Souvenir of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition
Mah-Jongg cards published by the Western Electric Co., Ltd.
Makers of over half of the worlds telephones
The four seasons
The four flowers
The four winds North, South, East and West
The three dragons, Green dragon, Red dragon and White dragon
Number one of the three suits, circles, characters and bamboo’s
The three suits comprise cards numbered one to nine
Number nine of the three suits, circles, characters and bamboo’s
The cards are reproduced 75% of full size
Mah-Jongg tiles full size
The seasons, one to four Green, red and white dragons
The flowers, one to four One of circles, characters and bamboo’s
The winds, N, S, E, and W Nine of circles, characters and bamboo’s
One of our members Jean Osborne recently sent me about a dozen images of some small cards she had acquired. These were about two thirds the size of a playing card, all the backs were the same showing a Wembley lion and a telephone (see illustration on front cover). Jean guessed they were some sort of a game but did not know what game, or even how many there were to the set. She had about 18, all with different pictures.
I am familiar with these cards so was able to inform her they were part of a set of Mah-Jongg cards. Well the bad news was, there are 144 in the set, so she was in for a long slog to get a complete set. But the good news was I had a spare set in its case, which she has snapped up.
Mah-Jongg is a Chinese game played not with cards but with tiles. I have a particularly fine set, the fronts of a white composition are individually hand engraved and these are dovetailed onto bamboo backs to make up a thickness of about half an inch. You can get sets from cheap solid plastic through to a bone and bamboo, and up to ivory with bamboo backs. The engraving is filled with red blue and green colouring, and altogether they are quite beautiful to play with.
The three suits, circles, characters and bamboo’s run from one to nine, and there are four tiles of each value. The one and nine are counted as major tiles while two to eight are minor tiles. The one of bamboo is always in the shape of a beetle which lives in bamboo. Each value has the requisite number of emblems, so the five of circles will have five circles in its design, here sections of cable, while the eight of bamboo’s will have eight sticks or in this case eight elongated valves. The set of characters is the exception, in an original Chinese set of tiles the characters would in fact be different examples of Chinese writing. Western Electric have got over this by replacing characters with various items of telephonic equipment. A genuine Chinese set would not have numbers on, as they would understand the Chinese writing.
It is a gambling game and owing to a very complex method of scoring at the end of each hand it is possible for the winner to score from 12 points to 294,912 points. Because of this it is usual to set a limit on the highest score that can be claimed for any hand. Various combinations of tiles have quaint names like ‘Eyes of the sparrow’ ‘Four blessings hang o’er the door’ and ‘Catch the moon from the bottom of the sea’ ‘Thirteen grades of Imperial Treasure’ and ‘Three Great Scholars’.
I am not going to try and explain how the game is played or describe its rules, but as I mentioned earlier the beauty of the carving on a nice set is a pleasure in itself.
© Exhibition Study Group 2009