The Devil's Picture Books! Can you guess what it's about?
We started e-mailing out a newsletter, which eventually was named the Tarocks Tribune. These newsletters were extensive from the beginning, so we decided to make them more accessibly by sharing them here. This is our seventh. To read them all, click on the Tribune category near the top of our blog page.
This month we offer you an incredible newsletter filled with mystery!
Here is what this letter covers:
If, while reading this newsletter, you think of someone in your life who loves cards as much as we do, feel free to forward them this e-mail.
Let's get started!
She sits and is looking up from the book that she is reading. This High Priestess from the Jean Noblet Tarot surely is thinking about what she just read. We are almost certain that the book in her hands is an old one. Perhaps it's even the author's copy of the first edition of 'The Devil's Picture Books.'
To find out what she might be thinking about this book we recommend reading the rest of this newsletter!
There are many new decks in our store and more are constantly being added. Click on the link above or below to browse our store.
We made some changes, which gave us more time to browse through our existing collection. This lead to an unexpected discovery!
In our last newsletter we described a reference work on Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards written and compiled by Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer (born Maria Denning King, 1848-1925), who is also author of The Devils Picture Books. While exploring our collection we found a copy.
Not just any copy: The original author's copy of the first edition!
The authoress pasted original newspaper clippings of reviews taken from famous newspapers such as the Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Press and even The Sun. She glued these reviews on the blank pages in the front and the back of the book.
We have decided to share photos and texts so you can share and study them!
While reading the reviews it is amazing to discover some of the taboos around divination by cards and/or playing with cards in America of the late 19th century. Even ecclesiastical permission (is that the same as a blessing?) was asked for in the printing of this book.
We also want to add that 'The Devil’s Picture Books' is much more than just a reference work. The artwork and images within are of the kind one rarely sees as the originals are mostly hidden in libraries of museums or private collection.
It is these images that shed light on the origin of playing cards and also offer new insight on the background of Tarot.
We hope you enjoy the reviews and the images as much as we do!
Review form the SUN, October 12th ,1890
“The whim of the hour is to ‘collect’. Fashion does not dictate what it shall be – there is really no limit to the list from which you may choose – but if you don’t wish to be in the mortifying position of a creature hopelessly behind his epoch, you positively must form a collection of some sort. And when one stops to consider the ‘fads’ that are represented in this way, the man or woman who has hit upon something of genuine and general interest immediately acquires enviable distinction for the happy choice of a hobby. Among those who are to be congratulated on this ground is the clever young New York matron, who is also, by the way, one of the founders of the Association of Colonial Dames of America, Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer……The title chosen is a phrase from Burns, The Devil’s Picture Books. Mrs. Van Rensselaer’s publishers are said to have demurred long at this, but the lady’s determination remained unshaken and so the name of the book, which has not been changed. The author declares, moreover, that she has the highest ecclesiastical approval of her choice of a title in the shape of a note from a preacher commending her selection”.
Review from the Boston Globe, November 23st 1890
“The Devil’s Picture books, a title suggested by the name given to playing cards by the Puritans, will tempt a majority of readers to risk the danger of seeking their secrets. It is a history largely written from books now out of print and includes all the facts that are known of the origin, symbolism and development in different countries of playing cards, with special chapters on the meaning and relation to different periods of the face cards, as they are commonly termed. Other curious information is contained in chapters on aces and other cards, the use and abuse of cards, with anecdotes, pips, suits and colors, etc.
While the text has unique value as preservative record, and is made very entertaining by Mrs. J.K. Van Rensselaer’s treatment of its subject, it is an artistic that the book will attract many to its contents. It contains 17 plates, showing several cards, facsimile, in colors on each, or reproductions in black and white, as with the Chinese and Tarot cards. The colored designs represent rare and curious packs of different countries in perfect copies. Very noticeable are the Italian cards with suits of swords, maces, money and cups: the North American Indian cards and gambling sticks of different tribes: the Japanese cards each of which represents a week of the year, and the cards of Cashmere. The frontispiece is Persian. The color printing is very choice, and presswork and binding are in good taste ‘.
Review from Philadelphia Press, November 21st, 1890
“The Devil’s Picture Books was the name bestowed upon playing cards by the Puritans and other pious souls, who were probably in hopes that this would alarm timid persons and so prevent their use. The volume is full of curious information, and is generously illustrated with reproductions in colour of ancient and historic cards”.
