Assuming your set is a 1920s bone-and-bamboo set in a nice wooden box, it's probably worth between $50 and $500, depending on condition and completeness (does it have all 144 or 148 tiles marked with Western indices, plus instruction manual, all the sticks, dice, wind indicators, and small containers for dice and wind indicators). You might be able to get even more for it, if it's got any unusual pieces (especially beautiful or unusual flower tiles, one bams, an exceptional box, etc.), or if it's made from an exotic material, or if you write an unusually good eBay sales pitch like some I've seen.
The most valuable types of mah-jongg sets are the ones made of unusual or rare materials (genuine ivory, genuine jade, hollow tin tiles, for instance). Bakelite sets can also be worth hundreds of dollars, but only if they have 16 or more flower tiles and/or are of the "enrobed" type. A set that is complete and in good condition is worth more than one that is missing pieces or shows evidence of wear or storage in unfortunate places.
The backs of some enrobed tiles. Sets with enrobed tiles and genuine ivory tiles are the two most valuable types of sets.
SET VALUATION CHECKLIST:
If you want to find out how much your set is worth, you have to do some homework. The first step is to use the following checklist.
1. Write a factual detailed list of all the contents of your set. Describe all the contents, listing all dice, chips, racks, etc. If you do not know what to call the pieces, see our FAQ 7d .
2. IMPORTANT: Describe the condition of all the components of the set. Describe the condition of the case, the paper materials, and of course the tiles. Are they clean and attractive, like new, or are they dirty, mildewed, smelly? All defects of the set must be noted and described, in order to achieve the most accurate valuation. Note: be as objective as possible. Sales terms like "exquisite" and "gorgeous," "must see to believe," and "L@@K!" do not belong in this description. Also avoid terms like "vintage," "antique," "unique," "one-of-a-kind," and "I've never seen one like it!" You are writing a factual description, not a sales pitch (you can write a sales pitch later, after you've finished the valuation and are ready to sell the set). Also, just because you think your set is unique doesn't mean that other collectors will think so too.
Appraisers use specific language to grade or describe the condition of collectibles.
- Item is not usable, or is only just barely usable, or is unpleasant to use. All defects must be noted.
FAIR - Item is utilitarian but not attractive. All defects must be noted.
GOOD - Item is worn but reasonably attractive; any normal person would notice the defects without having to look for them. All defects must be noted.
VERY GOOD - Item has a few defects that any normal person would notice upon close examination. All defects must be noted.
FINE or EXCELLENT - Item has only very minor defects which only a purist or expert would notice or care about. These defects must be described in detail.
AS NEW or MINT - Item looks the same as when it came from the factory. No defects of any kind (your description should so state).
4. Describe what you know about when the set was made or purchased, if you know. Describe the history of the set to the best of your knowledge. See our FAQ 11 before you make any unsupportable claims (such as "this set is over a hundred years old!" or "this set is from the Qing Dynasty!"); the knowledgeable collectors can see through claims that are ignorant of the actual history of the game.
5. What are the dimensions of the tiles? Use either inches or metric (one or the other, not both - doesn't matter which; just be precise). Height, width, depth. If the tiles are bone & bamboo, give thickness of the bone portion. (Same goes for ivory & bamboo tiles.)
6. How many tiles are there in the set? Your best bet is to lay out the tiles on a table like this:
Take a picture of your laid-out tiles while you're at it. Tell potential buyers or appraisers an exact breakdown. You can't just say "148 tiles" or "156 tiles" -- and you mustn't simply say "it's complete" -- you have to break the count down.
Breaking it down. Look at the picture above. See how I name the tiles? Please use my terminology (I confuse easily). Tell me what your hundred-something tiles consist of exactly. But don't be tediously attentive to detail ("four 1-Dots, four 2-Dots, four 3-Dots..."). I need to know if the basic 136-tile set (dots, bams, craks, winds, dragons) is complete (you can say "the basic 136-tile set is complete"; I won't snap at you for saying that). AND how many flowers, and how many jokers. IMPORTANT: flower tiles all look different. Read FAQ 7e. I don't care about if you've got four seasons and four flowers - to me, that's eight flowers. The point is, be detailed but don't get too anal about it.
7. What other pieces (besides tiles) are included with the set? Give descriptions and exact counts. If you do not know what to call the pieces, see our FAQ 7d . NOTE: If you already listed, counted, and described all other pieces in #1 above, then there's no need to do it twice.
8. What kind of container does the set come in? If it's wood, is it one of those flat boxes with a sliding top, or is it one of those squarish boxes with drawers, and if so how many drawers?
9. What condition is the container in? If it has brass doodads, is the brass all there and in good condition?
10. Does the set have any paper materials -- a manual, a label, anything at all? What's the condition?
11. Which kind of craks are in this set -- the older kind or the later kind? Take a picture to provide to the appraiser.
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.
12. Provide a picture of the One Bams . These tiles can sometimes tell a lot about which part of China the set came from.
13. Provide a picture of the dragons too. These tiles can sometimes tell a lot about which era of mah-jongg history the set came from.
14. And provide a picture of the flowers /seasons. These tiles are sometimes exotic and can enhance the set's value.
15. How many jokers (if any) does the set have?
You can look at eBay auctions (see next paragraph), or at mah-jongg vendor websites that sell mah-jongg sets, check their pricing and pictures, and make a guess at your set's value that way. There are a lot of such sites -- by reading FAQ 7 and FAQ 4 (click the links at left) you will find all the sites.
As mentioned above, there are ALWAYS mah-jongg sets for sale at http://www.ebay.com/ . Most sets are sold in the "Toys & Hobbies : Games : Traditional : Mah Jong" category; some people post them in "Toys & Hobbies : Games : Vintage," and some people post them in "Collectibles : Cultures & Religions : Cultures : Asian").
Warning: a lot of eBay sellers call their sets "ivory" when they're actually bone, plastic, bakelite, or even wood and paper! There is one New York company that sells sets of 220 miniature tiles - those really are ivory, but I have not seen many other genuine ivory sets sold as ivory on eBay (maybe two or three). See FAQ 7c to learn how to recognize ivory. A lot of eBay sellers say their sets date back to "the Qing Dynasty" - which ended in 1911. I even saw a seller claim that his "elephant bone" set was "about 170 years old"! That would have placed the set's origin in 1834 - 30 or 40 years before mah-jongg even existed! Even sadder, that seller was in China, and should have known better. Sets from before 1920 are fairly rare. Sets from before 1911 are even more rare. Sets from before 1850 are flat out impossible. Read FAQ 11 to learn about the history of mah-jongg.
Or you could just post a for sale announcement at our Sets For Sale board (link above left), and see what kind of offers you get. 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.
Whenever someone emails me asking me to date or evaluate their set, I always ask them to do this checklist first. So please don't ask me to evaluate your set without a completed valuation checklist. I can't!
If you want information about the company that manufactured your set, I can't help you. Please read FAQ 7U.
Copyright 2001-2013 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.