precious material

A gentleman sent me photos of his wonderful treasured ivory Mahjong set, purchased many years ago from a very wealthy Chinese family in old Vietnam. I must admit I gasped when I saw the images. This One Bam is one of the most beautiful peacocks I have ever seen on a Mahjong tile. Note the exquisite peacock tail, with the varied depth of the carving- you almost feel you can touch those feathers. The set was made by master craftsmen in the 1920s, created for the export market given the presence of Western letters and Arabic numbers.

 

You will note the longevity symbol in the center. *

 

The White Dragon is especially lovely, with the delicate butterflies at the corners of the tile. These may be the most detailed butterflies ever on a Mahjong tile.

 

The Craks have the elaborate version of the wan.

 

Note the care put into every Dot, with the floral centers.

 

The color palette of the One Bam is very unusual, and highly attractive. It is rare to see such a big beautiful peacock, certainly taking ownership of the tile!

 

The Winds have our Western letters, but the Green and Red Dragons have Chinese Characters.

Enjoy these exquisite Flowers!!

This image is often seen: a boy playing the flute on the back of the water buffalo. The number of details on the tile is extraordinary, and all the Flower tiles have this level of care.

 

We certainly see a lot of maidens in Mahjong, but this set has very fine depictions. I feel all the maidens on these tiles are the same person, most likely a goddess. The craftsman has added delightful details: her highly decorated fan, beautiful robe and hair ornaments. The ribbons on her robe (on all the tiles where she appears) are blowing in the breeze, adding a graceful touch. As is almost always the case in Chinese garden scenes, there is a wall. Chinese garden walls harken back to the Great Wall, a source of pride.

 

Given all the curlicues on the tile (curlicues represent the heavens), we are looking at a goddess. I love the idea that even up in the heavens they drink tea! The ribbons from her robe blend into the clouds. The semi-circular shape here might be a moongate.

 

This is one of the best carvings of a horse I have seen of one on a Mahjong tile. The scenery the horse and rider are traveling through conjures up all those beautiful and sometimes sacred mountains in China.

The next suite of Flowers show the goddess/maiden with the four plants important to the Chinese: plum blossom, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum.

 

We often see maidens walking down stairways, as our maiden is doing, here holding plum blossoms in her hand. There's a rock behind her, part of the created landscapes in the gardens of wealthy Chinese.

Even though this maiden is a goddess, it important to note when young ladies appear on Mahjong tiles, they are either at the window looking out, or in a garden. Wealthy young women in China were not allowed out of their home area after they "became women."  Their homes and gardens were their worlds.

 

Here we see her walking past an urn where orchids are in bloom. The pole she is carrying might be a hoe, used for flower cultivation.

 

How charming is this image of her, bamboo in hand, playing with a butterfly? It is amazing how detailed the butterfly is, and remember, the whole tile is only over an inch in length.

 

And finally we have this scene where she is holding that large pot of chrysanthemums. She appears to be floating, although I don't see any evidence of clouds.

 

As many of you know, ivory  is the only substance with the cross-hatching you see here. You might have to look at several tiles to see it, and it is often on the sides of the tiles, but if you find that cross-hatching, you have ivory. If you see a tile without any backing, such as bamboo or ebony to name a few, you probably have ivory. Look carefully for the cross-hatching, not the squiggly lines you would see on French Ivory. Given that China was very poor in the 1920s, ivory was not in great supply, and thus real ivory sets are very unusual.

Isn't this set fabulous??!! I think I "speak" for all of us that we are very grateful to the set's owner for sharing these images with us.

 

 

 

*Many of you will have noticed another symbol, the gammadion cross or swastika, ringing the center of the One Dot. To the Chinese and others in Asia, this symbol is very important, and it is best to remember that it has positive associations in Asian art, opposite of the horrifying one representing the Nazi party.

