Most significant historical decks


Some time back, a general thread preferences was opened: Tarot de Marseille: your Top Five. As well, a couple of older threads exist as polls for more recent restored decks.

Given that we have seen the voting results that have given us the top voted-for decks in 2006 (See this main page for the results), I thought it worthwhile to also sense into what we consider not so much our personal favourite, but perhaps which TEN PRE-1900 DECKS are of the most significance (however this may be interpreted).

Following a listing of such decks, I'll collate them into a list for a poll-result.

There are various manners in which the decks can also be co-joined (for example, though there are some differences of detail, the two different decks by the two Payen (Jean and Jean-Pierre) are substantially the same in nearly all respects to the Dodal, and thus treat them as a 'single' deck.

I am totally open to alternative means of seeking to both list, and either group or ungroup, certain decks.

To begin - knowing I have omitted many, here are some:

'Gringonneur' / 'Charles VI'
Noblet [pre-TdM-1]
Payen / Dodal [TdM-1]
Chosson / Conver [TdM-2]


What about the Sola Busca or Minchiate decks or the Mantegna even though it's not a tarot deck. <g>

You did say Pre-1900--which these are.


The "Grimaud-Arnoult"
that was probably printed from 1891 until the 1920's and later with some changes was continued from 1930 to today with the Grimaud-Marteau.

Considering that this deck is one of the link of the chain that made the TdM continuously living from the 19th century to the 20th century and then to the 21th, I would say it is a very important deck :)


In approaching this topic, I'd like to outline my humble view of Tarot history.

Three "families" of decks really stand out in Tarot history; the various Visconti decks, as they are the oldest known, the Marseille decks, due to their influence and popularity, and the Waite-Coleman, as it has been the most influencial in the last 100 years.

With these points in mind, I tend to rate the historic significance on three factors:

1. Pre-Marseille decks; how much influence does a given deck have and/or how much insight does a given deck give us about the development of the Marseille pattern.

2. Post-Marseille decks; how much influence does a given deck have and/or how much insight does a given deck give us about the development of the Waite-Coleman pattern from the Marseille pattern.

3. How much does a given deck tell as about the possible meaning and/or origin of the Tarot itself.

Here are a few candidates for the list. I'll put a 1,2, or 3 after each deck as it applies to the above three critiria plus comments.

Cary-Yale (1,3*)
*Like Stuart Kaplan, I believe that the Cary-Yale Faith, Hope, and Charity cards originally took the places that were later supplied in subsequent decks by the Pope, the Star, and the Papesse (Encyclopedia: II, p. 36). Perhaps the Visconti family later replaced Charity with one of their own, Guglielma Visconti, and the original meaning of Charity was forgotten or never realized by later card makers.)

Visconti-Sforza (1)

Mantegna Deck (3*)
*While not a Tarot, the similarity of many of the images can give us an idea of how the symbols of the Tarot were intrepreted.

'Gringonneur' / 'Charles VI' (1,3*)
*The matching halos on Justice, Temperance, Strength, and the World card are a strong indicator that the World card is meant to be Prudence.

Minchiate Tarot (1,*3)
*The 12 zodiac and 4 elements card aside, the various substitutions, additions, and omissions from the regular tarot trump sequence in this 97 card deck make it interesting food for thought. Like in the Cary-Yale, the Papesse and Pape are absent and Charity and Faith are present, although not in the same spots in the ordering.

Vieville (1,*3)
*Similar to the Marseille, with some intriuging differences. Trump XVI will make you question your assumptions about the meaning of "the Tower".

Paris (1)

Noblet [pre-TdM-1] (1)

Payen / Dodal [TdM-1] (1)

Chosson / Conver [TdM-2] (1)

Etteilla's Tarot (2*)
Although he mangled the names, order, and sometimes the meaning of the Major Arcana, his interpretations (or mis-interpretations) of the Minor Arcana were extremely influentual on the occult Tarot, most significantly Arthur Waite.

Oswald Wirth Tarot (2*)
*Wirth's under rated 22 card Majors only deck beautifully illustrates the influentual Kabbalalistic intrepretation of the Tarot by Eliphas Levi.



The Rhenan Tarot, by Ignaz Krebs
published by Piatnik is FANTASTIC
and, anyone wishing for the Dodal
couldn't go far wrong with this! :)


I have the Krebs and LOVE IT.

While not the most historically significant of the Marseille decks, and not the most refined, this deck has a funky, folk-art charm all its own.

The best thing isn't the original images however, but the quality of the reproduction. The card stock is exceptionally good, the images are crisp and clean, and the images are placed on the card in an attractive way that maintains the integrity of the image. It gives the illusion of being an antique deck, but could withstand a whole lot of "shuffle & spread" (And possibly machine gun fire. :) )

I wish the folks at Heron had put as much care into their reproduction of the Conver deck. The Heron Conver looks exactly like what it is; pictures of old cards stuck on new cards.