Chosson and Madenié Tarot de Marseille Facsimiles
U.S. Games, Inc. has just made it easier for North Americans to purchase the exquisite Chosson and Madenié Tarot de Marseille decks produced in France by Yves Reynaud and Wilfried Houdouin. The duo obtained access to decks that have been hidden away in European museums for two and a half centuries, and created 3,000 facsimile copies of two very significant TdMs. U.S. Games has acquired 1,000 copies of each deck to resell. If these decks are supported by the tarot community, they plan to produce several more.
The Francois Chosson deck printed in Marseille in 1736 is the template for the 1762 Conver deck, the model for all subsequent TdMs. In 1709 Dijon, Pierre Madenié produced the earliest known complete standard TdM (type II). Although the two decks are separated by a generation and hundreds of miles, the lines and colors are nearly identical. Both decks even have same odd spelling on some of the trump cards: Limparatrise, Lecharior, Tenperance, Lestoille. This shows that by 1709, and probably decades earlier, the TdM II pattern had been standardized.
The Madenié (on the right) has deep rich colors: forest green, burgundy, gold, tan, and gray. The lines are strong, and the stenciled colors stay within the lines, for the most part. The white background gives a crisp appearance. Extra flourishes like decorative borders on the clothing, and some details on a few trumps add style to the cards. This deck is unique in having faint ghost lines on some of the cards that are an artifact of the production process. The sparkling eyes and a slightly amused look on the faces make the court cards especially attractive.
Chosson was obviously not too concerned about quality control. His deck was printed from worn blocks, so lines are often faint or broken. The stenciling is sloppy, with many colored areas offset from the space they’re supposed to fill, and some areas skipped altogether. The background varies from cream to pinkish-tan. He evidently didn’t notice that the engraver misspelled the word for “cards” on the wrapping paper.
Most of Chosson’s colors are brighter than the Madenié deck: scarlet, yellow, and a pink-flesh color instead of tan, which makes Cupid look sunburnt, while the lion is bright pink with yellow legs. The blue and green areas are so dark they obscure the printed lines. The trump card titles have dots before and after each word. This deck has a proletarian, folkish feel. It’s the deck you would have brought out on a Friday night in the 1740s when your friends came over for an evening of cards.
Thankfully, U.S. Games made no attempt to modernize the cards, like rounding the corners or adding borders; so the decks come as close as possible to the look and feel of the museum originals. Each deck is wrapped in a reproduction of the original paper, and housed in a very sturdy box with a hand-numbered card. This is a beautiful, high-quality edition of two historically significant decks offered at a very reasonable price. I hope the success of these decks encourages Messrs. Reynaud and Houdouin to produce facsimiles of the other historic decks in their gallery. Click here for photos and background information on all the decks in their Tarot-de-Marseille-Heritage gallery.