Friday, March 22, 2024


Last modified March 22, 2024

Franco Pratesi has an impressive list of publications on the history of the tarot and playing cards generally that goes back to 1986, both in print publications and on various websites, including his own at However, many of the most important, especially in the last ten years or so, are in Italian only. In an effort to make his research more widely available, I have been translating selected essays and notes into English, essentially using Google Translate and then correcting it by my understanding of Italian grammar and reference to online dictionaries for the word that fits the context best. Even then, I have sometimes gone to Franco himself for advice on certain passages, especially in translating old documents, the proportion of which increased dramatically in 2023 and after. I have tried to make the English conform as closely as possible to the original Italian, sometimes resulting in awkward transitions in English but which in the development of ideas follow the Italian.

In each translation, there are occasionally comments in brackets for the sake of clarification. These are by me unless indicated otherwise (as Franco himself sometimes uses brackets for comments). The numbers by themselves on the left margins are page numbers in Franco's pdf, for those who would like to consult the Italian original or quote it. For safety sake, any quotations by others of my translations should probably include the original Italian, since I do not guarantee the accuracy of my admittedly amateur work.

At the right of this introduction on the web-page is a list of years and then months. These are when I posted a particular essay. But the essays themselves are arranged in the order in which Franco published them, on the internet or elsewhere, going down from later to earlier. So for essays dated earlier than those in a given month (when I posted the translation), it is necessary to click on an earlier month, until the desired note is found - or else use the link in this introduction.

I have written introductions to each translation, in most cases rather short. In one case, where I myself am quoted in the note, my introduction is longer, explaining how Franco and I got to that point. In many of the blog-posts, after the translation in the same post, I have put my own reflections on Franco's note, or posts I have written relating to the same theme. Both the translation and my comments originally appeared on Tarot History Forum, to which I give the relevant links in my introductions to the essays; but in some cases there are small revisions. 

You will notice that some essays belong to a series of such essays. One is on the "Books of the Lily" (Florence's emblematic flower) and other arrest records for card-playing retained in the archives. Another "Playing cards in Europe before 1377?"; another is on the minor arts in relation to triumphal motifs on the cards, i.e. birth trays, marriage chests, Petrarch manuscripts, and civic processions, all beginning "Ca. 1450:...". A fourth type is that of tarot origins, including two in early 2016 on Milan and Florence and then another in Oct. 2016, reviewing a wide range of proposals.''

I have resisted the temptation to put these groups together in the blog,  instead arranging them in order of publication, similar to Franco's own site at, but without his divisions into different print and on online places. However, for those interested in particular topics, here is a list of the five main topics. To get to the translation, click on the link after the title in English. To get to the original Italian, click on the title in Italian.

  • Information from inventory and other account records in Tuscany (6 entries)

 "Florence 1472-1474. Worn-out naibi and triumphs in a bag" (Feb. 23, 2024), at Franco's original at 8/07. Firenze 1472-1474. Naibi tristi e trionfi in un sacchetto (23.02.2024).

"Pontormo 1479. Playing cards in a haberdasher's house" (Feb. 22, 2024), at Original at 8/06. Pontormo 1479. Carte da gioco nella casa di un merciaio (22.02.2024).

"Florence 1426. Naibi in a large family" (Feb. 12, 2024), at Original is at 8/05. Firenze 1426. Naibi in una grande famiglia (12.02.2024).

"Florence 1462: Playing Cards in a dry goods Store" (Dec. 2, 2023), Original at "Firenze 1462: carte da gioco in una merceria" (02.12.2023)  

"Florence - Three account books of the 1400s" (October 18, 2023), at Original at Firenze – Tre libri di conti del Quattrocento (18.10.2023).

"1499-1506: New information on Florentine cards" (April, 2015)  (1499-1506: Firenze - Nuove informazioni sulle carte fiorentine. The Playing-Card, Vol. 44, No. 1 (2015) 61-71)

  • Information from the taxation system in Tuscany (6 entries)

"Florence 1743-1778: Licenses for games" (Jan. 20, 2024),, Franco's original is at Firenze 1743-1778. Le licenze sui giochi (20.01.2024)).

"Florence 1843-1845. Foreign cards and bureaucracy" (Jan. 2, 2024) Original at Firenze 1843-1845. Carte forestiere e burocrazia (02.01.2024).

"Florence 1814: Restoration, also for playing cards" (Jan. 2, 2024), Original at Firenze 1814: Restaurazione, anche per le carte da gioco (02.01.2024).

"Florence 1766 - Domenico Aldini under investigation (November 21, 2023), at Franco's original is at Firenze 1766 - Domenico Aldini sotto inchiesta (21.11.2023) .

"Reform of the stamp duty on cards (October 31, 2023), at Franco's original is at Firenze 1781: riforma del bollo sulle carte (31.10.2023).

"Cortona 1767-1781 - Playing Cards in Customs" (October 25, 2023), at Franco's original is at at Cortona 1767-1781 – Carte da gioco in Dogana (25.10.2023).

  • Information from laws and crime records in Tuscany (6 entries)

"1377: Florence: sentenced as players of naibi" (Jan-March 2016) (1377: Firenze - Condanne ai giocatori di naibi." The Playing-Card , Vol. 44, No. 3 (2016), 156-163. 

"1426-1440 Florence: Convictions for card games in the Books of the Lily" (Nov. 26, 2016) (1426-1440: Firenze - Condanne per giochi di carte nei Libri del Giglio. (26.11.2016))

"1440-1450: Florence - Convictions for card games in the Books of the Lily" (Oct. 12, 2015) (1440-1450: Firenze - Condanne per giochi di carte nei Libri del Giglio. (12.10.2015))

"1450, 1473, 1477: Florence: Laws on games" (Nov. 7, 2015) (1450, 1473, 1477: Firenze - Leggi sui giochi. (07.11.2015)

"1451: Siena - New law on games" (Oct. 31, 2015) (1451: Siena - Nuova legge sui giochi. (31.10.2015))

"1514: Florence: Law on games" (synopsis) (Nov. 21, 2015) (11514: Firenze - Legge sui giochi. (21.11.2015))

  • Miscellanous playing card documentation in Tuscany (2 entries)  

 "1700s in Florence: Conversations in the Casino of St. Trinita" (Dec. 2, 2023), Original at Settecento a Firenze: Conversazione del Casino di Santa Trinita (02.12.2023)

 "Fourteen minchiate cards of the 1700s" (Aug. 18, 2023), at Original at 7/10. Quattordici minchiate del Settecento (20.08.2023).

