Gaming



Fan-tan was a great favourite of Chinese gamblers. You can read about fan-tan in a paper by Stewart Culin, Gambling Games of the Chinese in America, Stewart Culin, Series in Philology Literature and Archaeology, Vol. I No. 4, Publications of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1891(see links page).

The buttons, one of the spreading-out covers and the two spreading-out rods were used in a gambling hall in Calgary in 1928. I obtained them from a descendent of the man who ran the hall. These particular rods are made of bamboo and are sharply pointed and hooked at the end to move the buttons. I originally obtained 3 of these and one is currently in Roy's collection. He also has a spreading-out cover and an old draw-string sack of the white buttons he found in the window of a Victoria, BC Chinatown antique/junk shop (Watson's Curios).

Although the game is played with only one rod and one cover, I have two of each and included all of them in the display.



According to Stewart Culin, many variations in the method of playing fan-tan occur among the Chinese in America-- "white buttons are frequently substituted for coins and a curved piece of bamboo for the tapering rod". The following image shows a side view of one of the bamboo spreading-out rods.



Mah Jong was also a favourite game but I have read that the early Chinese in North America played the game differently. They played with money or small narrow cards. You can read about the origins of Mah Jong in a paper The Game of Mah-Jong, Stuart Culin,Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, Volume XI, October 1924, pages 153-168 (see links page).

The pieces in this set are made from butterscotch bakelite and originally came from China. There are no Arabic numerals on the pieces. They were packed into the small box. Bone counters (tallies) and dice complement the pieces.



The pieces in this set are made of bone and bamboo. It was purchased in 1975 from a teacher in British Columbia who told me it originally came from Barkerville. There is a black "winds" holder and a tiny ebony "coffin" containing 4 dice. The bone counters are in one of the compartments.



Wooden Chinese dominoes are longer and narrower than other dominoes you might see. Here is a metal box of dominoes in its original wrapper. Two old pieces are placed on the box to give an idea of the contents. I purchased it in Vancouver's Chinatown in 1973 and the wrapper looked old even then. The manuscript, Chinese Games With Dice and Dominoes by Stewart Culin (Smithsonian Institute, 1893), (see links page) is a very good source for information on the games played.



A pile of 32 old hand made wooden Chinese dominoes-- The Cantonese domino game Tien Gow (Heaven Nine) was a fast-paced game for 4 players and used 32 dominoes. This game was brought to North America by many Chinese from Canton Province. Pai Gow is another Chinese domino game played with 32 tiles.



The top of this domino box has been enhanced to show the dragon and phoenix design. Four small dice are in the centre section.



Another set of dominoes in a metal box from the Tack Cheung Factory. There are 32 very long dominoes in this set, undoubtedly intended for the game of Tien Gow and other games using 32 dominoes.



Showing the contents of the Tack Cheung dominoes shown in the box in the previous picture. 32 very long wooden dominoes, a quantity of black and white chips, a pair of dice and a wooden piece are shown.



The pieces in this Mah Jong set are also bone and bamboo. They have no Arabic numerals on them and are very old. The design on the box lid is a dragon with two Mah Jong pieces. This set has the bone counters (in the smaller compartment) with the dice and winds.



This is a nice Mah Jong set in a rosewood box with drawers for the pieces. This set is also bone and bamboo but has the Arabic numerals. You can also see the winds cylinder (called a ming) and the winds and also the dice in their "coffin" box and a two-tone bakelite Mah Jong bettor. The bone counters are in the bottom drawer.



Partial set of old bone and bamboo Mah Jong tiles with Arabic numerals in an old '40s stapled cardboard box. It has a Made in China label on it. It came with bone counters (seen in the box) and a lot of home made wooden counters. A Ming with winds and a wooden coffin with two dice were also with this set when I obtained it.



Spare bone counters, dice and horn winds in an old perfume can:



An old set of bamboo mahjong tiles with small bone counters in a tin----





Here is a string of odd old bone tallies. Bone and bamboo tallies like these were used in Chinese commerce and may have been used in gaming.



Some of these tallies came from an old Chinese store in Florida. They may also have been used in gaming. Tallies such as these were used in gambling halls. You purchased them upon entering some establishments and cashed them in when leaving, similar to purchasing chips in modern casinos. A different kind of wooden tally was used in the game of Chong Un Ch'au, a dice game and possibly in other dice games. You can see this kind of tally (wooden with one end painted red) in the Chinese museum in Barkerville, BC.



