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FAQ 7h. How Much Is My Set Worth?

Assuming your set is a 1920s bone-and-bamboo set in a nice wooden box (such as the one depicted in column #610, it's probably worth between $50 and $500, depending on condition and completeness (does it have all 144 or 148 tiles, marked with Western indices, plus instruction manual, all the sticks, dice, wind indicators, and small containers for dice and wind indicators). You might be able to get even more for it, if it's got any unusual pieces (especially beautiful or unusual flower tiles, one bams, an exceptional box, etc.), or if it's made from an exotic material, or if you write an unusually good eBay sales pitch like some I've seen.

The most valuable types of mah-jongg sets are the ones made of unusual or rare materials (genuine ivory, genuine jade, hollow tin tiles, for instance). Bakelite sets can also be worth hundreds of dollars, but only if they have 16 or more flower tiles and/or are of the "enrobed" type. A set that is complete and in good condition is worth more than one that is missing pieces or shows evidence of wear or storage in unfortunate places.

These tiles are light-colored catalin "enrobed" with darker-colored catalin or bakelite.

The backs of some enrobed tiles. Sets with enrobed tiles and genuine ivory tiles are the two most valuable types of sets.


If you want to find out how much your set is worth, you have to do some homework. The first step is to use the following checklist. Then, if emailing me, paste the text into the email (please do not send attached documents; I won't open them).

Most early (1920s) sets used the simpler-style crak character. But not all. See FAQ 7e.

Most modern (1970s to date) sets use the more elaborate-style crak character. But not all.

Pictures are important. You need to take photos of the set. Ideally your photos will be no smaller than 1 megapixel (1024 pixels), and no larger than 4 megapixels (4096 pixels). iPhone Photos will offer you four sizes when sharing a photo by email: Small, Medium, Large, and Actual Size. Choose the Large size. Small (320x240 pixels) and Medium (640x480) are too small, and Actual Size (4 megapixels) is overkill.
See how sellers on Ebay arrange their sets, observe what looks like a good sales photo and what does not. Arrange your tiles as shown in the image above or in FAQ 7B. Once you have completed the valuation checklist, you can either figure out your own valuation by comparing it with similar sets recently auctioned online, or you can send your completed checklist and your photos to an appraiser.

You can look at eBay auctions (see next paragraph), or at mah-jongg vendor websites that sell mah-jongg sets, check their pricing and pictures, and make a guess at your set's value that way. There are a lot of such sites -- by reading FAQ 7 and FAQ 4 (click the links at left) you will find all the sites.

As mentioned above, there are ALWAYS mah-jongg sets for sale at . Most sets are sold in the "Toys & Hobbies : Games : Traditional : Mah Jong" category; some people post them in "Toys & Hobbies : Games : Vintage," and some people post them in "Collectibles : Cultures & Religions : Cultures : Asian").

Warning: a lot of eBay sellers call their sets "ivory" when they're actually bone, plastic, bakelite, or even wood and paper! There is one New York company that sells sets of 220 miniature tiles - those really are ivory, but I have not seen many other genuine ivory sets sold as ivory on eBay (maybe two or three). See FAQ 7c to learn how to recognize ivory. A lot of eBay sellers say their sets date back to "the Qing Dynasty" - which ended in 1911. I even saw a seller claim that his "elephant bone" set was "about 170 years old"! That would have placed the set's origin in 1834 - 30 or 40 years before mah-jongg even existed! Even sadder, that seller was in China, and should have known better. Sets from before 1920 are fairly rare. Sets from before 1911 are even more rare. Sets from before 1850 are flat out impossible. Read FAQ 11 to learn about the history of mah-jongg.

Or you could just post a for sale announcement at our Sets For Sale board (link above left), and see what kind of offers you get. CHarli's museum page is a great resource if you are looking for information about collectible mah-jongg sets and manufacturers

Whenever someone emails me asking me to date or evaluate their set, I always ask them to do this checklist first. So please don't ask me to evaluate your set without a completed valuation checklist. I can't! Paste the text into the email (please do not send attached documents; I won't open them).

  • Please make sure to include a question with the email - I can't answer "tell me anything" questions. Tell me what my assignment is! Read FAQ 7P.
  • Please do not ask about multiple sets in one email. One lady emailed me about six sets. I asked her to start over again. She sent me an email about one set, including only one photo, and she never asked me a question (she didn't tell me what my assignment was). I was none too nice about it. She never came back.
  • If you are going to email me some photos, they must be in .JPG or .PNG format, not .PDF or .BMP format. Send more than one photo, and don't do what one lady did (she sent me 43 postage-stamp-sized photos, like 320x240, which is TINY). A reasonable number of photos would be fewer than ten. Do NOT send photos in PDF format. Send JPGs ONLY, or PNGs. And they must be ATTACHMENTS (they must not be embedded within your email).
  • And don't send me links to pictures (or any other info), either. Send me everything I need to know in the email, since the evaluation will be posted on the Q&A Bulletin Board.
  • I don't give free confidential answers - if you want a free evaluation, it will be given on the Q&A Bulletin Board. "When you email me, I own it." When you email me for a free mah-jongg set valuation, you thereby give me your implied consent to publish your descriptions and photos on this website, and to use the photos in the FAQs if they depict some unusual feature. If that is not acceptable to you, then the evaluation will not be free. Email to inquire about pricing. I give free information only in my public forum. Consider, though, that the price of the evaluation might exceed the value of the set itself. My free valuations are "approximations of value," not "appraisals." An appraisal is a legal document, generally for insurance purposes. My free valuations are my opinion, formed from my knowledge of mah-jongg sets; another expert's opinion may vary. The values I quote are often based on what a comparable set has sold for on eBay. The auction market is capricious; sometimes a seller may overprice, or a buyer might unknowingly overbid and overpay. And sometimes a buyer might get very lucky and pay only half what a set is worth.

    If you want information about the company that manufactured your set, I can't help you. Please read FAQ 7U.

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