  • Playing card documentation outside Tuscany (6 entries) 

"Brescia 1786 - almanac on the tarot" (Aug. 20, 2023), at Franco's original is at Brescia 1786 – Almanacco sul tarocco (20.08.2023).

"1477 Bologna: Arithmetic for cards and triumphs" (June 9, 2014) (Carte da gioco a Firenze: il primo secolo (1377-1477). The Playing-Card , 19 No. 1 (1990) 7-17.))

"Comments on Islamic cards" (Feb. 8, 2016) (Commenti sulle carte islamiche. (08.02.2016))

"The 3rd Rosenwald Sheet" (June 27, 2016) (Il terzo foglio Rosenwald. (27.06.2016))

"Assisi c. 1510: Complete deck of 48 cards" (Dec. 22, 2016) (1510 ca: Assisi - Mazzo completo di 48 carte. (21.12.2016))

"1501-1521: cards from Perugia and nearby cities" (Jan. 5, 2017) (1501-1521: Carte da Perugia e città vicine. (05.01.2017))

  • Triumphs and the minor arts (5 entries)

"ca 1450: Triumphs and birthtrays," (May 13, 2016) (1450ca: Firenze - Trionfi e deschi da parto. (13.05.2016))

"ca 1450: Triumphs and marriage chests," (Aug. 31, 2016) (1450ca: Firenze - Trionfi e cassoni nuziali. (31.08.2016)) 

"ca 1450: Triumphs and Civic Processions" (Oct. 11, 2016) (1450ca: Firenze - Trionfi e cortei cittadini. (10.11.2016))

 "ca 1450: Triumphs and Triumphi" [i.e. illuminated manuscripts], (Oct. 15, 2016) (1450ca: Trionfi e Triumphi. (15.10.2016))

"Siena 1438: From Angels to Love" (Dec. 7, 2016)  (1438: Siena - Dagli Angeli all'Amore. (07.12.2016))

  • Earliest playing cards, by place (8 entries)

"Playing Cards in Europe Before 1377? Aragon" (June 21, 2016) (Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Aragona. (21.06.2016))

"Various cards at Basel in 1377 or 1429" (April 26, 2016) (Carte varie a Basilea nel 1377 o nel 1429. (26.04.2016))

"Playing Cards in Europe Before 1377? Berne" (April 26, 2016) (Carte varie a Basilea nel 1377 o nel 1429. (26.04.2016))

"Playing Cards in Europe Before 1377? Bohemia" (June 7, 2016) (Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Boemia. (07.06.2016)) 

"Playing Cards in Europe Before 1377? Buja" (June 15, 2016) (Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Buja. (15.06.2016))

"Playing Cards in Europe Before 1377? Holland" (Jan. 18, 2017 and March 9, 2017) (Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Olanda. (18.01.2017) and Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Olanda. Addendum. (09.03.2017))

"Playing Cards in Europe Before 1377? Italy" (May 5, 2016) (Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Italia. (05.05.2016))

"Playing Cards in Europe Before 1377? Poland" (June 2, 2016) (Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Polonia. (02.06.2016)

  • Poems, magic tricks, cartomancy, and other entertainment with cards  (3 entries)

"Games played with tarocchi in the 1600s," at Franco's original in Italian is at Giuochi che si fanno con le carte ‒ nel Seicento (16.10.2023) .

 "More Lombard editions from Court de Gébelin" (Aug. 3, 2023), Franco's original in Italian is at Più edizioni lombarde da Court de Gébelin (03.08.2023).

"Ideas of an Egyptian - Cremona 1795" (July 5, 2023), Franco's original in Italian is at Idee di un egiziano. Cremona 1795 (05.07.2023)

  • General reflections, mostly on trionfi (5 entries)

 "Minchiate, Reflections on Design" (Dec. 2, 2023), at Franco's original is at Minchiate. Riflessioni sul design (02.12.2023).

"Other comments on the triumphs" (Jan. 11, 2016) (Altri commenti sui trionfi. (11.01.2016))

"Cremona 1441? Ruminations on the Visconti-Madrone" (Jan. 17, 2016) (Cremona 1441? - Elucubrazioni sui tarocchi Visconti di Modrone o Cary-Yale. (17.01.2016))

"Milanese and Florentine Triumphs" (Feb. 12, 2016) (Trionfi milanesi e fiorentini - ipotesi e commenti. (12.02.2016))

"Earliest Triumphs: Contrasting Proposals and Outlooks" (Oct. 4, 2016) (Primi trionfi, proposte contrastanti e prospettive. (04.10.2016))

"Imaginary origins of triumphs and minchiate" (Nov. 19, 2016) (Genesi favolosa di trionfi e minchiate. (19.11.2016)

For another list of the translations through 2017, this time to their appearance on Tarot History Forum, sometimes with discussion by others, see, graciously maintained by "Huck." Please let me know if links don't work or there are other errors. In most cases I can fix them.  

A complete list of Franco's essays on playing cards, with links to their texts in the original language, is at Those originally published at, all but one originally in English, are online at that site. The one essay there in Italian only, "Atlante tascabile e minchiate" (Pocket atlas and minchiate) can be read in English via Google Translate, by entering the page's url ( into Google's search engine for websites and then clicking on "translate this page." The result is adequate English; just remember that the word referring to the manure of bulls when it appears in the translation is Google's translation for the Italian minchiate, of course referring to the game and not the product produced by bulls, commentators on tarot, etc. All of Franco's essays in the list on indicated as "first published at" can be read in languages other than English by the same procedure, depending on the location of one's computer and its language setting. The essays on Franco's own site should be amenable to the same procedure, but all I have been able to do is download them to my computer and then have Google translate them as a "document" rather than a "website."

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Florence 1472-1474. Worn-out naibi and triumphs in a bag

This is one in a series of notes by Franco of his findings from inventories of minors' inheritances, in this case two of them. Comments in brackets are mine, and this is posted in consultation with Franco, who corrected some of translation errors. The Italian original is at 

 Here are couple of findings from Franco's search through inventories of minors' inheritances. Comments in brackets are mine, numbers in the left margin correspond to the page numbers of Franco's pdf, and Franco has corrected some errors in translation.

