Tag Archives: Mother-of-pearl mahjong



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.



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.

www.mahjonggtheartof thegame.com

To order it click here:


or here from Amazon


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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.


To see more of Dee's work, click here



A reader sent this photo along with the translations of the Flower tiles, and it seemed a wonderful way to start off the new year.

These beautiful mother-of-pearl tiles are delicately carved. Because of the nature of the material, the craftsman had to be very skilled and able to work with small delicate strokes. Be sure to really study the photo so that you can see the precision of each bit of carving.

The paint colors are unusual, and perfect for the richness of the mother-of-pearl surface.

Two tiny tacks located diagonally across from each other affix each thin wafer to its tile back.

The Red tiles are Chinese scholarly pursuits

1. Qin -The guqin -a Chinese stringed instrument
2. Qi - Chinese chess
3.Shu- Calligraphy
4.Hua - Painting

Gold tiles the seasons:-

1.Chun -Spring
2. Xia- Summer
3.Qiu- Autumn
4.Dong- Winter


For more information about mother-of-pearl you can click on this wiki link


Beautiful mahjong photographs can be seen in my book, written with Ann Israel:


You can order the book here:


or here