty clear that the artist who painted this Mahjong box clearly knew about the lacquer techniques seen above.





A question might come to mind: How does a box this old survive in such wonderful shape? The answer is in the was it was stored. Although we don't know how old the lacquer box is, it seems to be quite old given the appearance of the box it was stored in, a wooden box with a sliding lid:



The inside of the box was lined with linen, covering some kind of padding:



The Mahjong box could be carefully pulled up out of the outside box, and  lowered back into it for storage.

DSC_0877 top

The paktong handles and decorative trim echo the silver in the landscape; handles rest on small bat-shaped decor. The red used on the pagodas in the background brings to mind the magic of nighttime with candles and lanterns flickering, with moonlight reflecting off the mountains, creating a magical setting.

The lacquer continues inside:


You can see the mirror-like drawer exteriors and the red drawer lining.

The box was made by Shen Shaoan, a lacquerware maker with a rightly deserved stellar reputation.


From the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art we have this incredible wood screen, entitled Summer Palace. Made by Feng Langgong, it is painted and lacquered with gilt, and dates from 1690. As you can read in this excerpt from Wikipedia, the Chinese artists have worked in lacquer for over three thousand years.

From Wikipedia:

"During the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600–1046 BC) of China, the sophisticated techniques used in the lacquer process were first developed and it became a highly artistic craft,[1] although various prehistoric lacquerwares have been unearthed in China dating back to the Neolithic period and objects with lacquer coating found in Japan dating to the late Jōmon period.[1] The earliest extant lacquer object, a red wooden bowl, was unearthed at a Hemudu culture (ca. 5th millennium BC) site in Zhejiang, China.[2][3][4] During the Eastern Zhou period (771–256 BC), lacquerware began appearing in large numbers, thus this was the earliest era from which notable quantities of lacquerware have survived.[5]

By the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), special administrations were established to organize and divide labor for the expanding lacquer production in China.[6] Elaborate incised decorations were known to be used in a number of Chinese lacquerware during the Han Dynasty.[7]

In the Tang Dynasty (618–907), Chinese lacquerware saw a new style marked by the use of sheets of gold or silver made in various shapes, such as birds, animals, and flowers.[6] The cut-outs were affixed onto the surface of the lacquerware, after which new layers of lacquer were applied, dried, and then ground away, so the surface could be polished to reveal the golden or silvery patterns beneath.[6] This was done by a technique known as pingtuo.[8] Such techniques were time-consuming and costly, but these lacquerware were considered highly refined.[6] It was also the period when the earliest practice of carving lacquerware began.[9]

To see the screen in full, click here

In Mahjong, lacquer was used on several accoutrememnts. Of course, lacquer could never be used on tiles, but it appears on racks and boxes.



This black lacquer rack is in pristine condition, which is an exception for this very delicate type of material. Here we see a bucolic scene with a person looking out to the palace on the mountain afar. The gold used for the trees helps them stand out against the beautiful Chinese mountains, thus the beauty of the natural world can be appreciated along with the lovely architecture of the palace.

This type of rack serves several purposes:


to line up tiles for the player, as seen above


DSC_0866 new

and to store counters inside and display completed exposed groups.

Lacquer could be carved, or inlaid with other materials such as mother-of-pearl. Here follows a box with mother-of-pearl onlays.

The following Mahjong box has been shown before on this website, but it certainly is worth looking at it again. The box itself is lacquered, and then a thin mother-of-pearl layer was applied. The result is a mix of dark and light reflections, and worthy of housing a beautiful Mahjong set. Most of you know, many boxes did not start out being designed to hold Mahjong tiles. Many boxes were made for other purposes, and then adapted for Mahjong storage. Certainly a box as ornate as this one could well be in that category. The two phoenixes are fabulous, aren't they?!

phoenix box 2
















The Brooklyn Museum, which featured a lacquer show in the 1980s, writes this in their catalog:

"The art of lacquering dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1500-1027 B.C.) in China when it was used chiefly to enhance the durability of utilitarian objects. It is characterized by a hard, smooth, highly polished finish it gives to numerous materials, even such impermanent ones as vegetable fiber, textiles and paper. Lacquer workshops with master craftsmen were a part of the artistic culture of ancient China, Japan and South to Southeast Asia and Persia, with each region developing its own technique of lacquering. Over the centuries contact between cultures brought a cross-fertilization of techniques as well as methods of manufacture."

And from Wikipedia:

"In Ming China processes included up to a hundred layers. Each layer requires drying and polishing. When all layers are applied the artist polishes different parts of the painting until the preferred colours show. Fine sandpaper and a mix of charcoal powder and human hair is used to carefully reach the correct layer of each specific colour. Consequently "lacquer painting" is in part a misnomer, since the bringing out of the colours is not done in the preparatory painting but in the burnishing of the lacquer layers to reveal the desired image beneath."

Clearly lacquer artists were incredibly skilled and patient. We often see lacquer on Mahjong racks such as these:



The dragon, his body greatly hidden by clouds, and the flaming "pearl" are seen above. This rack was probably made in the 1920s. Now that we know it might have taken 100 layers to create, we can truly admire the skill of the artist who made it. The black compartments were used to store counters.