Florence 1472-1474. Worn-out naibi and triumphs in a bag

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

I present here the results of a short study which can be considered an appendix to a much longer investigation in the same collection of the State Archives of Florence (ASFi). The section is that of the Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, which I probed again recently. In particular, I have already reported the news of two packs of naibi on sale in Ponsacco in 1421 together with various ceramics, [note 1] and of one pack found in 1426 in the Vecchietti house. [note 2] For me, finding the record of the second case indicated was like reaching a long-established goal, after which I could finish the search without regrets. Instead, I found myself “returning to the scene of the crime,” to examine a couple more registers from that same series of Samples and Revised Data.

Here I report on two findings in a register studied recently, and for any other details I refer to the two previous studies cited. In this case, following Inventory N/60 of the ASFi, we find: No. 172, Sample of inventories and revised data, Quarters of S. Spirito and S. Croce, from 1467 to 1475. The book has the usual large size of royal [reale, roughly = metric A3 or 11x17 inches] sheets and the usual thickness of a dozen centimeters. Curiously, they restored the register, pleasantly enriching it with a heavy leather binding with metal studs, which, from the back, partially goes up to the front with two closing bands or straps. Incredibly, however, the binding was fixed upside down so that upon opening, the last pages of the register are found upside down, thus ruining all the value of the work.

2. The worn-out naibi

The Naibi are met on folio 249v. We had already seen that meeting naibi in a private home was an extremely rare occasion. Here, after the first exceptional case, a second one immediately presents itself. Maybe the rarity wasn't so marked then? I do not think so. However, in this case, the inheritance is indicated as that of Franciescho di Nicholaio Biliotti; we are in Florence, and the year is now 1472, already a full generation after the Vecchietti pack, practically an entire century since Naibi had arrived in the city. Let us see what we read in the relevant part of the inventory of household goods. 

ASFi, Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, No. 172, f. 249v
(Reproduction prohibited)


1 cupboard cloth
2 pieces of cupboard cloths
12 pairs of old underwear and several fabric socks
3 mended napkins and 1 with holes
29 pillowcases of several sizes with nets and without nets
8 hand towels of several sizes
1 women's handkerchief
12 napkins of various sizes, both good and worn-out
1 children's shirt and 1 piece of linen fabric with several rags
1 little mattress for a small bed a bordo [near a wall or a big bed?]
1 pair of much-used naibi or playing cards [paio di naibi overo charte da giuchare tristi]
4 tin plates…
4 tin plates…
13 small tin bowls…
17 tin bowls…
3 tin plates…
1 pair of spurs
1 children's small harpsichord

Obviously, we are only interested in one line in particular of the inventory, but even the nearby lines are very useful for identifying the context of the conservation of the playing cards, evidently among objects reserved for family use, all of which are of no particular value. The same line of greatest interest contains more useful information.

To begin with, the adjective triste [literally “sad”] sounds curious today, because no one uses the term with that meaning anymore. Imagining discontented or desperate playing cards today would make one think of extravagant fairy tales with flights of fancy that here are completely off-topic. In fact, the same adjective is also found a few lines above this entry, and moreover, it is encountered very often in these inventories. The meaning in these cases is “worn out, used up, become barely usable.” This reporting is very important because it directly affects the commercial value of the object, and it must not be forgotten that these are inventories of household goods within a complete economic evaluation of the inheritance to be administered. Therefore it is more than logical that it is reported when an object presents itself with a value reduced to only a fraction of what it could have been worth even when used if still in good condition.

The double name of the cards [naibi, charte da giuchare] remains, and this is also an important fact. The terms separated by “or” [overo] might seem like a normal repetition, inserted for greater clarity, but in my opinion they are not. They would have been many years before, when the two terms could really have been synonymous. [note 3] I think that in those years, if it had been new playing cards, they would no longer have been called naibi, but everyone would have called them only “playing cards,” carte da giu/o/care. But those in the inventory are not new cards; they are old and badly damaged, and in my opinion they are also of a type that is no longer in circulation - and if by chance you see them, they are cards with which only a few grandparents can still play.

I recognize that the above is just my idea, not based on certain data, but what convinces me is the fact that it is not the first time I have come across such a lexical combination. Also in a previous study, the terms were encountered together, whether of decks of playing cards or odd naibi, in 1462. [note 4] And then the interpretation of one circumstance ends up confirming that of the other.

Why then was there the need, or at least the usefulness, of using a double name? Because those cards were naibi, but whoever saw them for the first time needed confirmation, as if they were saying:
3. Some examples (1407-1429) in F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nella repubblica fiorentina, Arachne 2016, pp. 209-211.

"even these cards called naibi, with their own pictures, were used as playing cards, exactly like those of today."

This is the second deck of naibi found in a private home among the hundreds in which inventories of household goods were compiled for inheritance reasons in the fifteenth century. The hypothesis that, for one reason or another, none could be found had already been discredited by the first discovery. Going from one to two decks now is not a very significant progress, also because almost half a century has passed from the first to the second; however, if nothing else, the fact is also confirmed that it was not by strange chance that the first deck was found together with objects of little value.

3. Triumphs in a bag

If finding a second pack of naibi in an inventory from half a century later could not arouse great surprise, the same register has reserved another one for us: in an inventory registered on f. 313v, we encounter the first deck of triumphs in an ordinary house!

In this case, the legacy is that of Brano di Nicholo Gherardini (or similar surname) of Florence. As usual, below is a reproduction of the text and the transcription of the part of interest.

 ASFi, Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, No. 172, f. 313v
(Reproduction prohibited)

1 local hand towel . . . with holes
1 local hand towel with holes . . .
1 Parisian-style hand towel
1 white Neapolitan blanket with more holes
1 pair of triumphs in a bag
6 used shabby overcoats for men
7 pairs of used men's underwear
1 pillow covered with taffeta of Brano
1 Milanese knife with black handle
That old naibi could be found in the company of objects of little value could no longer arouse a strong surprise to us. Here, however, we find a pack of triumphs next to holey linens and seven pairs of used underwear!