From wikipedia:

The Swastika (also known outside the Indian subcontinent as the Hakenkreuz, gammadion cross, cross cramponnée, croix gammée, fylfot, or tetraskelion) (as a character 卐 or 卍) is an ancient religious symbol originating from the Indian subcontinent, that generally takes the form of an equilateral cross with four legs each bent at 90 degrees.[1][2] It is considered to be a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism and dates back at least 11,000 years.[3]

Western literature's older term for the symbol, gammadion cross, derives mainly from its appearance, which is identical to four Greek gamma letters affixed to each other.[4] The name Swastika comes from the Sanskrit (Devanagari: स्वस्तिक), and denotes a "lucky or auspicious object".[4] It has been used as a decorative element in various cultures since at least the Neolithic Age. It is known most widely as an important symbol, long used in Indian religions.

 

 

 

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Here is a set to love.

A reader contacted me with photos of this incredible set. I must confess I almost fell out of my chair when I first saw the images. Not only is this an elaborately carved set, it has ebony backs! I had only seen photos of one other such set, in the Mahjong Collector Magazine. I wanted to write this one up for Valentine's Day.

A bit of background. The reader was not looking for a set, but happened upon it while trying to find a piece of furniture. Needless to say, the idea of the cabinet went away, and this set, of course without the practicality of the cabinet, took its place!  I certainly can understand that-who needs a cabinet when you can have a treasure!

So let's look closely at the tiles:

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The Winds are charming with squash at the edges. (Squash, with all their seeds, are symbols of the wish for many children.)

 

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The Dragons have the goldfish (symbol of wealth and prosperity) on the Green and Red Dragons. Don't you love those long fishtails? The White Dragons have what I believe to be butterflies.

 

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Longevity symbols made it to the Dots. Five bats are surrounding the longevity symbol on the One Dot (bats symbolize longevity and good fortune; here they can be identified by the orange backs) and the longevity symbol is in the middle of all the other Dots.

 

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The goldfish is the One Bam, and longevity symbols are the other Bams.

 

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Even the Craks are beautiful, with peaches (symbols of longevity) in the corners.

 

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The Eight Immortals make up the Flower tiles. I wonder if this set was made in the same workshop as an orphan tile I have, seen below. When I saw that tile I realized the art on these sets can be terrific, inspiring Mah Jongg The Art of the Game.  I think it is possible some of the high-end workshops might have worked in bone and bamboo as well as bone and ebony. Or if they didn't, maybe it was the same designer who did both sets.

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Ebony sets do not look any different from other sets, except from the side. Here is that smashing side-view:

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You will notice that ebony is much flatter than bamboo, making the building of walls two tiles high much easier.

The box is a treasure as well:

deeply carved front of box
deeply carved front of box

 

back of box
back of box

 

side of box with brass detail
side of box

The sides of the box have brass details.

This set was really loved. The owner (or someone close to the owner) needle-pointed a square that is used in some versions of mahjong. The piece indicates to players which wall will be used first when starting play. I can certainly understand why this set would have been loved, can't you??

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You can see the four orientation points, (West is on the bottom here) and the numbers show which wall be be the first to be used in the deal,  based on the rolls of the two dice. If the player rolled a 3, 7 or 11, the wall in front of West would be the first, and play would go in a clockwise direction from there.

Happy Valentine's Day.

 

Many people think they have ivory mahjong sets, either because they assume they do or that is what they have been told. Some people do have ivory tiles, but most people don't. But just because tiles are not made of ivory does not mean they are less valuable. In fact, some of the most expensive sets sold recently are bone and bamboo, not ivory and bamboo or pure ivory.

Why is it that some sets made of bone are more expensive than those made of ivory? The answer is simple: it is all about the carving and the designs on the tiles. In the 1920s, the heyday for Mahjong designers and carvers, China was very poor and ivory was in short supply. In fact, bone was scarce too. When China ran out of bone they were able to purchase some from the United States, from the stockyards in Chicago and the cattle ranchers in Nebraska. The best parts of the bone were bought by the best workshops, and they turned out high quality sets. Of course ivory was carved in the best workshops too, but it might have been that the shops were depending more on the ivory material alone to sell the set, and thus were not as inspired to make sets with wonderful designs that would make people want to buy the tiles.

