The game of Mahjong has a long and fascinating history. Beginning in ancient China and originally developed in the Qing dynasty, it then made its way to the States. Fast forward to the 1920s and 30s and Americans became transfixed by the fast-paced nature of moving 144 tiles. More recently, it has experienced another resurgence in London too, where players arrange meet-ups or head to XU teahouse for a game. Just before it quickly grew in popularity here in the UK, Abbott Miller, a Pentagram partner since 1999, worked on a book which visually told this history, Mah Jongg: Crak, Bam, Dot released in 2010. This month, the “publication that celebrates the fascinating history and visual universe of the game,” has been reissued in a new edition by its original publishers, 2wice.
Around its first release, the original edition was a must-have, selling out fast. Interest peaked yet again as the book was published as an accompaniment to Project Mah Jongg at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, an exhibition which went on to travel widely and even became Pentagram’s most popular show to date. The book pulled in readers and visual communicators with its intricate depiction of the game over its 2,500 years history, working with the exhibition’s curator Melissa Martens Yaverbaum to make it as contextually appealing as it was visually.
To portray the wide-ranging popularity of the game, “2wice commissioned a group of guest artists to interpret the game through their distinct sensibilities,” Pentagram explains. Contributors include Christoph Niemann “designing new tile iconography combining the visual language of Mahjong with symbols of Jewish life like bagels and dreidels,” to fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi sketching “Mahjong-inspired ensembles,” Pentagram continues.
Abbott Miller’s design angle for the book continued a deep, respectful understanding of the game too. Its shape for instance “is designed with the proportions and rounded corners of a Mahjong tile,” Pentagram points out. Custom typography was also designed, “from lettering that, like the game, is assembled by arranging tiles.”
With each page telling another story in another style from yet another country, the book mirrored the game of Mahjong: eccentric and easy to get grips with in equal measure. Here’s to another generation of Mahjong masters.
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