The Pierre Madenie 1709 Tarot de Marseille Facsimile Deck
Tarot collectors now have the opportunity to acquire rare and historic Tarot de Marseilles decks thanks to Yves Reynaud of Marseilles. He has access to the tarot collections of various European museums and private collections, and is gradually putting out high-quality facsimile editions of these decks.
You can see the trump cards from twelve decks in his online gallery. So far, he’s produced facsimiles of the 1736 Chosson deck and the Pierre Madenié deck published in Dijon in 1709. He only shows the 22 trump cards in his gallery, but his decks have all 78 cards.
I intended to buy the Chosson deck, since it’s the template for today’s standard TdM, but after looking over all the decks in his gallery, I changed my mind and got the Madenié. It’s the oldest complete TdM in existence, and I’m a pushover for the first, the original or the oldest of anything. Also, the rich colors really grabbed me – Deep ruby, forest green, dark royal blue and antique gold.
The cards are 2.5 x 4.75 inches, with a light coating that make them very nice to handle and shuffle. The deck is housed in a sturdy box and packaged with a reproduction of the original wrapper, which is a nice touch. A card with historical background information and the deck’s number out of an edition of 3000 is also included.
I found the Madenié to be one of the most pleasing TdMs I’ve ever seen. It has subtle details and flourishes you don’t find on most decks, and the lines are graceful and delicately carved. TdM figures often seem grumpy or depressed. Madenié’s faces are open and friendly and the eyes are well-delineated and lively. Even the Sun and Moon have happier faces than most other TdMs.
After I compared this deck with two Conver decks from 1760, I found they were nearly identical except for a few small details. For example:
The Madenié Lover has a zig-zag pattern on the bottom of his tunic instead of plain stripes, and the flowers in the young maiden’s garland have neatly articulated petals instead of just being a cluster of circles, as on the Conver. The Madenié Bateleur holds a small round object, while in the Conver deck he holds what seems to be a crumpled handkerchief, perhaps to hide what’s in his hand. Several court figures have patterns on their robes, or ruffles and ribbons not found in the Conver deck, showing the extra care that went into carving the blocks for this deck.
As I flipped through my newly-arrived deck, I was startled to see a shadowy Bateleur hovering behind the Queen of Batons. Then I noticed that all the Baton court cards have shadow figures behind them. Not only that, there’s a shadowy Lovers behind the Fool, and the Emperor has a ghostly orb and cross floating behind his helmet.
Most court cards and lower-numbered trumps have ghostly traces of another card, in reverse, hovering in the background. Many more cards have smoky-gray smudges. These ghost images are all bordered by thin vertical stripes where two cards abutted on the printing block.
Playing cards were printed on large sheets of paper with twenty to thirty cards to a sheet. It seems that someone in the Madenié workshop pulled a freshly printed sheet off the press, and before the ink was dry laid it face down on another piece of paper, transferring the ink as a ghostly reverse image slightly off-kilter.
This raises several questions:
- Was it common practice to dry sheets this way? I don’t think so, since it seems a waste of paper, and I’ve seen pictures of old print shops with printed sheets hanging up to dry.
- Was this done as an experiment, or was it a mistake by an untrained apprentice?
- We know sheets with mistakes were used as end papers and filler for books — that’s how some of the sheets of cards from about 1500 were preserved. But to deliberately print on top of them? Are there any other examples of this being done?
- Were decks commonly printed on flawed or recycled paper to sell at bargain prices? Or was Madenie so hard up he had to print on used paper?
- Has the deck been so well-preserved over the years because no one wanted to use it?
Rather than ruining the deck for me, these ghostly images are an intriguing trace of a specific day over 400 years ago in the Madenié print shop.
NOTE: Bertrand, who produces tarot decks in Paris, just added a comment below with a link to a fascinating article telling us that the ghost images are created during the gluing process when printed sheets are stacked face to face, the glue moistens the ink, and the cards leave kiss marks on each other. How French!!
The Madenié family were three generations of card makers active in Dijon, France in the first half of the 18th century. Two of their decks still exist, the one reproduced by Reynaud and one from 1736. The 1709 deck is important because it demonstrates that the classic TdM II pattern was already in place by the early 18th century and probably has deep roots in the previous century. It existed simultaneously with the earlier TdM I pattern exemplified by the Noblet of 1650 and the 1704 Dodal deck.
With the exchange rate and shipping to the USA, the deck cost $51, and took two weeks to travel from Marseilles to California. If the tarot community supports Reynaud by purchasing his decks, he’ll be able to continue making these rare decks available to us. Visit his gallery of TdMs and make your purchase through Paypal at Tarot-de-Marseille-Heritage.