A pack of old narrow cards in a matchbox style wooden box. The cards are bent up with age. Cards like these are often called domino cards because they were used in playing the domino games.These and the pack below this one were both used in California, obtained from a collector.



Another pack of old narrow cards in a similar matchbox style wooden box. These were opened and are spread out to show the designs. There were two types of these narrow cards. These, and the previous pack are the domino type, the other type derived from the use of money as gaming "cards" and the cards showed the various money values and a general pictorial style associated with money. Authentic, North-American-used packs of these old cards are very difficult to come by. I have seen the money type offered for sale on Ebay in both China and the USA, but not with a North American history.


You always seem to find more white gaming pieces than black ones, possibly because the black ones were worth $5.00 and the whites only $1.00.The marble and western style domino were dug in a Chinese dump. Most of the black and white gaming pieces were also dug in various locations around British Columbia. The two bone counters were the first ones I obtained so I keep them separate from the others with the full Mah Jong game sets. The narrow cards may be the cards referred to in the original Mah Jong as played by the early Chinese arrivals.



Narrow cards are STILL available in Chinatown if you know where to look! When I asked the proprietor of a little shop on Pender Street if he had any narrow playing cards he gave me a funny look and then said, "You have come to the only shop in Vancouver that has!" These cards are a bit wider than the old cards in the collection above but the proprietor of the shop where I purchased them said they have changed little in the last 50 years.



One of the most popular gambling activities centered around the White Dove (or White Pigeon Ticket) lottery, also known as Chinese Keno. Lottery tickets were printed by various companies or imported in bulk from China. Some were also printed in Arabic numerals. You can read about White Pigeon Ticket in the previously mentioned paper Gambling Games of the Chinese in America.

Stack of imported tickets:



American Company:



Liberty Company:



Cleveland Company:



Sun Set Company:



New World Company:



Oregon Company:



Arabic numerals:



Printed in China (these have different "series" numbers,ie; SS1 - SS11):





Showing the series-- missing SS6. These are all part of a huge stack of tickets and it is strange that SS6 is missing, unless it was omitted from the series.



Plain ticket:



Rate cards, front and back:



Pellet slips---- Here is an excerpt from "San Francisco's Old Chinatown" by Commissioner Jesse B. Cook, Former Chief of Police---

"As soon as all the money and tickets are in, the tickets are closed and the lottery is held. In a little package, about 2 inches square, are 80 slips of paper. On each of these slips is a character corresponding to one of the characters on the lottery ticket. The Chinaman sets in front of him a large pan, like the old-time milk pans we used to set for milk to raise cream, and four bowls, each bearing a Chinese number—either 1, 2, 3 or 4. The small slips of paper are folded into little pellets, thrown into the pan and shaken up. The drawing then begins. The first pellet drawn is put into bowl No. 1, the next into bowl No. 2, and so on, until there are twenty pellets in each bowl.

The Chinaman then takes another small package, containing four little square pieces of paper. On each of these pieces is a figure in Chinese corresponding with the figures on the bowls. The same procedure is then followed as with the pellets. The slip picked from the pan is handed to the clerk, who in turn hands it to a man standing on the shelf in back of him. It is opened, in the presence of everybody gathered there. Of course, the bowl bearing the same number is considered the winning bowl, the other three are placed under the counter."

You can find the complete article at San Francisco's Old Chinatown



Large clay gambling chips: The red and blue chips were used in the Paradice Saloon in Locke, California. It is thought that the red was $1 and the blue, $10. The pink and green chips are thought to have been used in a travelling game in the Locke (Sacramento County) area. The Canadian dime is shown for size comparison purposes.



Old tarnished brass gambling chips: These were used in the Nam Fong club in San Francisco in the 1930s. The photo is enhanced to make the printing on the coins easier to read. See the page on tokens for more information.



Gambling in Canada has always been linked to the Canadian Criminal Code. In 1892, this code banned all forms of gambling. This code was very similar to the English laws that Canada incorporated during its Confederation in 1867. The stance on gambling slowly softened, and charitable games such as bingo and raffles were allowed in 1900. This was followed by horse racing in 1910. In 1925, gambling events were allowed to take place at agricultural fairs and exhibitions. In the USA, however, Chinese gambling was allowed under license in various jurisdictions. Here is a license for Fan Tan dated 1886 for Virginia City, Nevada for Ti Lee. Both sides are shown and a notation has been made on the back side in Chinese characters. It is interesting to note that the print has faded more than the ink.



This booklet was published by the Sacramento River Delta Historical Society in 1980. It is one of few publications I've seen on the topic of this theme, other than the Stewart Culin papers.



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