To be able to include it in the list of precious tarot cards preserved by the ducal courts, at least the bag containing them would have to have been made of brocade, with gold threads and gems incorporated into a very luxurious decoration. However, it is much more realistic to instead admit that at that time even triumphs were objects of common use, so much so that only when new, and perhaps in versions with more careful workmanship, could they maintain a certain commercial value.

In my opinion, triumphs in Florence were not luxury objects even at the beginning, precisely because they spread in the same environment as Florentine card makers and players who certainly had no intention of spending fortunes on objects intended for consumption characterized by very quick depreciation. In the case in question, there was no longer even a possible push of fashion or novelty: by now a good generation had passed since triumphs had been introduced into players’ use.

If I can advance another personal opinion, I would say that it is a great disappointment that this bag did not reach us with the pack of triumphs inside; today it would in fact have been very useful for setting certain limits to the endless discussions on the extraordinary tarot cards that have reached us from the ducal courts.

4. Conclusions

When I thought I had concluded the research on possible decks of naibi preserved in private homes in Florence and the surrounding area, I continued a little further, tracing a second deck of naibi in Florence in 1472 and even a deck of triumphs in 1474. In both cases, it clearly dealt with everyday objects. The triumphs were simply stored in a bag, among used linen. For the old Naibi, the term, which has been in use for some time, of playing cards, is added. Ultimately, they were rarely inventoried items, but of little value.

Florence, 02.23.2024

Feb. 22, 2024: Pontormo 1479. Playing cards in a haberdasher's house

The following is a translation of Franco's number 8/06, "Pontormo 1479. Carte da gioco nella casa di un merciaio," posted Feb. 22, 2024 at Comments in square brackets are mine, numbers in the left margin by themselves are page numbers of Franco's pdf, a new one at the start of each page, and footnotes are at the bottom of the page. I have consulted with Franco and benefited from his corrections and observations.

Pontormo 1479. Playing cards in a haberdasher's house

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

This research took place in the State Archives of Florence (ASFi) and was based on two archival units, a book of notarial records [note 1] and a book with the statutes of the municipality involved. [note 2] In the first element, I was informed of the presence of playing cards in an inventory of various goods; in the second, I looked for traces, in the same locality, of the first local laws on games.

2. Pontormo or Pontorme

We find sufficient information on the location involved in this study even in Wikipedia. [note 3] More information can be found on a website of the municipality of Empoli, [note 4] or in two academic lectures from the late nineteenth century, [note 5] of which a digitized edition is available online. [note 6] Today an independent town of Pontorme no longer exists, as the whole village has been incorporated inside the boundaries of Empoli.

The first doubt to resolve is whether the name should be written correctly with an o or an e at the end. The correct name is certainly Pontorme, as it took its name from the bridge over the Orme stream. However, the fact that its best-known citizen, Jacopo Carrucci, one of the main exponents of Florentine mannerism, is universally known as Pontormo, from his place of birth, leads us to maintain that name here too, which we also find written like this in the documents of the time.

The ancient castle of Pontormo was located along the important road from Pisa to Florence, and starting from the castle it was precisely along the road that the village developed, surrounded in 1365 by the city walls, equipped with six towers. While traces of the walls are preserved today, the towers and the famous castle were definitively demolished in the eighteenth century, preserving only the ancient thirteenth-century bell on the new bell tower of the parish church.

A fresco by Giorgio Vasari in the Salone dei Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence gives a glimpse of the walled town; other representative images—including a few plans and schematic reconstructions of the old town—can be found for Pontorme in Wikimedia Commons and Google Images.

The walled citadel was very close to that of Empoli, and so together with Monterappoli a league of the three municipalities was formed that lasted for a long time. The economy, even later, was based on the kilns for the production of ceramics and on the profession of transporting, which was in great demand because in that marshy area subject to frequent floods it was necessary, depending on the seasons, to have the means and skills to allow passengers and goods to transit both on land and water.

In recent times the village underwent a long decline, then saw a slight improvement thanks to braid makers employed in the production of straw hats, while today activity essentially depends on how much nearby Empoli has prospered, which has grown to the point of incorporating the old village, which had been independent for centuries, within the territory of the city.

3. Games in the municipal statutes of Pontormo

In the past I had searched the Statutes of the Autonomous and Subject Communities [section of the AFSi in search of local laws on games; I then included the main results I found in a
1. ASFi, Notarile antecosimiano, 16831
2. ASFi, Statuti delle comunità autonome e soggette, 640.
4. ... torme.html
5. L. Rigoli, Lezioni due sopra il Castello di Pontorme, Empoli 1890.
6. ... navlinks_s

book dedicated to this historical period.[note 7] From Inventory N/9 of this section, it appears that two books with the town's municipal statutes are preserved, N. 640, Pontormo 1414-1525, and N. 641, Pontormo 1532-1767. I haven't consulted the second because it starts too late for our purposes. But No. 640 covers the time interval we are interested in, and therefore I have taken it for examination.

This book was not included in my past selection, and therefore its examination could bring us further useful information on the laws on games, and card games in particular. But what is found is not very interesting. In two extended versions of the statute, the traditional chapter on the prohibition of games is presented, without naming carte or naibi and without going into detail except for the various penalties for the players as well as those who manage the activity of the game and even the spectators.

In the book, there are few complete or almost complete versions of the statute, but many partial revisions with modifications and reforms to the individual sections. Understandably, parts of the book bound together were very different in terms of the type of paper, including some in parchment, and in handwriting that ranges from easily readable to almost indecipherable. Above all, in this case, the collection of the various texts does not follow in correct chronological order, which complicates the study a little.

The first variant of the statute, which opens the book, is from 1443 and was evidently chosen as the main one because it is the most readable and complete. At ff. 25v and 26r we read the section De pena ludentium et ludum retinentium. The penalty is 20 lire for those who play the game of zara (ad ludum zardi), as well as for those who lend the materials, for which dice and boards and any other object are indicated (among which one can only imagine playing cards), while for those who watch the game without participating, the penalty is reduced by half.

A similar section, with greater differentiation in punishments, can be found in f. 67r, in the statute dating back to 1414: no one may play the prohibited games, the penalties are 2 lire for those who watch the game, 5 for those who play during the day and 10 if at night; 10 lire during the day and 15 at night for those who manage the gaming environment; 5 lire to whoever supplies dice, and whoever lent money for the game is not entitled to restitution; 5 lire to anyone who blasphemes God and the Mother Virgin Mary or some Saint of Paradise. 

