style of carving


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.








A very lucky reader sent me photos of her newest Mahjong set. She confessed she had taken a big risk at auction, not having been able to see photos of any tiles close up. She was delighted when the box arrived and she knew this time her instinct was correct, and her excitement about this purchase got her to send me photos to post on this blog . According to her, the colors of the tiles are true in these photos. It seems all the colors in the tiles were painted. And the sharp crisp corners of the tiles indicate perhaps a German or Austrian manufacturer.

This is one of those great times when a set is rare, the colors are fabulous, and the designs terrific. Purple tiles allow for many different color effects on the tiles themselves. Here on the Bamboos we see yellow instead of our usual green. The flying crane of longevity is simple in the white outline with his red legs and bill. The 8 Bams have a real Art Deco look to me.




The One Dots look like targets, don't they? What's interesting here is that you can see that all the tiles are not the same size, despite being machine made.



The Winds, Dragons and Flowers certainly don't disappoint with their unique and spirited Character renditions, all very angular in keeping with the squared off quality of the tiles themselves. The Flowers have a neon sign look to them, don't they? The top ones are the Four Arts of the Scholar and the lower ones flowers, although not the traditional ones we usually see.



Who would have thought the Craks would be a favorite suit? Everything about the spirited Chinese numbers and Characters delights the eye, including the colors.



The Wind Indicators and the counters are the same beautiful material and color. All beautiful, don't you think?

Maybe she will have to learn how to play the Hong Kong version, Wright-Patterson or another form of the game so that she can play with the set!

I am undertaking a new project involving the social history of the game. You can read about by clicking History Project at the top of the Page. Perhaps you would like to participate.

For those of you who don't yet know, there is a wonderful magazine, The Mahjong Collector. 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!


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 order it click here:

or here from Amazon



This set was recently auctioned off on

You will quickly notice the lack of Western letters and Arabic numbers which indicate the set was not meant to be exported from China, but somehow or other it finally made its way out of China to the States.

If you look carefully at the Flower tiles, you'll see there are two sets of dots, one set is dark, and the other one red. Each set has tiles with 1, 2, 3, or 4 dots on them. Tiles like this show up from time to time. You may know that often Flower tiles have numbers on them, two sets of numbers in red and green, numbering from 1 to 4. These tiles have pips that represent the number associated with each tile. For many of us, the number on Flower tiles does not make a difference, but for others who play Hong Kong style, for example, these numbers do make a difference, because each player has a number associated with their seat; if they get the tile associated with their seat, they get an extra point in that game. So from time to time you'll see pips on tiles, and at other times Arabic numbers might be added. It is possible that this set has pips because the rest of the set does not have any Western letters or Arabic numbers, and pips are in keeping with the type of set it is. It is hard to tell from the photo but these pips may have been carved into the tile; sometimes pips and numbers are added in pen or pencil.

There are a few other interesting aspects to the set, proving that photographs can be deceiving. From the top photo it looks like a Chinese Bakelite set because of all the yellow tint. However it is actually French Ivory, as seen in these next photographs.


You can see the alternating colors on the tile, indicating it is French Ivory.



And the true color is probably closer to this:



The White Dragons, seen in the top photo, are pretty wonderful too.

I am undertaking a new project involving the social history of the game. You can read about by clicking History Project at the top of the Page. Perhaps you would like to participate.

For those of you who don't yet know, there is a wonderful magazine, The Mahjong Collector. 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!


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 order it click here:

or here from Amazon






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.

DSC_0116 mop



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.



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



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!


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 order it click here:

or here from Amazon

Many people have written in asking how to tell if their Mahjong set is hand-carved.

It is a bit more complicated than you might think. But for purposes of this website we will consider hand-carved Mahjong anything that was not manufactured in bulk and has some human control over the images of the tiles.

Dee Gallo is an artist who has been able to figure out  many of the lost techniques of the old Mahjong craftsmen. She designs and creates her own mahjong sets in addition to being able to copy or create tiles that are missing from other vintage sets. She writes in our book Mah Jongg The Art of the Game that once the game became really popular in the 1920s, craftsmen were not able to keep up with the demand and they had to shortcut their carving process. Bone tiles had images transferred to them with branding irons, perhaps making the tiles easier to carve. But I think people had to carve where it was branded, clean it up a bit, and painters always painted the tiles. If all of your tiles look exactly alike, you don't have a hand-carved set.