Quotes from an unknown source, dated December 4th, 1890
“The Devil’s Picture Books is a storehouse of curious knowledge, dealing with all ages and countries. Not merely the history of the world’s amusements, but the history of art, and even the world’s political history, are connected with the immediate subject by many odd side threads of interest. Who, for instance, can fail to be interested in the fact that printing cards on blocks was the earliest form of that block printing which was afterwards used to produce the early block books, and thence finally evolved by the great leap of moveable types into the art of printing as we know it to-day. And how many people know that the use of visiting cards arose from the practice of writing a message on the back of a playing card and sending it to a friend? It is not necessary to be a card player, or even to approve of card playing in its mildest forms, to find here much that was worth preserving”.
However not all reviews are positive….also this one is from a unknown source, dated December 5th, 1890
“With our increasing knowledge, a new history of playing cards would be welcome if it should embody the learning of its predecessors and bring order out of what is now not a little chaotic. But Mrs. Van Rensselaer’s amateurish work does not fill this want. It is at once unliterary and unscientific….. even some of the Pope’s best known lines are misprinted….. The treatment of the vexed question of the origin of playing cards does not warrant the belief that the authoress has investigated for herself or formed any solid opinion of her own. But, accepting The Devil’s Picture Books as an uncritical compilation, it is not without interest, and not a few of its illustrations add to our information”.
In the photo below find also some personal notes of the authoress written directly into the book:
Written in 1865, 'The History of Playing Cards' comes with anecdotes of the use of cards in conjuring, fortune telling and instructions on card sharpening. It was published by John Camden Hotten, Piccadilly, London. The book was written by the then late Reverend Ed. S. Taylor, B.A. and others.
Throughout this little book of 529 pages several insights of Singer and Chatto, then authorities on ‘the working with all cards,' are mixed within the text. Incredibly, the preface reads as if it had been written in our present time. It goes as follows:
“Five years ago, I purchased from an eminent French publisher some tasteful wood-engraving, illustrative of the History of Playing Cards. These, with the small work in which they originally appeared, were placed in the hands of the late Rev. Ed. S. Taylor, of Ormes by St. Margaret, Great Yarmouth, as material for a History of Playing Cards, English and Foreign, which he had offered to undertake for me. The readers of Notes and Queries will remember this gentleman as the valued contributor of many curious articles to that useful periodical. His knowledge was wide and varied, although his tastes were of that peculiar kind which delights in the careful exploration of the bye-ways, rather than the high roads, of learning.
The first part of the work was soon in the printer’s hands, but ill-health followed, and the book proceeded slowly up to the time of the editor’s decease, two years ago. It was deemed necessary to mention this fact, as some of the references are to matters long since passed, although they stated as of the present day.
To the French illustrations have been added several facsimiles of old cards from the Print room in the British Museum and other sources.
The third and last division of the work, that treating of Card Cinjuring, Fortune Telling, and Card Sharpening, might have been extended to a much greater length, but it was found that the size of the work, as projected, had already been much exceeded; and so, the writer was necessarily compelled to omit much that he had collected upon these curious subjects. Hereafter a small volume, entirely devoted to their consideration, may probably see the light.
With these explanations, the present book is given to the world, not as an exhaustive treatise upon the subject, but rather as a popular compend of facts and anecdotes relating to a pastime which has amused all classes of society for many generations.
One more statement: this time in our own behalf, is, perhaps, necessary. The student or the antiquary, acquainted with the larger works of Breitkopt, Singer and Chatto, writers who have so elaborately treated our subject, is reminded that many facts and particulars, unknown to those learned enquirers, may be found scattered through our pages”.
J.C.H. (the publisher)
The anecdotes are fantastic:
“Madame de Motteville indignantly burst out about the matter of card playing: ‘This mans to say so! He who every day gambles away three or four thousand pistols; he who has all the wealth of France in his coffers, and who permits his niece, the Countess of Soissons, to play away immense sums every day!”. Obviously, this lady was not very much taken with some aspects of card playing… The book is in mint condition and beautifully bound in calf.
The following decks have been added to the archive since the last newsletter. Just click on the name of the deck to be taken directly to its page:
1. Sibilla Originale del 1890
2. Alan's Tarot Cards
3. Il Tarocco Mitologico
4. Il Tarocco del Mondo Nuovo
In case you need a little reminder, the Blog is where we publish two decks twice a month in the form of a blog post that includes many detailed photos. You can take a look here.
We are constantly extending the Index (the complete overview of everything in our collection) with decks that ultimately will also find their place in the Blog.
Until then please feel invited to browse through the Index, you will find many rare and interesting decks, some of which are for sale. If you are interested in purchasing anything, please contact us using our contact form.
If, while reading the newsletter, you think of someone who would also enjoy it, please feel free to forward them this e-mail and let them sign up by clicking here or visiting our website.
Finally, we hope again that this newsletter as well as the information provided on Tarocks will satisfy your expectations. In case you have any suggestions or discover any inconsistencies, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
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