By Jeremy Bostwick – Senior Numismatist & Cataloger, Stack’s Bowers ……
Much like the American pastime poker often involving some friendly monetary wagering, so too it is for Mahjong in a large portion of the Far East.
Though playing cards have been around for over a millennium, likely being introduced in the 9th century CE (coincidentally enough during China’s Tang dynasty), the game of Mahjong likely had its debut during China’s final imperial family, the Qing dynasty in the mid-18th century. Involving 144 tiles with various symbols and Chinese characters, it is generally played with four players employing a turn-based strategy and may have derived from an earlier game known as Mah-tiae (“hanging horse”). Numerous variants to general gameplay and house rules exist, though the overall look to the design on the tiles tends to remain fairly consistent, with bamboo and flowers, for example, playing a large role.
Given the scoring system involved, the use of gaming counters or tokens is a necessity, with many tile sets often including them as well. Any type of counter, however, can obviously fill this ‘token’ role, allowing for a player to personalize their set and, in turn, the gaming experience.
In our upcoming October 2020 Hong Kong auction—our largest such auction to date—a vast array of rather unusual gaming tokens will be offered. These interesting pieces of exonumia are not widely understood, though they have been attributed to the province of Szechuan and dated to the second decade of the 20th century. Most employ the image of a horse in a variety of poses. The reverses offer a bit more variance, as they generally feature reeds and flowers very similar to those found on some of the Mahjong gaming tiles.
In addition to the variety of horse poses and reverse iconography, metallic content and modules can vary, allowing for the collector to pursue any number of collecting avenues. It remains uncertain what their intended role was, but the ubiquitous nature of Mahjong as well as the need for reckoning its scoring make these “horse gaming tokens” a likely candidate in the early years of the Chinese Republic. Whether one is an advanced collector in search of a highly specific variety or a beginner simply looking to add something from the peripheries of numismatics, this incredible group—likely the largest and most diverse offered—will satisfy all who are able to score a token or three.
To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit StacksBowers.com where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.
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We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are currently accepting submissions for our 2021 NYINC auction in January as well as our next CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction in February. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.