Ancient Tarot of Marseilles

Created by Nicolas Conver, 1760
Published by Lo Scarabeo, 2000

78 Cards: 22 Major Arcana, 56 Minor Arcana
Card Size: 120 x 66mm
Tradition: Marseilles
Suits: Bâtons (Wands), Coupes (Cups), Épées (Swords), and Deniers (Pentacles)
Court Cards: Valet (Page), Cavalier (Knight), Reyne (Queen) and Roy (King)
Justice 8, Strength 11

The Ancient Tarot of Marseilles, produced by Lo Scarabeo, is a fine authentic reproduction of the original historic woodblock Tarot de Marseille deck which was created in 1760 by cardmaker Nicolas Conver in Marseille, France.

The deck by Conver is a well-known and influential deck of the Tarot of Marseilles tradition. Other early certified decks in the Tarot de Marseille family include the Tarot of Jean Noblet, Paris c.1650, Tarot of Jacques Viéville, Paris c.1650, and the Tarot of Jean Dodal, Lyon c.1701/1715. The name “Tarot de Marseille” was not in existence until it was coined by the French occultist Papus (Gérard Encausse) in his book le Tarot des bohémiens in 1889. The term was then popularised by Paul Marteau when his version of the Tarot de Marseille deck, the Grimaud Tarot de Marseille, appeared in 1930. “Tarot de Marseille” then became the collective name for the designs that were being produced in Marseille and other cities in France. The Tarot de Marseille made a huge impression on later systems of Tarot divination.

It was also very possibly Conver’s deck which was discovered by Antoine Court de Gébelin who in his book Le Monde primitif proposed the theory that the Tarot was an ancient Egyptian book of arcane wisdom. Court de Gébelin’s theories were later found to be historically unsound, however at the time they were profoundly influencial, in particular in arousing occultists’ interest in Tarot decks. His theories were picked up by French occult author and magician Eliphas Lévi, born Alphonse Louis Constant, (1810-1875) and also by Jean-François Alliette, better known by his pseudonym Etteilla, (1738-1791), the French occultist who was the first to popularise Tarot divination and the first professional Tarot occultist in recorded history.

The Tarot de Marseille, including Conver’s deck, became the model for most subsequent esoteric decks, starting with the deck designed by Etteilla in 1870 named the Grand Jeu de l’Oracle des Dames (reproduced by Lo Scarabeo as the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot in 2003). The Tarot de Marseille also formed the foundation for works by Pamela Colman Smith and Arthur Edward Waite as well as Lady Frieda Harris and Aleister Crowley.

Nicholas Conver’s legacy to the House of Camoin is yet another contribution to Tarot tradition and history. Jean-Baptiste Camoin became successor to Conver in 1861 and the Marseilles tradition has lived on ever since. In 1998, present heir Phillipe Camoin, along with Alexandre Jodorowsky published a reconstruction of Conver’s original deck which they have named the Camoin Tarot de Marseille and is offered today as a cleaner and more colourful rendering of the Marseilles deck.

For me however, it’s Conver’s woodblock artwork reproduced in its original unrefined state that appeals. In 1760 the printing press was very new on the scene and was limited in its capabilities, a world away from the digital press of today. Nicolas Conver would still have produced most of the work manually. Having had the opportunity to produce woodblock prints on an older press at art college myself, I can appreciate the work involved in the process. Only small numbers could be produced at a time and no two cards would have been identical. Some people may find these cards odd or unappealing yet the cards speak to me deeply. The Ancient Tarot of Marseilles not only reproduces the card images, but also the discolorations and worn areas that had been acquired over time. When viewing the reproduction of this centuries old deck I cannot dismiss its historical value to the Tarot world.

The Major Arcana cards feature the now traditional names, although in French. The XIII card is left unnamed as is customary in the various versions of the Tarot de Marseille. The exceptions are the Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseille in which the card was named “La Mort” (Death); and in some printings of the French/English bilingual version of the Grimaud Tarot de Marseille, the XIII card is named “La Mort” in French and “Death” in English. The Minor Arcana cards feature the traditional numbered pip cards with ornamental aces and figures on the court cards. As is typical of Marseilles decks, the 2 of Deniers has a scroll bearing the name of the creator, in this case “Nas Conver 1760”. The Six of Bâtons was missing from the original deck and so it is of interest to know that the Six in this reproduction was made by erasing the central Bâton from the Seven. The cards throughout are coloured with blocks of blue, red, yellow, and green on a pale brown background and numbered with roman numerals except for the Fool and the suit of Deniers (Pentacles)

Many students of esoteric occultism, among others, use Marseilles-type decks and this deck is certainly recommended for this purpose. As the Minor Arcana are not illustrated, I would not recommend this deck to beginners. However, I do particularly recommend it to anyone interested in Tarot history. In any case it would be an excellent addition to any Tarot collection.

Stella Luna © 2010 The Tarot Reader.  All rights reserved.

3 Responses to Ancient Tarot of Marseilles

  1. I wonder what you think of many of the cards where the eyes are just blank circles? It does detract from the beauty, no?
    Thank you.

    • stella luna says:

      Hi Anne, for me personally, no it does not distract. As with other areas of the images it is just part of the wear over time because of the age of the images and the woodblock process in which they were produced. As per my blog post it is the original unrefined state in the reproduction that appeals to me.

  2. Thank you S-L.
    I have several different Marseille decks and I wonder which one will be my standard.
    The Madenie tarot is lovely as well. Talk about facsimile! It shows shadow printings.
    All the best and thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights.
    Anne

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