  ASFi, Statutes of the autonomous and subject communities, N. 640 f. 67r,

(Reproduction prohibited)

7. F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nella repubblica fiorentina, Ariccia 2016, pp. 129-136. [These pages, in the book in Italian, appeared in English in The Playing Card 18, no. 4, 1990, pp. 128-135, as "Early Laws on Card-Playing in Towns under Florentine Influence," now online at]

This association of the game with blasphemy is found in various places and at various times, to the point of remaining the one punishment stipulated even when various games are permitted: not only will blasphemy always remain condemned, but the corresponding penalties will be greatly increased. I reported an example for minchiate in 1477 in Cortona [note 8]: that game was permitted, and therefore we would not have had the information that Bartolomeo di Giovanni da Vaglia played minchiate for months in Cortona if he had not also blasphemed and been sentenced for that and only that.

Unlike other municipal statutes, I have not noticed here any brief further reform in this regard, with clarifications of the games or variations in the relative penalties and the like. Evidently the main concerns of the citizenry in gradually reforming the statute, in addition to the organization of the government and municipal administration, concerned the control of water, with the numerous streams that required regulation and careful and frequent surveillance. The territory was subject, in fact, to frequent floods which constituted on the one hand a scourge for the crops and on the other a job opportunity for a significant fraction of the citizens, who lived by working as local transporters of goods and passengers, in order to ferry them by water in the area when it was not passable by land.

4. The inventory of goods

Still in the ASFi, we now move on to the section Notarile antecosimiano [notarial records before Cosimo, i.e. Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany]. As regularly happens in these large books of notarial registers the writing is difficult to read. The language itself is more often Latin than Italian. My classical high school diploma was in 1959, still a good year for that, and Latin still creates no difficulties for me, but I must admit that in paleography, I lack an adequate university-level basis.

When these notaries write lists of people's names, or even lists of objects, as in this case, they try to make the text more readable. If I had leafed through the entire volume, I would have been able to locate this inventory, along with a few other pages with lists of people, while all the "normal" pages are practically indecipherable to me.

Incredibly, there are scholars who read these pages as we read a printed book. One of these, who knows what I'm looking for, pointed out a "useful" inventory to me. [note 9] This is the inventory of household goods found in 1476 in the house of a haberdasher [American English: dry goods store proprietor], the late Luca di Antonio di Pontormo. I reproduce and transcribe the final part below, which is of interest to us.  

ASFi, Notarile Antecosimiano, 16831, f. 78v, detail.
(Reproduction prohibited)
8. L'As de Trèfle, No. 52 (1993), pp. 9-10;
9. ASFi, Notarile Antecosimiano, 16831, f. 78v.

1 chest with drawers at the guardian in Florence
6 pieces of silk fringe . . . of several colors
7 pieces of wide silk ribbon of several colors . . .
10 pieces of assorted wide silk ribbon of several colors
40 arm’s lengths [braccia] of silk cord of several colors
40 arm’s lengths of ribbon of several colors
40 arm’s lengths of yarn cord of several colors
6 oz of silk for sewing of several colors
30 arms’ lengths of fringe of thread and 30 of silk of several colors
12 pounds of yarn of several colors
4 new charnaiuoli [note 10] without straps
200 brass and silver eyelets?
2 dozen of playing cards [charte da giuchare]
1 dozen of parchments
2 dozen of mirrors in wood and 2 dozen dolls [note 11] out of the wood
Of course, two dozen of cards can't just be 24 playing cards! These are, as in other cases of this kind, two dozen decks. Among other things, it often happened in those centuries that only a dozen decks had a price expressed in whole numbers, of florins or lire. Having a reserve of 24 decks of playing cards for the haberdashery indicates that the trade in such items was quite abundant at the time.

Another significant fact for us is that carte per giocare, even if it has been in use for some time, is already commonly said for playing cards, as it is still used today after more than half a millennium. Probably the term Naibi, which had arrived a whole century earlier, was even forgotten. It remains a bit of curiosity if the name change had also accompanied some changes in the cards themselves. One could in fact imagine that the naibi coming from the East had been adapted to local customs with modifications to the material and figures, until obtaining a new model recognized as standard.

Another useful and clear piece of information, however indirect, concerns the value attributable to playing cards. and it comes from the goods listed together: there are many objects of trivial haberdashery, without any appearing of superior value.

5. Conclusion

Two documents from the municipality of Pontormo, the village from which the famous mannerist painter took his name, were examined: the chapter on games in the municipal statutes, in two versions separated by thirty years in the first half of the fifteenth century, and an inventory of objects of haberdashery from 1479.

The typical prohibition on gambling appears in the statute, but without any explicit information on card games; the relative pecuniary penalties in the two statutes are considerably different: the first more differentiated, the later more burdensome.

In the inventory, however, we are interested in the presence in the list of two dozen decks of playing cards, a notable quantity, especially considering the limited size of the town. From comparison with the goods found together, there is an indirect but reliable confirmation that the playing cards were, at least then, completely ordinary objects, with small commercial value even when new.
10. Old fashioned term for game bags.
11. The word doll [bambola] refers to the glass of a mirror without the frame.

Florence, Feb. 22, 2024

Feb. 12, 2024: Florence 1426. Naibi in a large family

 Here is a follow-up to Franco's previous 2024 essay on Florentine inheritance inventories, that posted immediately previously to this one. The new one below, dated Feb. 12, 2024, is translated from This one gives the significant result - even if only in one case out of countless inventories he examined - of finding naibi, i.e. playing cards, in a home, and not only that, in a part of the list dominated by children's items. If so, what games would these cards have been used for? Franco does not speculate, but there was certainly diritta, a trick-taking game in which the object was to accumulate points; in that way, it could help one's addition skills. There was also vinciperdi, also named torta, where the one who had the least points won. But I at least have to wonder if there were other educational games, even ones with special decks whose names didn't matter to the persons doing the inventory: VIII Imperadori, or Marziano da Tortona's game of the gods, or even a primitive sort of trionfi. Well, the door is opened a little wider to such speculation, perhaps.

As usual in these translations, the page numbers of Franco's pdf are indicated in the left margin, and footnotes are at the bottom of the corresponding page. Franco's help in this translation has been invaluable. The errors are on me, and if anyone finds one, please let us know.

