Last year, we talked about the happy game of mahjong, focusing on how I got into the game and recommending a few resources for others wanting to get started. Today, though, let’s look at the art of the game, that is, the art of the tiles themselves. When people first encounter mahjong, the tiles are, naturally, the first thing they notice and as with Western playing cards there have been many lovely designs over the years by many artists. So, let’s check out the book Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game, by Ann M. Israel and Gregg Swain, with photography by Michael Arnaud.
Israel and Swain begin with some brief introductory material and a history of mahjong (though they use the American-style spelling “mah jongg”). These are simply to orient the reader and are an appetiser to the main course, but they deserve credit for not promoting the old marketing hype about the ancient origins of mahjong; as they point out, its origins lie in the mid-19th Century. Most of the rest of the book is divided by tile material, paper, bamboo and wood, bakelite and catalin, pyralin and French ivory, Chinese bakelite, common metals, bone and bamboo, and precious materials. It ends with box art and a chapter on miscellany such as ephemera and photos of people playing mahjong.