I would imagine a pantograph could be used on softer materials such as French Ivory and Chinese Bakelite, probably when the tiles were still soft:

From wikipedia:

"A pantograph (Greek roots παντ- "all, every" and γραφ- "to write", from their original use for copying writing) is a mechanical linkage connected in a manner based on parallelograms so that the movement of one pen, in tracing an image, produces identical movements in a second pen. If a line drawing is traced by the first point, an identical, enlarged, or miniaturized copy will be drawn by a pen fixed to the other. Using the same principle, different kinds of pantographs are used for other forms of duplication in areas such as sculpture, minting, engraving and milling."

From the Worlds of David Darling website:


You can see how following the lines of the bigger image can create lines on  the smaller sized mahjong tile.


These are lovely French Ivory tiles made by Piroxloid. Although the color is off (sorry!) you can see that each tile is exactly the same. The C on the Red Dragon is perfect.


You can see a bit of shakiness to the lines. This tile would have been carved with a pantograph, especially given that this material is flammable!

DSC_0116 5 dots

These 5 Dots are obviously not done with a branding iron, at least not one that has all the Dots in the same place. You can see the spacing is different, but it is believed an iron would have been used for each Dot. I think the 5s were hand-carved given that there is variation.

DSC_0118 9Crak

From the same set, it looks like the Crak character was done with a branding machine as were the Chinese number 9s. The Arabic numbers look hand-carved because there are tiny differences.

DSC_0112 west

These are from another set. The tiles look very similar to me, so perhaps a branding iron with all the information on it was used, including the numbers.

DSC_0112 craks

It is clear this set was hand-carved, at least the Craks were. The Wans are different shapes and sizes.

Majong-1-gregg's 4 parrots set

A wonderful Chinese Bakelite set that may have been hand-carved, possibly using a template of some sort. Certainly the claws of the bird are different in each, as are the chest feathers. The leaves are different too. And because of the hand carving each bird has a different expression. Be sure to notice the meanders around the outside ring of the One Dot and the abstract bats at the top and bottom of the White Dragon.

Majong-1-4 cb phoenix

These phoenix may have also been hand-carved using a template. There are minor differences, giving each tile a unique look. The #1s were added by a later owner who needed to know these were the One Bams.

To see some of Dee Gallo's work, click here

To see when I am doing author appearances, click here

You can now follow me on Twitter!


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


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.


You can now follow me on Twitter!


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


Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 8.41.59 AM

Above we have the continuation from the earlier post this week.

Images continue to be somewhat cryptic. But these are the Four Professions, the four important jobs in China.

Starting from the left we have

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.32.14 PM

The scroll, one of the visual indications for a scholar. Following is the scroll seen earlier from the British Library, the oldest known scroll.

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.06.20 PM


The next tile deals with agriculture.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.38.19 PM


You can see the signs of a farmer. The rake

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.41.36 PM

(photo from WWF)

behind what is probably a hat, which seems to have four strings, two to be tied under the chin and two behind the head, keeping the hat secure. Perhaps the design on the tile is a shorthand version for this type of hat.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.51.03 PM



The next tile is also difficult to read, but it represents bundles of wood.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.52.41 PM


Here is a recent photograph of a Chinese villager carrying a huge bundle of wood.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.55.15 PM


And finally, the last calling is the fisherman.

Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 5.57.24 PM

Once again the tile is cryptic, but if you look carefully you can make out the straight fishing pole and the wavy fishing line. But what is the other object?

I had the good fortune to see a collection of baskets from around the world. Much to my delight I happened upon this one:


A Chinese fishing basket. Now you will be able to recognize the image on other tiles representing the fisherman.


Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 8.42.08 AM

And these are capture tiles, required by some types of play: The centipede that will get caught by the rooster, and the fish that will be caught by the fisherman. Given the wavy line coming out of the fish's mouth, the fisherman may have already caught his fish. The capture tiles, which are bonus tiles, when paired correctly allow for extra points/money.

One of the most popular posts on this website has been the one written about the hand-carved three layer tiles we call tri-color. Many of us feel these tiles are under-appreciated  (read under-valued) at the moment, and deserve to get better recognition. These sets are particularly fun because there are so many Flower tiles, unlike most sets made in the 1920s and 1930s.

