Collecting Mah Jongg Sets
An Interview with Gregg Swain,
co-author of MahJongg, “The Art of the Game”
MJMentor: How did you get started collecting?
Well, I started playing in 2010 when a number of us were interested in learning the game and we were taught by Linda Feinstein here in NYC. After our lessons, Ann (Israel) bought some stickers from CHarli to replace some 50 year old red joker stickers that were on an old set she had. When we removed the old red stickers we found beautiful carvings underneath on the tiles and we felt it was true art. So, it gave me the idea of creating something that could reflect that art in the sets. I thought wouldn’t it be nice to have the art of the game researched and documented! So, I called Ann and we came together to germinate the idea of creating a book on the art behind the collectors’ sets. That led to collecting sets that I believed were visually interesting so we would have sets to show. I found them fascinating because of the materials they were made from, or the images on the tiles themselves which often depicted stories of the Chinese lords and warriors, and various other representations. I now play often the Hong Kong version of the game because it requires no jokers. And so because many of these older sets have no jokers, it enables me to play with them in their original form.
MJMentor: How do you reply to someone who asks you which of your collector sets is your favorite?
I believe that collecting is an emotional attachment. I really can’t pick out a set for myself as a favorite. It is like asking which one of your children is your favorite!
MJMentor: So what would you advise a new collector in picking a set?
You need to see what you are drawn to. What gives you pleasure? What type of materials do you like best for yourself? Do you like touch of the tiles that are bone and bamboo, or the bakelite? What is visually appealing to you? If you are not collecting as an investment, the emotion of the set will be a part of your decision. I, sadly, love them all !!!