Recently, I "played" my first game of Mah Jongg at a "Marathon Women's Night Out", billed as "Martinis and Mah Jongg" (I had apple juice). I brought along a vintage 1930's Bakelite set that miraculously was a totally complete set. A week before "game night", I ordered a primer on how to play Mah Jongg. (A Beginner's Guide to American Mah Jongg, Elaine Sandberg).
Thank G-d I had read some of this book before the big game. Mah Jongg, an ancient Chinese game adopted by suburban women everywhere (who once lived in Brooklyn, N.Y.) (I'm exaggerating) is a very complicated game to both explain and to play.
In fact I am certain that Mah Jongg is as complex as ordering dinner in a Chinese restaurant that you are visiting for the very first time.
It's hysterical watching seasoned players explain to newbies (me) how to distribute the Mah Jongg tiles. Let's just say there are "rules" and then there are " made up rules" that work their way into the tradition of the game.
i won't even touch upon the subject of how a beginner learns how to read the official card which offers "hands" that you have to match. Just when you think that you know what is going on, the national Mah Jong League (NMJL) releases a new card. http://www.nationalmahjonggleague.org/
As an antique dealer, I of course was interested in learning something about the age and value of the sets that were being used in this well attended "Mah Jongg Game Night".
History of Mah Jongg
Mah Jongg was brought to America in the 1920's by Joseph Babcock. Babcock sold the patent to Parker Brothers in 1923. In 1937, the national Mah Jongg Leagure established a standard set of rules. Over the years the tiles would change as newer products were being made, Tiles can be made of Boxwood, Bamboo, Bakelite, Catalin, Pyralin, Bone, Ivory and lastly Modern Plastic. For an excellent review of the different kinds of tiles, take a look online at http://www.mahjongmuseum.com/. Values for sets vary according to rarity, condition and materials.
--> --> Buying Mah Jongg Sets
While a few years back you could easily pick up vintage depression Era Mah Jongg sets at a tag sale for $25.00-45.00, the demand for Mah Jongg sets by collectors, players and crafter's ( using tiles for jewelry) has really increased. I have seen single tiles sell for $3.00-5.00 each). Now you will find that even common 1940's-1950's sets are being sold for handsome prices. I visited an antique store in Connecticut a few months back and noted two sets for sale(common variety) selling for $150.00 and more.
Mish Mosh Mah Jongg Games
As sets are used for many generations, it is often the case that you will find tiles from different sets are added to your set to make the set complete. This is not a big deal for the player who acquires a set at a reasonable price and is only interested in the game. Antique dealers and collectors however will want to examine the tiles and components more carefully.
Photos shown, courtesy of -->http://www.mahjongmuseum.com/matl_id.htm. First photo of tiles shown (yellow) are Bakelite. The white tiles are Bone.
Also see: http://cdiannezweig.blogspot.com/2010/05/project-mah-jongg-exhibit-at-museum-of.html
C. Dianne Zweig is the author of Hot Kitchen & Home Collectibles of the 30s, 40s, 50s and Hot Cottage Collectibles for Vintage Style Homes. She is also the Editor of Iantiqueonline.com an actively growing internet based resource community for people who buy, sell or collect antiques, collectibles and art. You can find Dianne’s fabulous retro and vintage kitchen, home and cottage collectibles at The Collinsville Antiques Company of New Hartford, CT, a 22,000 feet antique emporium with an in-house retro café.
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