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Published December 09, 2022 Updated December 16, 2023

Besançon Tarot by Jacob Jerger

Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century.

France Jacob Jerger Tarot Tarot de Besançon Add to Collection

The Tarot de Besançon is a variant of the Tarot de Marseille and thus probably had early origins in France, possibly also Swiss influence, and from there spread to German-speaking regions in the early 18th century. This edition published by the German playing-card maker Jacob Jerger working in Besançon contains Italian suit symbols and allegorical trumps with French titles on all court cards and trumps. Juno and Jupiter replace the more usual figures of Popess and Pope, and who in the Roman pantheon were the emperor and empress of the gods. This feature originated during earlier religious wars between Catholics and Protestants.

Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The court and number cards

On the 2 of cups is “Tarots Fins faites par J. Jerger Fabriquant Carts a Besancon”, and on every court card and trump is the legend “France J. Jerger”. On Trump No. VII are the initials “J.I.A.B.” on a small shield. Nos. III and IV of trumps have a shield charged with an eagle. A number of variant spellings of the titles in French can be seen on the courts and trumps.

Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Above: Besançon tarot published by Jacob Jerger, 18th century. 78 cards, hand-coloured woodcut, backs mottled green. © The Trustees of the British Museum • Museum number 1896,0501.591

NOTES: in the 17th and 18th centuries, Central and South Germany adopted Italian-suited cards in the French or Swiss format of Besançon. This ‘Tarot de Besançon’ was closely related to the Tarot de Marseille but showed variations such as the jack of batons having both hands below the top of the club, and distinct details like standing Queens and the replacement of the Pope and Popess by Jupiter and Juno. The Ace of Cups shows a rounded cup with a lid in place of the Gothic chalice of the Tarot de Marseille. The furry trousers worn by the Devil are shared with the Lombard variant. Other minor idiosyncrasies are shared with the Piedrnontese variant, such as the full face on the Moon (XVIII), the droplets on the judgment (trump XX) and the use of the term Le Fou instead of Le Mat for the Fool. Produced in various German towns and in Switzerland in the 18th century, the Tarot de Besançon likely had its roots in French-speaking Swiss cantons, later spreading to German-speaking ones and, for export, in Strasbourg. By the mid-19th century, the Besançon tarot gave way to the “J.J.” pattern in Switzerland, probably originated by J Müller of Diessenhofen.

References

British Museum website • J Jerger Besançon Tarot

Dummett, Michael: The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City, Duckworth, 1980

Mann, Sylvia: All Cards on the Table, Jonas Verlag/Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum, Leinfelden-Echterdingen, 1990

O’Donoghue, Freeman M: Catalogue of the collection of playing cards bequeathed by Lady Charlotte Schreiber, (French 2), Trustees of the British Museum, London, 1901 [digital version here]

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By Simon Wintle

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Founder and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.


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