Tag Archives: Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America

The other day we had the good fortune to study photographs of a set sent to us by Bill Price. You will remember the tiles in that set are quite special: the One Bam is a phoenix and the One Dot a dragon.  If any of you missed it, click here for a real treat.

The dragon and phoenix are a lucky pairing in Chinese art. When seen together, the dragon becomes male, and the phoenix female, and thus they represent good wishes for a happy marriage.



The above platter from the Lucas Collection in Australia shows the two of them, interestingly surrounding a flaming "pearl." The dragon has five toes, putting him in the category of an object that could be owned or worn by a member of the royal family; his whiskers, horns and chops are easily seen; his scales and serpentine body complete the look. The phoenix has a colorful tail and body, and the colors used make her most feminine indeed. They both have flames around them, those orange spiky squiggles. The platter is surrounded by meanders.



You will remember one of the first mahjong sets that was mass produced was made by the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America. The Green (Dragon) actually is the symbol for phoenix but

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the Red (Dragon) is the Chinese word for dragon. So even at the dawn of the game its designers felt it was beneficial to have the good omens of this pairing.


baldwin's Hong Kong 1923

The above coin (from Baldwin's Auction House in Hong Kong) was issued in 1923, the very same year that the Mah-Jongg Sales Company really took the world by storm when it started exporting sets in big numbers to the States and elsewhere. Notice that  pairing of the dragon and phoenix. The MJSA, when it used that pairing on its "Dragons"  was probably hoping to create a happy marriage between the Mah-Jongg Sales Company and the players using its sets, rules and scoring system.


1990 monetarian auctions

The good fortune of the pairing continues today. Here are two sides of the same coin, of recent minting. You see the pairing of the dragon and phoenix on the left and that other, all important symbol of China, the Great Wall. Given that the dragon is associated with power and the ruler of China, and the Great Wall certainly represents strength, it is not surprising to find these two symbols on the same coin.  Don't forget the phoenix only appears in times of a just ruler, so we have a lot of important symbolism on one coin.



Our reader Katherine Hartman has found the ornate boxes seen above that she uses to house Mahjong sets. You will note the phoenix on the top of the box, and dragons surrounding the sides. As many of you already know, very few boxes were made expressly for Mahjong tiles in the early days of the game; rather other boxes had to be adapted. Some of you probably have to do that these days yourselves, when faced with the sad deterioration of some vintage and antique boxes, so the tradition of adapting boxes for new uses exists today. And should you find boxes that have the wonderful dragon and phoenix pairing, the tiles will have a happy home indeed.


Carol Ann Harper "CHarli" has a writeup about Pung Chow


The swooping crane One Bam and the flat ended Bams, the simple wans with Arabic numbers, and the Dots going from a stylized flower center to circles within circles appear in these mahjong sets.

The Winds are standard, but the Dragons are highly unusual, and probably were one of the selling points for the game. Who can resist those beautiful creatures?

The Flowers deserve some study, however. They all have the Western letters for the seasons, but the top row has the Chinese words for seasons, whereas the bottom one has the words for the four flowers.


The interest in showing different forms of architecture appears on these tiles as it does in other sets such as those by the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America, one of Pung Chow's biggest competitors in those early days.

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It is clear the images are quite similar, but the Pung Chow designers have a more streamlined approach. The mountains and hills in the background have turned into triangular pyramidal shapes. And don't you love the birds? Look carefully at the South and you will see a bird flying up to the sky, as opposed to all the others flying downward.

And now for the forms of transportation:

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You can see how Pung Chow's images are simpler here too, but birds still are included on three of the tiles. (The only bird in the Mah-Jongg version is the duck seen on tile 4 under the tree.) The hills are  triangular here too.

To see another write-up about forms of transportation on this site, click here



Babcock Set

You all recognize these Flower tiles made by the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America. I thought you might like to see how some images here were very familiar, and often seen in decorative art pieces.


The handcart on tile 1 often was used to transport items. You can see it is an early form of a wheelbarrow. The handcart above was auctioned off at Christies.

And this below by Liveauctioneers:


A sedan is seen on tile 2. Following is a piece of art that was auctioned at Liveauctioneers.com


At one time in Hong Kong, according to Wikipedia, sedans were the only form of public transportation.


Usually when we think of getting around Hong Kong many years ago, the rickshaw (tile 3) is the form of transportation that comes to mind. Wikipedia states that it is believed the rickshaw was invented in Japan in 1869 after a ban on wheeled vehicles was lifted following the Tokugawa period. It first appeared in China in 1873. The following image is from Wikipedia:


And here it is seen on an exquisite plate currently offered for sale by the Ralph M. Chait Galleries, Inc. at the Winter Antiques Show


And finally the Chinese junk (tile 4) which was invented during the Song Dynasty which lasted from 960 until 1129, according to Wikipedia.


To see more beautiful pieces of Chinese art from the Ralph M. Chait Galleries, Ltd. click here




One of the great things about Mahjong is the fabulous variations that exist within the strict parameters of the game tiles.

The tiles with numbers were clearly intended for the export market. The other tiles may have been as well, but often carvers did not put numbers on the tiles that were readily recognizable: the One and Two Dots can be easily understood.

Here you can see the Two Dots are either circles within circles or flower petals, both of which are often seen. With these circles within circles you can see the variations in ring width and color. The floral centers also have variations, going from the simple flower seen in row 2 on the left, to the more detailed one on the bottom row right. The flowers can be placed within other flowers.

The top left One Dot is  reminiscent of some of the earliest Dots with four dots inside the circle.


The top right One Dot is very similar to the bottom row left, similar to a flower within a flower, and is quite common. The second row left is one of the four tiles made by the Mah-Jongg Sales Company of America(MJSA); each of their four One Dots have a different interior, spelling out Free Mah-Jongg, supposedly an encouragement for people to play Mah-Jongg in their spare time. Notice the abstract cog-like center of the MJSA tile is seen in the lower right tile, where the partial flower petal in the NESW positions is a partial Shou in the lower right.

Although the second row right and third row right have different One Dots, you will see something in common: they both have the Shou (immortality) interior, seen more clearly in the second row set within the floral center, with two Shous divided into halves in the bottom One Dot, on the side of the floral center. The lower right Dot also has the plum blossom, the five petaled flower symbolizing the "five blessings": longevity, wealth, health, virtue, and natural death at an old age.

See here for more hidden meanings in Chinese art: