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Published May 27, 2023 Updated July 15, 2023

The Parisian Tarot

The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s, with imagery and design synthesizing several influences.

1650 France History Tarot Add to Collection

The Parisian Tarot, from the early 1600s, is the first wood-block printed deck that is conplete with 78 cards. Although the titles are in French and numbers on the trump cards correspond with the standard Tarot de Marseille sequence, the imagery and design contain elements of several foreign influences. For example, the four aces depict animals with banners indicating the suit signs, the numeral cards have imaginative arrangements, and the chequered framing of the cards is a trompe-l'oeil reminder of Italian tarots with edges folded over from the backs.

The finer details of the designs unfortunately have been obscured by the stencil colouring process which lacks delicacy. It is unclear what it's purpose may have been... was it intended for divination, or to play the game of tarocchi? Mystery teachings veiled as a pack of cards, or maybe a limited edition curiosity for collectors?

The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

Above: The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s. 78 cards: stencil coloured woodcut; 12.8 x 6.8 cm. The name “Parisian” refers to where the pack was produced. The name of the engraver or publisher has been removed from the twos of coins and cups, and is now unknown. The framing of the cards is a Trompe-l'oeil reminder of Italian tarots with folded over edges from the backs. Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France • Jeu de tarot parisien anonyme à enseignes italiennes

The Swords and Batons are neither of the usual Italian shape, nor the Spanish one, they do, however, for the most part intersect with one another. The swords (and the aces) remind us of those in the pack by the South German Engraver. The small cartouche with two lions at the top of each card has the initial of the suit in Italian: S for spade, etc. In all later French Latin-suited Tarot packs, including the Marseille tarot, the Italian suit-system is used.

The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

Above: numeral cards and court cards from the Parisian Tarot, unknown maker, Paris, early 1600s. Source gallica.bnf.fr / BnF

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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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