Tile Set Galleries

Criteria for Categorising Tile Sets.  

This section features Galleries of some tile set designs and materials and assumes that you have read the section on Tile Set History, on which it is based.

For the purpose of this display, I have divided the tile sets into three broad categories based on the type of basic, three-suit tile pattern found within each set and on the limited amount of dated, documentary evidence available (either archival, or in the form of leaflets, set manuals or catalogues). Clicking on the blue Category link will take you to the Category in question.

Note: apart from the pre-1920 documented tile sets upon which each gallery is based, all the rest have meagre independent dating documentation – such as pamphlets with photographs and articles dealing with the economic benefits of Mahjong production at the height of the craze during the early 1920s. Booklets are sometimes – though not always – unreliable, since they may have been added later. There are also books published in the 20s that mention the collapse of the Mahjong ‘craze’ for acquiring a tile set, and from these we can surmise the consequences of that collapse on the expensive side of the industry, such as the change in tile and box materials etc.

If we take this meagre evidence and assume a reasonably high probability of accuracy, then certain trends are noticeable. For example, containers of the wooden cabinet variety predominantly appeared from 1920 – 1930 although some were possibly made after that date – perhaps in Japan for example. Attaché style leather cases appeared from 1930 – 1940 with the leather box type appearing from 1920-1940. Small, flat, slide-top wooden boxes appeared in the 1930’s but predominantly from 1950 – 1970. Attaché style cardboard cases may have been produced from 1940 – 1950. However, as noted above, because of the meagre evidence these are only ‘rules of thumb‘ that may be amended as further evidence comes to light.

The Arabic numerals and English letters that appear on many sets found in Western countries, as far as is known from tile sets and documents, first appeared predominantly with export sets coming out of China at the beginning of the 1920’s.

Further, it is important to note that there is a conventionalised engraving style between some of these categories. This is most notably seen in the North Direction and West Direction tiles. Whether this is the result of tiles from a common set of engravers or is a function of a certain tile pattern convention is unknown at this point.

Also, the abbreviation SOC = String of Cash.

Once an image has loaded, just click on the X in the bottom right corner to return to the Gallery. To return to a previous section, use the back arrow on your browser.

The pictures in the Galleries will show differences in colour and brightness due to the variable lighting conditions in which they were taken.

I am indebted to Huang, Wei-Hwa and Ray Heaton for some of the translations of the tiles.