Florence 1426. Naibi in a large family

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

The present study can be considered a continuation of the one already communicated, in which I presented two packs of naibi found in the inventory of a shop in Ponsacco in 1421. [note 1] I can refer to that study for the context of the research, the typology of the material studied and various related issues. Also in this case, they are in fact inventories of household goods compiled on the occasion of inheritance, by the magistrates of minors.

I can now resume, shortly after, the communication of the results of the research because I finally happened to find a pack of naibi inside a private home, something that seemed the most natural in the world, but which I only managed after the examination of countless inventories of household goods preserved in the first half of the fifteenth century in houses and shops in the city and countryside of Florence.

The family concerned is one of the Vecchietti circle, among the most noble in Florence, and therefore it is useful to preface some information on the history of the family and on the specific situation corresponding to the era of the documents studied.

2. General information on the Vecchietti family

The Vecchietti family was one of the oldest and richest in Florence. I believe that, as happens with other families of that level, today it should be considered extinct, but in the past it left notable traces. Of the long history of the family, we would be more interested in delving into the situation in the years 1420-1430, and I will add some information about it later. Unfortunately, however, if you look for information on the family in the usual repertoires, you only find information from previous or later centuries.

The Vecchiettis, who arrived in the city among the first great families, made their fortune through trade but also suffered setbacks, such as during the defeat of Montaperti, with the consequent burning of their homes in the center of Florence. They recovered and rebuilt the family homes in the gonfalone [subdistrict] of the White Lion, district of Santa Maria Novella, right in the city center. It was a group of houses that occupied a rather large area on the north side of Via de' Ferravecchi (now Via degli Strozzi).

Those houses were partly demolished in the sixteenth century to make way for the family palace built by Bernardo Vecchietti, [note 2] which, with alterations, is still standing and used as a luxury hotel. [note 3] With the arrival of the Piedmontese in Florence, now the capital of Italy, the area was rebuilt from scratch and various Vecchietti buildings were lost, such as the church of San Donato dei Vecchietti, the Vault, and also the Vecchietti Crucifix. The Via de' Vecchietti remains in its place, but nothing remains of its ancient appearance.

Well-known figures of the family in the fourteenth century include Captain Marsilio di Vanni who also traveled to the East, and then in the sixteenth century Bernardo, who hosted and protected Giambologna and Marsilio, who was an esteemed advisor to the Medici and Pope Gregory XIII.[note 4] Perhaps the most famous members of the family were, between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the two brothers Giovanni Battista [note 5] and Girolamo, [note 6] who, however, were born in Cosenza and traveled extensively in the East, as far as India, also on behalf of the Church.
2. ; ... uselang=it
4. M. Vannucci, Le grandi famiglie di Firenze, Rome 1993, p. 460.
5. ... ografico)/
6. ... ografico)/

3. The Vecchietti families in Florence in 1427

Since the dates of the documents of the magistracies of the minors of specific interest are 1426 and 1429, it is natural to look for information on the family in the first Florentine catasto [property registry], the famous one of 1427. [note 7] 

[Please note that reproduction of the above image is prohibited.]

There, too, we find that the eldest son Francesco was already head of the family at the age of fifteen. In the following table, I report the data on the composition of the family, with the age of each member, as shown in the two inventories of the magistracy of minors and, in the center, of the catasto.
 The mother Maria appears only in the catasto and not among the heirs. His sons Tomaso and Domenico can be assumed to have died around 1427, with evidently greater uncertainty for Tomaso. Ruberto and Ginevra must have been twins (they are listed one after the other in the inventories, unlike the catasto, which lists, as in the table, the female after the males). There are some inconsistencies in the recorded ages, especially for Tomaso and Matteo, but not only them; evidently we were still very far from our digitalized registries.

As far as we are concerned, if the family played cards, the average age of the family members would confirm that the type of games were educational, or at most pastime.

Further information is obtained from the catasto of 1427. There are thirteen registered Vecchietti families, of which six belong to a single person, as shown in the following table, extracted from the catasto data. [note 8]
7. ASFi, Catasto No. 77, cc. 75v-77v (Register entitled: Campione del Catasto dei Cittadini. Quartiere S. M. Novella Gonfalone Leon Bianco 1427 – microfilm Catasto bobina 141).
8. ... qlform.php

It is not clear whether the name Marsilio, which appears six times as father [on the right] of a head of the family [on the left], was attributed to a single person, or perhaps to two. The two Iacopos present could have been grandfather and grandson if 79 had really been Corrado's age, but as it happens, this database uses 79 for an undetermined age (and would indicate 81 for 79 years). Then one should check that it is not the same father Iacopo. Bernardo, son of Vanni, could also have been a brother of Iacopo, whose legacy we are studying.

These families were residents in the same gonfalone of the Golden Lion but it is not certain whether they all lived in the family homes next to one other in Via de' Vecchietti and Via de' Ferravecchi. We could do more research on these family circles, but all in all the information found on the family of Francesco alone, head of the family at fourteen, is sufficient for us.

4. The documents studied and the inventories of interest

In the following list, taken from Inventory N/60 of the State Archives of Florence for the section Magistrato dei Pupilli avanti il Principato (Magistracy of Minors before the Principality), all the archival units examined after the previous study are indicated.

Among these, I will focus only on the data of interest in our context of naibi. The first inventory of household goods encountered in the registration of the Vecchietti inheritance [note 9] contains, at the end, what is transcribed below in the second column of the table. This inventory is different from the majority of
9. ASFi, Magistrato dei Pupilli avanti il Principato, N.165 cc. 91r-98v.

others in that it does not correspond to a list of household goods compiled by successively passing from one room to another, after listing all the objects found inside. Here, however, it is a summary inventory of the household goods left in the home without division into the various rooms.

[Again please note that reproduction of the above image is prohibited.]