The most common back color seen on these tri-color tiles is green. Of course, the "tri-color" name itself is a misnomer, because the middle layer is clear lucite.



It can be challenging at times to really understand the images seen on the tiles.


DSCF1071 1

The top row above has the seasons. I find it easiest to recognize the one on the left, with the little teardrops at the bottom. That is the symbol for winter, and if you see that, you probably are looking at the other three tiles being the other seasons.



DSCF1071 2

The easiest tile for me is the first one on the left, bamboo. Those two characters somewhat relate to each other, and that helps. On that line, the other characters are chrysanthemum, orchid and plum blossom.



DSCF1071 3

The 3rd row shows "abbreviations" of the four arts of the scholar. We often see these on lucite tiles as other tiles, and because they are so free of details it can be hard to recognize them. But they are:

Painting: many years ago in China painting was done on long scrolls that would be rolled up, looking like tile #4. There can sometimes be two rolls, which represents a scroll half-way rolled up.

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.06.20 PM

This is the earliest scroll ever found,dating from 868 in China, and it is found in the collection of the British Library, . You can see how it is rolled up, and how the abstract symbol on the tile resembles it.


From Wikipedia:

"The handscroll is a long narrow scroll for displaying a series of scenes in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean painting and calligraphy. The handscroll presents an artwork in the horizontal form and can be exceptionally long, usually measuring up to a few meters in length and around 25–40 cm in height.[2] Handscrolls are generally viewed starting from the right end.[3][4] This kind of scroll is intended to be viewed flat on a table while admiring it section for section during the unrolling as if traveling through a landscape.[4][5] In this way, this format allows for the depiction of a continuous narrative or journey.[6]"

For more on Chinese scrolls, click here


Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.11.02 PM


This next tile was a bit tricky. It had been thought this represents an ink stone, because of the round hole seen on the top that would have been used to grind the ink stick into powder which would then be mixed with water to make ink for calligraphy. Reader Ray Heaton came up with the correct interpretation which was confirmed by a Chinese art Scholar.

From Ray:

"I suggest that the tile from the Four Arts described as showing an Ink stone rather shows a set of books that are wrapped and bound by ribbon (ribbons are used to show the auspicious nature of an object)."

The stack of books represents the learning required if one wanted to become a scholar and have a chance to get a position in government.

And certainly all of these tile images have the ribbons with them, indicating their auspicious nature.


Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.27.18 PM

Go: A Chinese game played with round pieces. This symbol is sometimes also considered to be the game of chess. Both boards have small squares on them. Given we see two round pieces to the side and below the board, this may well be "go." or "weiqi."

From Wikipedia:

"Go (simplified Chinese: 围棋; traditional Chinese: 圍棋; pinyin: wéiqí, Japanese: 囲碁 igo,[nb 2] common meaning: "encircling game", Korean: 바둑 baduk[nb 3]) is a board game for two players that originated in China more than 2,500 years ago. Strategy is significant to the game despite its relatively simple rules.

The two players alternately place black and white playing pieces, called "stones", on the vacant intersections (called "points") of a grid of 19×19 lines (beginners often play on smaller 9×9 and 13×13 boards).[2] The objective of the game is to use one's stones to surround a larger total area of the board than the opponent.[3] Once placed on the board, stones may not be moved, but stones can be removed from the board if captured; this is done by surrounding an opposing stone or group of stones by occupying all orthogonally-adjacent points.[4] Players continue in this fashion until neither player wishes to make another move; the game has no set ending conditions. When a game concludes, the territory is counted along with captured stones and komi to determine the winner.[5] Games may also be won by resignation.

Go originated in ancient China. Archaeological evidence shows that the early game was played on a board with a 17×17 grid, but by the time the game had spread to Korea and Japan, in about the 5th and 7th centuries AD respectively, boards with a 19×19 grid had become standard.[6]"


Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.22.16 PM

The above work is from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, and the scroll shows scholars playing the game.

For more on "weiqi" click here



Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.30.06 PM

Qin or lute: music. Every scholar knew how to play this instrument. The lute was often carried in a soft silk pouch.

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.34.45 PM


The remaining two rows will be discussed in the next post.

Our thanks to Tony for providing the Mahjong photographs.

***Reader Ray has suggested this might be a stack of books, tied with a ribbon. If anyone knows, please send me a comment. I will continue to try to find the answer.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 1.52.52 PMAbove we have a full set of Royal Depth Control Bakelite tiles. I would guess this set was made in the 1950s, and it has many of the details we expect to see in RDC sets.



