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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Wahrsage-Karten

In this version an explanatory verse is printed at the top of each card.

B. Dondorf: Wahrsage-Karten

(first published 1878)

Dondorf's varied range of playing cards and card games includes a Fortune-Telling set which is sometimes named after the French fortune teller Madame Lenormand. These iconic fortune-telling images were first devised for 19th century card readers, and are here re-drawn and printed in chromolithography by B. Dondorf. Two different versions exist. In one version an explanatory verse is printed at the top of each card; the other version has a miniature playing card at the top.

Lenormand cards have always been popular. They read in a very practical everyday way, gypsy-style. There's less room for interpretation, their reading style is very direct. There's no metaphysical or psychological layer, the way there is with Tarot. They were published in French as “Cartes de Bonne Aventure”. They are published today in a variety of languages and styles.

Dondorf's 'Wahrsage-Karten No.2' Madame Lenormand fortune-telling cards, c.1911

Above: cards from Dondorf's "Wahrsage-Karten" Madame Lenormand fortune-telling cards with an explanatory verse printed at the top of each card, this set with rounded corners, c.1911-1933. The back design has the letters 'B.D.' 36 cards in box. Images courtesy Barney Townshend.


CREDITS & REFERENCES

Top image courtesy Otto Dhr Van Steenis.

Mary Greer has shown that the earliest forerunner of the Lenormand cards is a 1796 book in English. See Mary K. Greer's Tarot Blog

Hoffmann, Detlef and Dietrich, Margot: "Die Dondorf'schen Luxus-Spielkarten", Harenberg, Dortmund 1983.

See also:  Lenormand Cartomancy by V.S.S, c.1890sCartes Lenormand by H.P. GibsonCarreras Fortune-Telling CardsBook of FateBuena Suerte Cartomancy, c.1975Cartas GitanasCartomancy & Divination Cards17th Century Fortune-Telling CardsGeistliche Karten, 1718German Fortune Telling cards, c.1818Madame Lenormand Cards by J. Müller, Switzerland.

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By Barney Townshend

Member since October 06, 2015

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Retired Airline Pilot, interested in: Transformation Playing Cards, Karl Gerich and Elaine Lewis. Secretary of the EPCS. Treasurer of the IPCS.

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