I received a call from a dear friend a couple of weeks ago asking me if she could come over, that she had something that she wanted to give to me. She explained that it was something that she had been looking for for a long time. She had put the item away in her mobile home in a very secure place, a place so secure she couldn’t recall where she had hidden it until recently! I told her to come over, of course, as I wondered what in the world this surprise could be.
I was pleasantly surprised to see what she had brought for me, it was a very old box containing an antique set of Maj Jongg tiles. She explained to me that this set belonged to her mother, that it had been given to her by someone. My friend, who was born in the 1930s, doesn’t recall her mother ever playing the game, It simply sat on a shelf for as long as she can remember. Occasionally, as a child, she would take the game off the shelf and dump the tiles out of the box. When her mother caught her playing with the set, she would tell her to put it back on the shelf and not to play with it since it was costly. My friend explained to her mother that she was only trying to arrange the tiles.
She indicated that she had wanted to give me this for a long time. You see, I have a room in my home that I call my “Chinese Room”. In it I have numerous items of Chinese origin, including many blue and white vases, tea pots, a real bonsai tree, let’s just say that there is no doubt what the décor theme is when you walk into the room! I even have throw pillows that I have covered with material brought back from China from another friend. She had been thinking of what a nice addition the Maj Johngg game would be to the room and was fretting because she couldn’t locate it for so long.
So, besides an obvious addition to the ambiance of my Chinese room, I was very curious if I could figure out what the tiles were made out of, or anything about the origins of it. I found this to be a very arduous feat. I’ve spent a number of hours on the internet trying to research the tile set that I have and it’s been challenging, to say the least. There are so many variations of materials that they were made of that there isn’t a cut and dried method to figuring out exactly what you have. I am sure that if I keep on researching that I’ll eventually figure it out.
In the meantime, I have found what I think is a very detailed website regarding the tiles. The URL is http://www.themahjongtileset.co.uk/ and is called “A Comprehensive Guide to Mahjong tile sets” by Michael Stanwick. One can find information under all of the following headings, the set history, pre 1920 names of the game, the set galleries, materials & translations, literature and money-suited cards. From what I’ve been able to gather, I believe that my set is made of bakelite and was manufactured in the 1930’s. The only other clue that I have is that the set has no jokers in it, but that doesn’t say much since jokers weren’t introduced into the game until 1961. Short of getting an expert to look at them, I think that I will have to settle for the conclusion. It isn’t like I am going to sell them or anything, I am just curious about it. My next quest will be to actually learn how to play this new game of mine, I can’t wait. I want to be able to actually use it and not just have it be a fixture in my Chinese room.