Sold on thesaleroom.com: an early mah-jong set brings £370031 March 2020 Most mah-jong sets at auction bring under £100. But earlier this month an online bidder paid many times that amount for a rare set spotted in Sheffield.
Compared with the ancient games of chess or backgammon, the popular Chinese game of mah-jong is a relative newcomer.
Mah-jong did not emerge as a court pastime until around the middle of the 19th century and was not widely available to the Chinese public until after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. Most ‘vintage’ sets date from the post-war era when the game's popularity exploded. Prices of around £30-50 are typical for most auction offerings.
The example sold at the Sheffield Auction Gallery on March 20 was rather better. Dating from the Republican era, it was one of the first sets that were made for foreign export.
Housed in a brass-bound hardwood box with a slide lid and drawers, it likely dated to c.1920. The 144 finely engraved tiles, made in bovine bone and bamboo, have Arabic numerals (earlier sets have only Chinese characters) but it comes with instructions written in English titled Mah-Jongg (an early Anglicised spelling of the game).
The simple blue-printed booklet includes the name of Jaques, the venerable London firm responsible for croquet, ludo, snakes and ladders and the Staunton pattern chess set. International mah-jong collectors identified this as something worth far more than the £50-80 estimate. The winning bid, tendered via thesaleroom.com, was £3700.