Monday, April 26, 2010

Post 2: Penny: Mah Jong

Mah Jong is a game originating in China which uses tiles similar to dominoes but is more similar in playing style to rummy. It has been said to have been invented by Confucius, however, as there is no evidence of the game existing before 1880, the story was probably invented by the American or British importers trying to create a sense of mysticism purely to impress potential clients.

Traditionally, tiles are made from bamboo, ivory or bone and have beautiful hand-painted pictures representing the face of each tile.

The first Mah Jong sets sold in America were sold by Abercrombie & Fitch in 1920. Following its immediate success, the company proceeded to buy from Chinese villages, as many sets as possible.

Through the 1920's the company sold 12,000 sets. Joseph Babcock, at the same time, wrote 'The Rules of Mah Jong'. Commonly known as the 'red book', the rules were simplified for the American public, however, through the decade many variations were invented. Babcock sold the patent to Parker Brothers in 1923.

Through the 1920's Mah Jong became one of the biggest and most popular fads, Mah Jong nights involved dressing and decoration of rooms in Oriental style. Popular songs of the era also included references to the Game, most notably, "Since Ma is Playing Mah Jong" by Eddie Cantor.
The popularity of Mah Jong in the 1920's can be attributed to the fascination of popular culture with all things Oriental.

Interior Design from the era including lighting, rugs, furniture and fabric, had elements of oriental design and even if not obvious in design, companies would often name products with on exotic or oriental flavor to increase the mysticism of their products.

Mah Jong was most popular with women and hugely popular with Jewish women in America.
The National Mah Jong League (NMJL) was formed in 1937 and still exists today. It was and is a primarily Jewish League.


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  2. thanks for sharing this.