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By Tom Sloper
December 27, 2009

Column #434

The Mahjong Museum collection is up for sale. For over ten years, Jim May's website,, has been a valuable resource for collectors, historians, and researchers.

Jim's website includes rules (Babcock rules and 16-tile Filipino/Taiwanese rules both), photos and paintings of early mahjong players (fantasy players and Roaring Twenties players, especially Mr. & Mrs. Babcock), mahjong advertisements and magazine articles from the Roaring Twenties, and information about the materials mahjong tiles were made of.

But the Mahjong Museum site is mainly famous for its collection of antique mahjong sets. Jim May not only shows photos of a set, he also provides detailed information about its contents, and when possible, its manufacturer and the year it was made.

Many times, people write to me asking for an appraisal, and ask me about the set's manufacturer. I can make a stab at a set's value and age just fine, but I don't know about manufacturers. So I always recommend those people visit Jim's site. That's what I mean by its being a valuable resource for collectors, historians, and researchers. I certainly hope that the site will remain available, even as the sets themselves are sold off.

Unfortunately, although Jim's site is a great resource, Jim May himself has been somewhat reclusive -- he's become famous among mahjong cognoscentis as someone who doesn't often reply to emails. And when he does reply, the word "laconic" aptly describes the responses one is likely to get. We were not able to interview him for this column.

Jim's site lists 268 items, but his numbering system indicates that he has (or has had) at least 320 items in his collection. By my count: 31 traditional sets, 17 travel sets, 25 small boxed sets, 18 so-called beginner sets, 25 unique sets, 26 playing card sets, 37 modern sets, 50 miscellaneous items, and 39 books.

Last time I counted my own collection, I had around 80 sets (including card sets). Since then I've probably added several. And I have not counted the books or the miscellaneous items. Now that Jim's museum is being sold off, I cannot help but wonder how my collection compares. I guess I'll have to start counting and annotating... Naah. Too much work.

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Copyright 2009 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.