Antique tarot cards: build your own collection!
If you like antique tarot cards you have probably already started a collection despite all your best intentions.
It is easy to fall in love with that unusual tarot deck or that precious, rare edition and, before you realize it, you have become a serious tarot cards collector.
In this page I'll try to make a compilation of some of the most famous tarot decks in an approximate chronological order (sometimes it is difficult to give precise date to a deck of cards) to help you with your choices and maybe tease a little your collecting instinct.
Browsing through this page you'll find out that rare and out of print editions can command much higher prices than current (but nevertheless beautiful) tarot decks.
Happy tarot hunting!
The oldest tarot deck that survived complete to our times is the Sola Busca.
Noticeable for the rich imagery and its historical value, this deck is pure joy for the eye.
Visconti Sforza Tarots
Bonifacio Bembo painted between 1432 and 1470 for the Duke of Milan three tarot decks that are known today as the Visconti-Sforza tarots.
The Brambilla deck is at Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, the Bergamo deck is divided between the Piermont Morgan Library in New York and the Accademia di Carrara in Bergamo and the Visconti di Modrone (also known as Cary-Yale) is at the Yale University Library in New Haven USA.
This tarot deck makes the foundation of the history of tarot cards.
This deck of 78 full-color cards is a reconstruction of the original with numbers and titles added to the images.
The colors and missing cards are re-created and the result is a truly beautiful edition of the Pierpont-Morgan tarot deck.
The Mantegna Deck
Many authors (Mantegna among them) were given credit for this deck of cards that was released in 1470 in the Italian town of Ferrara.
These cards are a great example of the art of engraving of the period. They were probably conceived as educational tools for children of the wealthy families during the Renaissance.
The peculiarity of this deck is that for the first time every card has a name and a number.
This deck is composed of 50 cards divided in 5 series representing the conditions of man, the muses, the liberal arts, the virtues, the cosmical principals and the celestial spheres.The images are beautiful and captivating.
The Gringonneur or Carl VI Tarot Deck
Some think these cards were painted in Venice, others in Ferrara but it seems now certain that they come from a northern Italian school.
The deck, now at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, is made of 17 magnificent cards, 17 trumps and 1 court card. They don't carry any number or explicit name, the background is golden with a flower design and they are decorated with an elaborate border.
These antique tarot cards are xilographs by Catelin Geoffrey, a French
artist. There are now only 38 cards remaining and they can be seen at
the Frankfurt Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Germany.
Marseille Tarot Deck
This type of tarot was known originally in Europe as the Italian Tarot and was inspired by the Visconti Sforza deck.
The first examples of these cards date back to the XVI century but they were later developed by Claude Burdel and became really popular in the XVIII century.
They were named tarot de Marseille by the French tarot maker Grimaud during the XIX century.
These cards became the best known and most popular tarot deck. The trump images are rough, in primary colors but very powerful and evocative.
Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718) was a painter and engraver from Bologna.
In 1664 Mitelli created for the Bentivoglio family 62 cards, a variation of the tarocchino bolognese, divided in 4 suits, plus 22 trumps.
The images sometimes follow an older iconography, for example the magician is represented like an acrobat surrounded by children.
Unusual is the representation of the hanged man, a sleeper about to be struck by a huge hammer. The Star is pictured as The Time, a bearded angel sustained by crutches.
This deck is unconventional, very creative and artistic because the trump cards are re-created by the author.
Jean-Baptiste Alliette, a famous Parisian card reader better known as Ettelia, published in 1789 a deck of cards with untraditional images for the trump cards.
The author redesigned the Major Arcana and changed their order. The cards are rich with alchemic and astrological symbols.
The tarot, known in the Italian region of Tuscany as Minchiate, was used in Italy since the Renaissance by commoners for playing cards.
The Minchiate Etruria deck was created in Florence around 1725. The images of these 97 cards are extremely rich and surprising with unicorns and satyrs.
The peculiarity of this tarot deck is that it is composed of 56 pip cards, 40 trumps plus The Fool.
In the trumps, 19 have the traditional images, 12 are the signs of the zodiac, 4 are the elements (Fire, Water, Air, Earth), 5 the Virtues. The knights are represented by centaurs.