Another one of the racks from this set, this time with two dragons surrounding the flaming "pearl." It is possible the lacquer here might have had real gold in it.


april 1, 2014 026

And here is the front panel of a red lacquer box, with another red dragon and flaming "pearl."




This magnificent horse is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. It was done in pen and ink sometime around 750.

From the Metropolitan Museum website

"This portrait of Night-Shining White, a favorite charger of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–56), may be the best-known horse painting in Chinese art. The fiery-tempered animal epitomizes Chinese myths about imported "celestial steeds" that "sweated blood" and were really dragons in disguise. The painting has been attributed to Han Gan, who was known for portraying not only the physical likeness of a horse but also its spirit. Although Han is said to have preferred visits to the stables over the study of earlier paintings of horses, the profile image and the abstraction of the animal's anatomy clearly derive from ancient prototypes."

It is amazing that such an old work, on paper, still survives. What is also interesting is the presence of all the red and sometimes black square, round and oval characters surrounding the piece. These are all seals representing ownership, and they trace the history of who owned the painting through the years. The first one, located just to the left of the calligraphy on the right, dates from the Southern Tang Emperor Li Yu, who reigned from 961-975.

We have traces of history on Mahjong sets as well.  Who hasn't been happy when opening up a set and finding bits of ephemera left by previous owners?  Who knew how close this was to actual traces of ownership we see above?

Sometimes we find typed up instructions:


Sometimes we find traces of where the set might have been, in this case on the Blue Funnel Line:


Or what happened to the set along its journey our way:


and this valiant attempt to recreate a lost One Bam

DSC_0697 bird

or this round dark 8 Dot substituted for a lost blue floral one

DSC_0696 8

And indications of who found the set for friends:


and who owned it


For the Chinese and the antiquities market, provenance is very important. Many treasures were lost through the years for many different reasons, and forgeries exist, including, as some of us think, in the area of Mahjong. So being able to trace ownership is very important.

For those of you who have not clicked on this article about a Chinese vase, which was first posted in March, here is another chance. It just goes to show that ownership papers, even dating from the 1960s, can be very important. 

Have any of you been delighted when you found traces of previous owners? I have a set I refer to as Jeanne's, because she was the previous owner, and I am happy that I am taking good care of it for her. Of course we also have very strong emotional connections with sets that belonged to our relatives, and playing with them gives us a feeling of connection with them.

Do any of you have similar feelings about sets, either from your own family's collection or from that of a stranger?  BTW, I was going to have the One Bam singing bird recarved, but I am going to keep it just the way it is. It is part of the set's history, and I have decided it's charming.


met qingdynqilin

Often we see creatures and we have a hard time identifying them; they just don't seem to be any type of animal we are familiar with. One such creature is seen above, a qilin on an official's badge from the Qing Dynasty in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. Because it is horned, it is sometimes referred to as a unicorn.

Welch writes

"The Chinese mythical animal known in Chinese as the qilin is sometimes erroneously referred to as the "Chinese unicorn" or even a chimera (although this is a specific Greek mythological animal with a lion's head, goat's body and serpent's tail) The qilin is not a unicorn as it has two horns and can be identified by its green (or blue) scaled deer's body (which has become more horse-shaped over time) dragon's head, horn and hooves...(and) bushy tail."

We can certainly see the scales, and the hooves on the creature above, as well as the prominent horns. The background shows some ruyi shaped clouds, waves and flames.

According to Welch

"Mythical animals usually have flames surrounding or emanating from their legs to emphasize their powerful and supernatural nature."

The qilin is a benevolent creature, and represents many positive attributes. And qilin sightings are rare, as can be seen by this post.

Qilin appear in Mahjong as well but they might be hidden.  We don't have any records or write-ups by the craftsmen who made these works of art, so we really won't know for sure what they are. Sometimes we just have to guess. We'll start with the biggest stretch as to what creature we are seeing.



Above we have a detail of two creatures made of inlaid bone on a Mahjong box. We don't know if they are qilin, but they might be. Behind their ears you can make out another protrusion which may well be a horn. They each have a very bushy tail, just like the one we see on the qilin. If they are a qilin, they certainly are very benevolent.



Above is a detail of a leather embossed Mahjong box. At first I thought that if you looked carefully, you would be able to make out two qilin, on either side of a globe, with flames surrounding them, a scene not unlike the one we just saw on the inlaid box. But a sharp-eyed reader told me these probably are lions, because he was able to see the five toes on their feet! So no qilin here.

But we do have a qilin on another set, actually called the Qilin Mahjong set:

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Many of you have probably seen this advertised. You can see the qilin proudly strutting, his bushy tail up and his hooves. I won't make that mistake again! He is surrounded by  round ruyi shaped clouds.


Here follows a real treat: an ivory Mahjong tile qilin:


Isn't he fabulous? It is interesting how the crosshatching of the ivory works well with the scales on the qilin.

Our thanks to mahjongmahjong for the use of their tile.

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