Just above is a hand-carved three layer (tri-color) version of the set, made in the 1960s or 1970s, in Lucite. You will see there are interesting differences.


Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 2.05.46 PM

We'll start with the Bams. You will notice the perching pheasant, which resembles other perching birds to the untrained eye. (Look at the 13 orphans website to learn what to look for in differentiating sets.) You can note the trademark Bam shape, with the notch between each section really dividing each section from the one before.



And here is the hand-carved version. There's very little resemblance to the Bakelite cousin. These Bams have a thin, rounded shape, and the cute small pheasant is perching on a more horizontal branch.


Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 2.04.50 PM

The Bakelite Dots have the floral interiors whereas the Lucite ones



don't look even remotely similar, with their circular interiors.


Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 2.06.41 PM

The Craks with their elaborate wans

DSC_0903 crak

do look like the hand-carved version, but the numbers on these Lucite ones have a lot of personality, as do the Wans.




The hand-carving does add flair to the Winds.





The green Lucite Dragon is now facing another direction, but he still has wings, unlike the others. It really seems the White Dragon may well be a snake, don't you think?

And the real giveaway that it's a Royal Depth Control set, for most of us anyway:

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and the Lucite one:



Interesting that on the Bakelite sets it is a Royal Joker, and on the Lucite it's a Big Joker (perhaps inspired by the name given by the National Mah Jongg League?). But no matter the name, we love them the same.


The Flowers from the Lucite sets will be explained in a future post coming soon.

We thank Mahjongmahjong for their photographs of the Bakelite set.


Scan 3

The beautiful dish seen above dates from the middle of the Ming Dynasty and is in the collection of the Netherlands National Museum of Ceramics. You can clearly see the four different varieties of fish, with the carp on the middle upper right, at 1:00 o'clock, recognizable by his barbels. The Chinese word for carp is bai, interestingly also translated into English as one hundred, so the word itself connotates success. The other fish are qing, a fresh water mullet, a lian, a kind of bream, and a gui, a mandarin fish with a large mouth, seen at the 4 o'clock position.

C.A. S. Williams writes

"Fish forms an important part in the domestic economy of the Chinese. Together with rice it constitutes the principal staple of their daily food, and fishing has for this very reason formed a prominent occupation of the people from the most ancient times.... the fish is symbolically employed as the emblem of wealth or abundance, on account of the similarity in the pronounciation of the words yū, fish, and yū  superfluity, and also because fish are extremely plentiful in Chinese waters...."


While doing research for these posts, it seems that  scenes appear on some forms of art more often than on others. There seems to be a big overlap with scenes on Chinese porcelains and Mahjong tiles. The design style principles seem to be the same, but the subject matter, and ways of showing the subjects are  similar with porcelain and Mahjong.


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These are two more  Flower tiles belonging to reader Bill, from the same set as the carp we saw the other day. You can see how both fish are different, one from the other. Their heads, bodies and tails are distinct, and probably can be easily recognized by people who know their fish. It is not clear what the object is on tile #1, but the crab is easy to make out on tile 2. The beautiful deep blue water on these tiles is another visual treat.

Studying tile #2 a bit more, I noticed the fish's tail is breaking the surface of the water. I wonder if it might be a sturgeon, a type of fish treasured by the Chinese, which is unusual in that it lives in both fresh and salt water, although on this tile you can see the artist clearly intended this to be salt water, given the presence of the crab.

From Wikipedia:

Most sturgeon are anadromous meaning they spawn in fresh water and migrate to salt water to mature.

The Chinese sturgeon can be considered a large fresh water fish, although it spends part of its life-cycle in seawater, like the salmon,[4] however; Chinese sturgeon spawn multiple times throughout their life.

The Chinese sturgeon has a habit of upstream migration: they dwell along the coasts of China's eastern areas and migrate back up rivers for propagation upon reaching sexual maturity. It has the longest migration of any sturgeon in the world and once migrated more than 3,200 km (2,000 mi) up the Yangtze.[5] The sturgeon's reproductive capacity is poor: it may breed three or four times during its life-cycle, and a female sturgeon can carry in excess of a million eggs in one pregnancy, which are released for external fertilisation when mature. The survival rate to hatching is however estimated to be less than 1 percent.[4]