Also, based on previous experience with the naibi of Ponsacco, mentioned at the beginning, I thought that a more detailed inventory could have existed in previous years, and in fact, I then found one in the registration of the same inheritance from three years earlier. [note 10] Unfortunately, even in this case, we are faced with an overall inventory drawn up by the administrator, or actor, appointed by the magistrates of the pupils. I have transcribed the final part of this, which is of interest to us, in the first column below.
The comparison of the two inventories presents us with some surprises. We expected a much smaller number of objects in the 1429 inventory, because usually some were dispersed or sold in the meantime. Instead, practically all those from 1426 are found here; the copied part of the inventory is missing only a guarnello [tunic]. On the other hand, several more details and even new entries appear in the most recent inventory, which is truly unusual. It would seem that in both cases the copying is done in a slightly different way from one or two previous inventories. What is important for us, however, is that the item of interest, the “pair” of naibi, appears in both cases, and also together with the objects mainly used by the boys.

5. Discussion about the “pair” of naibi

It seems necessary to discuss this very isolated pack of naibi a little. In fact, it must be recognized that with this simple deck, the situation has already changed a little. In the previous

discussion on the naibi found in Ponsacco, many possible reconstructions remained open on the use of naibi at the time and on how further discoveries would be necessary to better define the situation.

In addition to the possible justifications for the failure to find playing cards in homes in Florence and the surrounding area, already discussed in the previous study, another requires comment. Perhaps the cards are not found in homes simply because they were prohibited, and therefore were possibly kept hidden and, if necessary, were destroyed before being found and inventoried.

From what we know from those years, or shortly thereafter, there were prohibited card games, mainly the gambling game condannata, but not a prohibition on playing cards as such. For playing cards, both production and trade are documented in Florence; [note 11] in those days, strict and complete prohibitions could not exist, and if by chance they were still in force, they were not respected. By now, naibi were no longer almost unknown objects, as in the early years, when they were assimilated to dice in the prohibitions. In particular, the traditional game of diritta (documented, for example, as early as 1420 in Milan) [note 12] usually appeared as a permitted game not only as a non-gambling game, but also thanks to an already long tradition consolidated over decades.

Another question I have not discussed in depth is a personal one: how many decks of naibi could have been recorded in these registers without my noticing the corresponding line of the inventory? In this regard, I can even hazard some predictions, or percentages. Despite some vision problems typical of age, I have now recovered ten-tenths of it (at least with my left eye and with light glasses). So, let's say that at most half of the entries about it escape me: if I see ten, maybe twenty; if I saw one, there will be two; but at school they taught me that if you double zero you get zero, and this was until now the depressing situation for the packs of naibi present in countless private edifices. Let's be clear, extending the deductions that can be drawn from a single deck found to the entire context would require that, instead of identifying one out of two, I saw a hundred, but I refuse to admit such a marked deficiency in attention or vision.

However, one really does appear to be much greater than zero: having found one deck of naibi in the house of a noble Florentine family allows us to almost completely exclude the use of cards for gambling, at least in this case. In a family with young children, the only question left is whether the whole family was playing, or just the children. As it happens, the naibi appear at the end of the inventory and right together with the boys' clothing items.

I can admit that it is not proof; I can admit that, statistically speaking, we lack the basis for any valid conclusion, but I like to deduce that a single deck is guiding the hypotheses towards goals that can hopefully be confirmed.

6. Conclusion

In the study illustrated here we encounter a pack of naibi in the house of a noble Florentine family, the Vecchiettis. We are in the 1420s, and after much research, naibi had only been found in the shops of a few retailers, never yet in a private home. This fact contributes to the importance of the discovery (which for me was like winning a challenge or bet), but it is not sufficient to resolve the related questions on the presence - or better, the absence - of playing cards in private homes, in a time still being not too far from their initial diffusion. To argue that at the time, naibi were not used for gambling games in a prevalent, if not almost exclusive, manner, it would be useful if other evidence were found of the same kind as the one reported here.

Florence, 02.12.2024
11. F. Pratesi, Playing-Card Trade in 15th-Century Florence. IPCS Papers No. 7, Norfolk 2012.
12. « Au commencement fut la diritta, » L'As de Trèfle, N. 51 (1993) 4-5;


Sunday, February 4, 2024

Feb. 2, 2024: Ponsacco 1421. Naibi for sale among much crockery

Dated Feb. 2, 2024, the original by Franco is at Ponsacco 1421. Naibi in vendita fra molte stoviglie (02.02.2024). This translation also appears at

Comments in brackets are mine. Franco was a big help, but any errors are also mine. The page numbers in Franco's original are in the left margin, and the notes are at the bottom of each. The title explains what it is about very well. I would add only that the essay is also of interest for what he did not find in these inheritance registers. However, this result is already somewhat superseded by a subsequent discovery, not yet, at this writing, on So stay tuned.

Ponsacco 1421. Naibi for sale among much crockery

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

Finally, a kind of event happened to me that can be explained by the saying that "The mountain gave birth to a mouse." In this case the mountains are in the State Archives of Florence: the registers of the section Magistrato dei pupilli avanti il principato, and in particular No. 152, at ff. 213v-217v.

This magistrature had been established in 1393 with the aim of protecting minors whose fathers had died without appointing a guardian, by assisting them with the administration of inherited assets. Usually a trusted person was found who followed the practice by administering the assets locally under the final control of the magistrates of minors. After the initial inventory of immovable and movable assets, and the long lists of current debits and credits, the economic situation was often updated taking into account the changes that had occurred in the meantime.

My research had as its main objective the discovery of evidence on naibi and trionfi in Florence in the first half of the fifteenth century, and here I report on the first of these discoveries: two packs of small naibi in a shop selling various goods, especially hardware and crockery. However, I also have the intention of continuing the discussion with the possible implications of what I have not found - in this and other registers of the same series - because I believe that useful indications can be drawn from them.

2. The general context of the discovery

In the registers in question, the locations encountered are within Florence or in the Florentine countryside. In this specific case, the places of interest are Morrona and Ponsacco, not only very far from the Florentine center but also in a rather unexpected direction, right on the border between the Florentine and Pisan territories, practically halfway between Volterra and Pisa. The notable proximity to Pisa explains that during those years there were several skirmishes and battles in the area due to the expansion of Florence and the Pisan counterattacks. Our German shopkeeper had a house and a shop in both places, about a dozen kilometers apart; in Morrona he also had land and animals. Evidently, the shopkeeper had settled in the area for some time with his family.

Morrona today is a Pisan village in the municipality of Terricciola, but it is located on a hill in a dominant position (even if the relief is not high, less than 200m above sea level), and this explains its history which dates back to the Etruscans. In the Middle Ages, it was a fortified town, and its castle was at the center of battles between Pisans and Luccans, between Ghibellines and Guelphs, and therefore, understandably, with the Florentines.