This exquisite bone and bamboo set, seen below, recently sold for almost $10,000. And yes, for bone and bamboo, but look at the carvings and the images. Absolutely beautiful. In fact, each tile is a masterpiece. The Dots come first (peaches, with the One Dot a curled up Dragon often copied as joker tiles on the modern sets), Winds with butterflies in the corners, and Dragons with dragons and phoenixes, Flowers perhaps illustrating a tale of combat, and Craks with special Chinese numbers usually used by banks, surrounded by longevity symbols including endless knots, and Bams made of Bamboo shoots (and look at that divine One Bam bird with the ribbon in its mouth, symbolizing China's military strength).

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This next set is solid ivory, and it sold for less than half of the above set. It is easy to see why. Yes, the carving is lovely, but the designs are much more unusual and intricate on the bone and bamboo set.

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You will notice that the surface of the ivory is smooth.

Bone often has small channels in it, the haversian system, as you can see below, even in this very beautifully carved set.

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note small dots on the side of the bone, remnants of the haversian system
note small dots on the side of the bone, remnants of the haversian system

 

Below are two photos of ivory, seen from the top and the side.

notice the slightly wavy varied tones in these ivory tiles
notice the slightly wavy varied tones in these ivory tiles
the cross-hatching only found in ivory is noticeable on the sides of these tiles
the cross-hatching only found in ivory is noticeable on the sides of these tiles

Ivory has cross-hatching known as Schreger lines, but sometimes several pieces need to be examined to see it, depending on where on the tusk the pieces came from. For more views of ivory, please click here to see the page devoted to ivory and French Ivory.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

640px-Workshop_of_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_-_Google_Art_Project

This is a copy of a the most famous portrait of King Henry VIIIth by Hans Holbein, painted in 1536 or 1537. The original was lost in a fire in 1698, but is known to us by the many copies made of it while it was extant.

Wolf Hall about Henry VIIIth is airing on PBS, and it has gotten some great reviews. A show with the same name is on Broadway.  (Keep reading, you'll see why this is related).

Today we turn to this delightful Mahjong set with a Mother-of-pearl wafer glued to an ebony back. The carving is light, and not quite as detailed as the set that we featured at the beginning of last year.  But the carving is wonderful never-the-less. You will note the delicacy of the suits and numbers. The crane, the symbol for longevity, is seen mid-air, with his feet tucked beneath him. The 9 dots has a unique look about it, with three Dots above the 9 and six below.

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This close up allows the wafers to show off their lovely natural shimmer.

What is interesting are the One Dots-there are actually three different kinds, almost as if they were just scooped up from buckets at the factory.

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And now for the great reveal and the tie-in to Henry VIIIth:

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If that man on the upper right does not look like Henry VIIIth, I don't know who does!! He certainly does not look like most people we see on mahjong tiles. And I love that crooked smile!  Acrobats are delightful doing their cartwheels– their books are flying to the floor so perhaps they are taking a study break! You'll notice that there are no real suites of Flowers, although the numbers do go from 1 to four on each set, but the colors of the numbers are not related, giving more credence to the idea of scooping up tiles from buckets at the factory.

My best guess is that this set was made in Europe, and probably in Germany. There is a real German look to #4 upper right, especially with that feather in his cap. Some of the people look like caricatures, so I doubt they were carved in China

To read more about Henry VIIIth, click here.

To read about Wolf Hall on TV, click here

And Hilary Mantels' book

For those of you who don't yet know, there is a wonderful magazine, The Mahjong Collector. I just received my issue and I am over the moon!

You can find out more by emailing them at this address:

 

To see when I am doing author appearances, click here

You can now follow me on Twitter!

@MahJonggGregg

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.

www.mahjonggtheartof thegame.com

To order it click here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mah-jongg-ann-israel/1118759459?ean=9784805313237

or here from Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Mah-Jongg-Collectors-Guide-Tiles/dp/4805313234/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1414844427&sr=8-7&keywords=mah+jongg

 

X 59 EAGLE SCENE crab

We've been looking at some of the wonderful sea creatures that we see on Mahjong tiles. The next three appear in our book: Mah Jongg the Art of the Game. They are from a fabulous set of Flower tiles, made of ivory backed with bamboo. Thanks to www.Mahjongmahjong.com for providing this wonderful set for our use in the book.

