I was just looking through my files and found this very interesting (at least it is to me!) article about the history of Jokers in Mah Jongg. People are always asking if I can tell how old their set might be. When asked this question the first thing I want to know is if your set has “natural Jokers.” Of course, that is not the only determiner of the age of a set – and, as you will read in this article, it is not always accurate – but it is a good place to start.
Unfortunately, I have no idea who wrote the following article or where it was published. If anyone knows, please email me so that I can give it the appropriate credit. In the meantime, enjoy this article on the history of Jokers.
“Before 1961, there were no Jokers. Flowers were wild, and the number of Flowers fluctuated between 8 and 24. Joker tiles were introduced into the American game in 1961. The number of Flowers and Jokers fluctuated for several years, finally stabilizing at 8F/8J ten years later, in the 1971-72 card.
The NMJL varied the number of Flowers and Jokers for several decades early in the league’s history. People had to cobble together sets to make the number of Flowers required.
In the 1920’s, the standard Mah Jongg set came with 8 Flowers and 0 Jokers (8F/0J). From the founding of the National Mah Jongg League in 1937, the NMJL treated Flowers as Jokers (wild Flowers). Beginning with the 1943 card, more Flowers were added to increase the luck ratio and to allow for more challenging hands.
Some, but certainly not all, American Mah Jongg sets came with Jokers before the NMJL first started requiring them in 1960-61. The number of Flowers and Jokers in a set isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of the exact date of manufacture of an American set, but an understanding of the NMJL’s fluctuating use of Flowers and Jokers does give some clues.
If you have a set with only 2 natural jokers but 14 Flowers, it was probably made in America in the early 1960’s. Domestic set manufacturing began in the1920s and continued into the 1960s. At some point, though, cheaper Chinese imports caused all the American manufacturers to go out of business. Those Chinese companies aren’t always sure what the NMJL requires, so Chinese sets made today often come with extra Flowers and jokers (more than 8F/8J).”