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It is often said that The Tarot of Marseilles belongs to the older tarot decks known by mankind. Although that might very well be true, the tarot deck that preceded it and from which it probably originates, is the Visconti Sforza tarot deck, originally designed for entertaining the Italian courts. From there it ‘travelled’, with the French troops, (after the French conquered Milano in 1499.), to Switzerland and France where it then became the most well-known tarot deck for the French speaking territories. And until today, still is.
The Tarot of Marseilles has many predecessors and look-a-likes. Its name Tarot de Marseille originates from the city of Marseille only, because in those days, the city of Marseille was famous for its card printing business. Therefore nowadays, in professional sources, the name Tarot de Marseille is often abbreviated as TdM. Actually, Tarot of Marseilles is more a collective name, a brand name, for a specific type of tarot deck.
The images of the Tarot de Marseille and its contemporaries follow mostly an equal design and use the same symbols, insofar as was permitted by the Clergy. For that reason, in some decks, the cards number XIII (Death) and XV (The Devil) are unnumbered and sometimes even their title is omitted. Other cards, like for instance number II (the High priestess), and V (The Hierophant) have divergent names like ‘Papesse’ (Lady Pope) and Pope (nr. V).
Whoever designed the first Tarot de Marseilles remains vague. The Tarot of Marseilles by Nicola Conver from 1761 is regarded as one of the earlier versions of the TdM. The originals can be seen in the Bibliothéque Nationale de Paris. There are however, many other TdM’s from earlier dates and some contemporaries, for instance Tarot Jacques Vievilie, 1643, Paris - Tarot of Paris, early 17th century, manufacturer unknown - Tarot Rhenan by Ignaz Krebs, Freiburg, ca. 18th century - Tarocchino Lombardo, Gumppenberg, Milano, ca.1835 - Tarocco di Marsiglia, Svizzera, 1804 and many more (reprints of which can be seen in our collection).
In later posts, we will show more TdM- versions we have in our collection as well as various Italian decks from the same period.
Finally, the deck shown on the accompanying pages is the most well-known of them all, The Tarot of Marseilles as reproduced by Grimaud France. This edition is from 1963. The titles are in English and French. All 78 cards are used but in fair condition. The box is undamaged but shows a little wear (no tear).
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