Noblet vs. Noblet
Historic deck aficionados now have two versions of the legendary Noblet deck to enjoy. The only original in existence resides at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The late Jean-Claude Flornoy’s 2007 restoration of this deck with its clean, crisp lines and deep colors has become a popular reading deck. Now Joseph H. Peterson has just released a facsimile of the deck, allowing us to study the original imagery up close at our leisure.
The two decks are nearly the same size. The Peterson facsimile is 6.3 cm wide x 10 cm tall (2.5 X 4.0 inches). The Flornoy deck is one millimeter narrower and 2 millimeters shorter. The Flornoy deck is on thicker, less bendable paper. The most noticeable difference is the white background on the facsimile and the cream background of the Noblet.
Flornoy made some consistent changes to the color: the terra cotta of the original becomes flesh colored, and lemon yellow becomes deep orange in his deck. Most of the white areas of the original are filled in with light blue or blue-gray.
Peterson supplies seven extra cards that correct mistakes on the originals. The obsessively Virgoish who can’t tolerate these mistakes may substitute the corrected card. Two pip cards have roman numerals printed backward, three trump cards have misspelled titles, and Peterson rather arbitrarily touched up the shape of World’s head and arms. The six through ten of Swords are missing and have been re-created.
The biggest change is to the Bateleur. Here we see the Flornoy, the original card and Peterson’s corrected card. On the original and the Flornoy, the Bateleur’s wand is truncated, and he’s missing his middle three fingers. There’s not even a ghost of the missing elements on the original. Evidently, the block carver made a serious omission that no one noticed before printing. Peterson restored the fingers and the rest of the wand, as well as changing the second L to an E in the title. Peterson also supplies a third Bateleur card with the restored image but keeping the misspelled title.
The Noblet deck, printed in Paris @1650, is a Type I Tarot de Marseille. Type II, derived from the Conver and Chosson decks of the early 18th century, is considered the standard pattern today. Type I decks appeared earlier: Noblet in 1650, Dodal in 1714 (also restored by Flornoy), and a few others about the same time. Historians originally thought that Type II evolved from Type I, which then disappeared. Although Type I appeared earlier, it seems the two existed simultaneously and are parallel styles. Actually, only minor differences occur in the imagery between the two types, most notably in the Star, Hanged Man and World cards.
Which deck to choose if you can only have one? I prefer facsimiles because they bring me closer to history. But I find restored decks more pleasing to look at. If you’re going to read with the deck, the restored version gets the message across more clearly, and is probably easier for clients to relate to.
Peterson’s website, esotericarchives.com is a trove of esoteric and magical writings from the Renaissance, with the bonus of an esoteric timeline.
Flornoy’s website, letarot.com has information on the four decks he has restored, a brief history of tarot with an interesting critique of Paul Marteau’s Grimaud deck, and a discussion of each trump as a step on the path of personal development.
Here’s a page about the early development of the Tarot de Marseille.