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FAQ 7g: How Old Is My Mah-Jongg Set?

麻雀

Last update: February 12, 2010

Here are some general guidelines you can use to estimate your set's age:

麻雀

"I have an antique MJ set from the mid-1800's, complete with original English instructions. How much is it worth?"
No way!!! That's impossible.
The game of Mah-Jongg may indeed have been played as early as the mid-1800's, but sets were most definitely not manufactured for foreign export until after 1911 when the game became widely available to the Chinese public. The earliest known documented writings of Mah-Jongg are in the 1890's. The first sets for export to the West were made in 1919-1920. That means that tiles did not have Arabic numerals (1,2,3,4...) or Roman letters (E,S,W,N...) on them until the 1920's -- and there were no instructions written in English until then either. You may indeed have an antique set, but you're going to have to re-evaluate the set's age.


"I have a Craftmaster set that says it was made in 1915. The tiles have Western indices and English rules. That seems to contradict the information on your site that says such sets shouldn't have existed before 1920. What gives?"
As near as I can figure out, Craftmaster Corporation made that set in 1923 (the date on the instruction booklet). The game includes a tile that refers to a 1915 patent application. I imagine that the 1915 patent application was for some kind of game tiles (which probably didn't yet have mah-jongg designs on them in 1915). In checking patent numbers at www.uspto.gov, I found that patents granted in 1915 would all have to fall into the range of 11233212 through 1166418 - I couldn't find information on patent application numbers for 1915, nor what Craftmaster was trying to patent in 1915. If anybody finds definitive information on "Craftmaster tile patent application, serial number 640731 series of 1915," please post it on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board.


"I am trying to determine the age of my set. It looks a lot like one I've seen for sale on eBay. The seller of that set said that it was 170 years old, but your FAQ 11 says mah-jongg didn't even exist yet in 1834! The seller is from China - surely they ought to know about mah-jongg history in the country of the game's origin, right? Help me overcome my confusion."
It's very disturbing that somebody would make claims like that, but some sellers will say anything to make a sale. And yes, you would think that the Chinese would know about the history of what some of them call "the national game," but sadly, most folks prefer to believe legend and myth than to actually research facts. I saw the set the asker was talking about, and it didn't look older than 70 years to me (much less a hundred and seventy!). That seller should be reprimanded by eBay, but eBay would have to be convinced that we Western mah-jongg researchers (and some whom I've met in China) are right, that the seller should know better (and intentionally perpetrated a fraud), and that a grievous wrong has been committed on buyers. And of course eBay can't go after every seller who ages sets of recent origin so they look ancient, whether or not the seller claims the set to be from the Qing Dynasty. Just don't believe the hype.


Is my set an antique?
You'll have to define what "antique" means to you. Some people say anything older than 50-60 years is an antique. Others say 100 years. Your set appears to be around 70-80 years old - I don't know if that means it's an "antique" or not.


Is this a vintage set?
I have no idea what "vintage" means to you!



SET AGE-DETERMINATION CHECKLIST:

If you want me to try to help you determine a set's age, you have to do some homework. I need you to fill out the complete checklist below. I don't own a crystal ball! (I sometimes joke that I do own one but that it's in the repair shop.) Not being psychic, I need clues. And only you can give them to me.
Do not use this checklist if you want me to tell you the value of your set. Use the valuation checklist in FAQ 7h if that's what you want to know.


Most early (1920s) sets used the simpler-style crak character. But not all. See FAQ 7e.


Most modern (1970s to date) sets use the more elaborate-style crak character. But not all.

Pictures are important. You need to take photos of the set. See how sellers on Ebay arrange their sets, observe what looks like a good sales photo and what does not. And if you don't have access to a digital camera, your photos need to be scanned so you can email them or post them on Ebay, or link to them from our Sets For Sale board, to sell your set. For information about image hosting, click here. Once you have completed the age checklist, you can either compare it with similar sets on Jim May's website (see link below), or you can send your completed checklist and your photos to an appraiser.
You can email your completed checklist and your photos to me, but be advised that I don't give free confidential answers - the answer will be given on the Q&A Bulletin Board. "When you email me, I own it." When you email me for a free mah-jongg set age evaluation, you thereby give me your implied consent to publish your descriptions and photos on this website. If that is not acceptable to you, then the age evaluation will not be free. Email to inquire about pricing. I give free information only in this public forum.

If you are going to email me some photos, please crop and resize the photos appropriately for emailing. It isn't nice to send photos that are bigger than, like, two megapixels. They must be in JPG format, not BMP or TIF format. Do NOT send photos in PDF or DOC format. Send JPGs ONLY. And they must be ATTACHMENTS (not embedded in the email).

"When you email me, I own it." When you email me for a free mah-jongg set age appraisal, you thereby give me your implied consent to publish your descriptions and photos on this website, and to use the photos in the FAQs if they depict some unusual feature. If that is not acceptable to you, then the evaluation will not be free. Email to inquire about pricing. I give free information only in this public forum.

I WON'T CLICK LINKS YOU SEND ME. If you're not sending pictures, please read all of FAQ 7 and learn what constitutes a good question that I can be helpful with. The most frequently asked questions are already answered therein.

If you want information about the company that manufactured your set, I can't help you. Please read FAQ 7U.


Email on this topic, from the Mahjong Q&A Bulletin Board:


CHarli's museum page is a great resource if you are looking for information about collectible mah-jongg sets and manufacturers http://www.charli.org/Mah_Jong/Museum/welcome.htm.


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