You can see how finely carved this crab is, and how there is attention to the rocks under the water, and the grasses growing at the bottom of the sea. Once again we see that small "H" mark on the shell of the crab, similar to what we saw in the other post. To me, that crab has a lot of personality!

 

X 59 EAGLE SCENE shrimp

Here we have a shrimp, swimming near the ocean bottom, past little clumps of sea plants. To the Chinese the shrimps are symbols of flexibility. I don't know about you, but I certainly could use a bit more flexibility in my life!!

 

X 59 EAGLE SCENE fish

And this may be one of the most delightful looking goldfish I have ever seen!  The bubbles are such a terrific touch! And as you probably remember, goldfish are symbols of wealth and prosperity.

Here's another shrimp, this time bone and bamboo, not from the book

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By sheer coincidence, today is the day the Italians celebrate:

The feast of the 7 fishes, Christmas Eve.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_the_Seven_Fishes

 

You can now follow me on Twitter!

@MahJonggGregg

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:

www.mahjonggtheartof thegame.com

To order it click here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mah-jongg-ann-israel/1118759459?ean=9784805313237

or here from Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Mah-Jongg-Collectors-Guide-Tiles/dp/4805313234/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1414844427&sr=8-7&keywords=mah+jongg

 

 

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Scan 5

These three photographs are beautiful sides of a Mahjong box that was in the collection of the Japanese Mahjong Museum, and scanned from their catalog. (If you ever can get one of the catalogs of their collection, do so. The sets are magnificent, as are the photographs.)

The children are enjoying their time together, with the groupings beautifully framed by the outside vines winding their way around the sides of the box. The children and vines are made of mother-of-pearl, inlaid into the box, and you can clearly see how the box was carved out for the inlays in the above photograph, which has a few pieces missing. You might notice the one boy with a firecracker in his hand, in the lower left box. The details on the children's faces are just delightful-it's amazing how the smallest etch in the mother-of-pearl could bring these little faces to life.

In Chinese art children were treated as beings who, just by being themselves, could bring great joy to the viewer. And their images carried with them the hopes that the viewers would have many children.

 

Scan 3

 

Several of you noticed in the earlier post that the Chinese artists portrayed children the way they actually were, as opposed to the way in which European and American artists handled the subject. The following work was painted in 1760, and is in the Colonial Williamsburg collection. Interesting how serious the children look, even when holding a pet squirrel.

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Above is the Sleigh Ride by James Goodwyn Clonney done about 1845, from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. At least here there is a bit of  smile on the faces of both children.

 

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And from the Metropolitan Museum we have The Golden Age by Jean-Baptiste Joseph Pater (French, Valenciennes 1695–1736 Paris). Although children were portrayed in a bit more realistic way by this French artist, they lack the rambunctiousness of the Chinese ones. It is almost as if the Chinese artists delighted in the naughtiness of children!

We started this post with the beautiful almost one hundred year old mother-of-pearl mahjong box from the Japanese Mahjong Museum, and we will end the post with a very new set, carved by one of the few people who is carrying on the tradition of designing and creating Mahjong sets, Dee Gallo from Red Coin Mahjong. Dee's newest set's theme is based on money, a reference to the original basis for the three suits of the game: coins, (dots) strings of coins (bams) , and lots of coins (craks). On one bouquet of Flowers she features children, very much like the ones we saw on the box, holding oversized coins. You can see the details she included: each child is an individual, with unique clothing and expressions. The coin on tile 2 shows bats flying around the center of the coin. The font of the numbers she uses on the tiles add to the theme of the set: copper plate. Her artistic talent and creativity harken back to the days of old, when master craftsmen created mahjong works of art on tiny tiles, with sets referencing different aspects of Chinese lore and culture.

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To see more of Dee's work, click here

metqingdynscreen

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

http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/61665

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

 

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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:

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to line up tiles for the player, as seen above

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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:

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

2 Comments

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.

 

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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.

 

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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:

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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.

The book I wrote with Ann Israel is being published by Tuttle. To see more about it:

www.mahjonggtheartof thegame.com

To order it click here:

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or here from Amazon

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