The Great Mahjong Craze of the 1920's

Discussion in 'The Observation Bar' started by scotrace, Feb 20, 2013.

  1. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

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    Beginning n 1920, a craze for playing the Chinese game Mahjong swept America. Elaborate and beautiful Mahjong sets were imported, creating a worldwide shortage of the ivory and bamboo used to create them.

    From Wikipedia:

    The game was imported to the United States in the 1920s.[5] The first mahjong sets sold in the U.S. were sold by Abercrombie & Fitch starting in 1920.[6] It became a success in Washington, D.C., and the co-owner of the company, Ezra Fitch, sent emissaries to Chinese villages to buy every mahjong set they could find. Abercrombie & Fitch sold a total of 12,000 mahjong sets.



    Anyone have an interesting Mahjong set or story to share? Anyone play?

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  2. Gregg Axley

    Gregg Axley I'll Lock Up

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    On the computer, but sadly not with real tiles.
    I can only imagine how long it takes to set the game up.
     
  3. LocktownDog

    LocktownDog Call Me a Cab

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    Love mahjong. So hard to find someone else who plays, however.
     
  4. LaMedicine

    LaMedicine One Too Many

    Funny how Asian stuff is always mixed up :p
    The woman is quite obviously 18th-mid 19thC Japanese, right out of Ukiyoe. Mahjong was introduced to Japan in the very early 20thC. :D
     
  5. Shangas

    Shangas I'll Lock Up

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    I used to play mahjong a lot in school, with my friends. But it's hard to find anyone else who plays it. Given the chance, I would play. But I'm a bit out of practice.

    I have my own mahjong set at home. It's not antique, but it is my own. We have three entire mahjong sets at home. I don't know why, but we do.

    Mahjong, and ANYTHING Chinese was wildly popular in the 20s. One look at advertising will tell you that. Chinese Red, Imperial Yellow, etc etc. Terms like that popped up everywhere.

    TRIVIA: The characters in "The Sting" are seen playing (or were playing) a game of Mahjong. You can see a game set up on the kitchen-table of one of the main characters' apartments, early in the movie.

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    [video=youtube;jOhtalqFMtk]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOhtalqFMtk[/video]

    [video=youtube;OAbCHM2griI]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAbCHM2griI[/video]

    The lyrics are funny, but incredibly incorrect. Both politically, and the other kind.

    Kimono are Japanese.

    Cues are Mongolian.

    And the widespread use of "Chink". That said, I use it too, so perhaps I'm not that shocked.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  6. Smithy

    Smithy I'll Lock Up

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    My granny had a beautiful antique Mah Jongg set, ivory and bamboo in a crocodile skin case which she got in the 20s or 30s. She used to play once a week and taught me, although I haven't played in years. Fun game and you've reminded me to find out who's got the set in the family now.
     
  7. Shangas

    Shangas I'll Lock Up

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    I bet those antique mahjong sets could be worth a pretty penny these days. I have the cheap, crappy plastic ones. And even then, I don't know why. Nobody in the house apart from me, plays mahjong. And I haven't played in nearly 10 years.
     
  8. Zemke Fan

    Zemke Fan Call Me a Cab

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    Quite a range of prices on ebay right now... This one (already sold) I love a lot:

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    It sold for $1,300 on November 29.

    ebay listing: 360520249024
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2013
  9. Zemke Fan

    Zemke Fan Call Me a Cab

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    This one sold for something less than $295 (best offer):

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  10. CaramelSmoothie

    CaramelSmoothie Practically Family

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    The good thing about it is that ivory is no longer used to create the newer sets. Poor Elephants.
     
  11. Master Mason

    Master Mason New in Town

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    This set looks exactly like the one I have. It belonged to my mother, and my grandfather bought it on one of his many trips to Asia while in the navy, during the 20's and 30's
     
  12. Shangas

    Shangas I'll Lock Up

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    Despite Chinese superstitions, I daresay that some families would have held onto Mahjong sets through generations. It's always been a very popular game in Asia. And almost any country with a significant Chinese population will have mahjong players. I would see no reason why mahjong sets wouldn't be passed down as heirlooms.

    There are regional variations of Mahjong, and the rules and styles can get rather mixed up. But international mahjong is of the kind typically made popular in what was at the time, the British colony of Hong Kong.

    Hong-Kong style Mahjong is the variation that most people play. It's the type that I used to play with my friends in school. I had a friend who loved mahjong, but his parents forbid him to play it.

    When I told him I had two mahjong sets at home, he begged me to bring one to school. Neither my father or mother play mahjong (which baffles me as to why we have TWO sets in the house, but there you have it), so they weren't going to miss one.

    I boxed up one of the sets and took it to school. And he taught me how to play, and we used to do it in the school library for an hour at lunchtimes.

    The librarians were none too happy about it...but it was fun. And at least I won a few times!
     
  13. I just sold an old rosewood boxed bone/bamboo Mah-jong set for $100 at the markets......I'd had it since i was a kid, but you gotta churn.....
     
  14. Espee

    Espee Practically Family

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    It was especially popular among Jewish ladies in the U.S.
     
  15. Shangas

    Shangas I'll Lock Up

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    Never heard of that before. Why was that, I wonder?
     
  16. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

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    In the film The Joy Luck Club, the characters talk about the differences between Chinese and Jewish Mahjong: the latter (according to the Chinese woman speaking) required no strategy.
    The Wiki article quoted above also talks of the Jewish version being distinct and that the game was popular among Jews.
     
  17. Espee

    Espee Practically Family

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    About a year ago there was an exhibit about the game at a Jewish-focused museum in the Los Angeles area. But I can't remember the name of it...
     
  18. Espee

    Espee Practically Family

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    In the song Maybe (She'll Write Me, Maybe She'll Phone Me):
    ... maybe she's in Hong Kong
    They say she went loco
    Right in her co-co
    Trying to play Mah-jong

    (that's approximate... and "co-co" would seem to equal "coconut" that is, her head)
     
  19. Espee

    Espee Practically Family

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    The L.A. museum with the exhibit in 2012 was the Skirball Cultural Center. It had been displayed in NYC in 2010, so maybe it will turn up near you in the future. Not LIKELY, but maybe...
     
  20. tuppence

    tuppence Practically Family

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    My father was big into playing Mahjong. I wish I had learned.
     

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