Ponsacco, a larger plain town but also fortified with walls and castle. Even around the castle of Ponsacco, there were repeated skirmishes with assaults and sieges by the Florentines, who managed to gain control of it from 1406 to 1494 and therefore practically for the entire fifteenth century. The year that appears in the inheritance registration in question is 1421.

3. The inventory of the shop

Upon the death of the shopkeeper Currado di Giovanni della Magna [of Alemagna, i.e. Germany], the magistrates of minors took care of the inheritance, according to their office to protect heirs with insufficient protection. The procedure involves initially drawing up an inventory of all movable and immovable assets, as well as all current debits and credits. The household goods present in the two houses and two shops are also listed. For our purpose, only the inventory of the Ponsacco workshop (then Ponte di Sacco) is of interest, and I transcribe it below. [For the transcription, see Franco s Italian original, online. Instead, here is our attempt at translation, which, however, is sure not to be right all the time.]

In the shop behind said house
4 oil jars with 6 or so small jars of oil inside. (The oil was sold to Mona Nobile)
19 empty oil jars with 1/2 jar of slurry (?) inside

2 barrels for containing fodder.
22 spade poles.
1 seat pad.
1 chiavarina [iron stake?].
2 basins full of zolfanelli [a primitive form of matches].
1 lib. [a kind of container?] for oil, broken.
1 earthen kind of funnel for barrels
1 grain shovel.
1 dining table with feet.
1 female donkey.
1 marrone [extra-large hoe].
1 ax with handle.
1 botticiello [small barrel] holding 4 barili [barrels, also a measure of volume] of barili inside [?]
1 old and ragged mule strap.
2 tunela [?] jugs, 1 broken.
1 basket with 30 lib. [unit of weight similar to the pound] inside of old iron.
10 loads of firewood.
1 empty basket for oranges
1 small basket with handle, broken.
1 shoe bench.

In the shop in front
1 old chest with 1 lock.
1 old table with feet.
1 old eating table with trestles.
More pieces of table hanging around the shop
1 empty basket.
9 spade poles.
2 cane sieves [?] to sift grain.
1 spade with handle.
4 containers [?] of tuna and sardines.
1 flax-crushing machine.
1 grain shovel.
1 packsaddle and 1 old and wrecked saddle.
1 bridle with foal crownpiece.
1 pair [paio] of half-sized scales.
12 cane ox cages.
10 hoops for small barrels
5 bushels of flax seed in 2 bags.
1 pair [paio] of children's clogs.
1 old reaping sickle.
72 black and white earthen pots.
24 strainers for tano [?] and small basins.
3 large basins.
29 wooden spoons and ladles.
18 earthen containers or small basins.
90 white painted earthen bowls.
5 earthen basins with grime [?] inside.
20 small earthen bowls.
12 earthen cutting boards.
2 packs [paia] of small naibi.
9 large painted low basins.
2 large earthenware basins.
40 large and small pans.
2 empty small baskets
1 broken earthen funnel.
24 large and small earthen jars.
2 majolica jars with butter and turpentine inside
1 pot full of spindles.
2 large basins for gelatin.
11 wrecked spindles for spinning.
More wood for the shop.
5 rows of glass cups.
77 pounds of thick and thin new rope.
4 black earthen trays.
13 black earthen lids

I transcribed the final j with i. I've hesitated about dividing words, especially when it's just moving a space like dami etere / da mietere, cho lmanicho / chol manicho, dassedere / da sedere, essottile / e ssottile, daffanciulli / da ffanciulli, and similar. In the inventory, you come across words that are not read, others that are read but not understood, objects of forgotten use; in short, there are several uncertain points.

Zolfanelli were a primitive type of matches formed, according to the Crusca [in that academy's Vocabulario], from a hemp stalk "dipped in sulfur from both ends." The marrone was a large hoe used to remove deep soil. Guncho today would be written giunco [cane, reeds], etc. Finding a donkey, if it existed, among these goods in a shop (in any case in this specific case better compatible with a warehouse) would be a strange but not rare event.

Aside from the uncertainties of reading and interpretation, all things that can be considered secondary for us, there is a very important fixed point to highlight. Today we wouldn't even know what to call this shop, because it combined goods that would be found in different shops, hardware, ceramics, tools, crockery and kitchen objects, tools for country work, and others. The fundamental fact for us is that precisely in this kind of bazaar we find the two packs of small naibi.

It is not at all the same as if we had found playing cards in a dry goods shop (like those of the silk weavers of Florence [note 1] or even in a private home. These decks were put there to be sold if a buyer appeared, and their position among various crockery items demonstrates exactly their rather low value, less than what we could have expected in such an early era for their diffusion.

In a subsequent register of the same archive, No. 154, we find an update of the same inheritance, at ff. 170v-177r. We are now in 1423, and the related inventory still includes long lists of debtors, but only a part of the household goods from the previous register (the naibi are also absent). The heirs are specified as the two-year-old son Lorenzo and "Mona Nobile, mother of said child and now wife of Antonio di Michele da Morrona and now living in Ponte di Sacho." The parish priest and another inhabitant of Morrona are still managing the assets on behalf of the magistrates.

4. The sources studied

Following what has been communicated so far, I felt the usefulness of continuing to illustrate this same research, broadening the overview to also include the cases in which it was unsuccessful, that is, practically all except the one presented above. In fact, even the absence of testimonies can provide useful information on the diffusion of playing cards at the time.

The research is based almost exclusively on inventories of household goods found in the homes and shops of deceased people who left children in need of the assistance of the magistrates of
1. F. Pratesi, Playing-Card Trade in 15th-Century Florence. IPCS Papers No. 7, 2012.

minors. In this research, I examined the following registers, as indicated in the ASFi Inventory N/60.
151 Sample inventories and revised data, 1 Oct. 1413 ? 20 Mar. 1417
152 As above for the neighborhoods of Santo Spirito and Santa Croce, 1 Oct. 1418 ? 20 Mar. 1422
153 As above for the neighborhoods of Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni, 1 Oct. 1418 ? 20 Mar. 1422
154 As above for the neighborhoods of Santo Spirito and Santa Croce, 1 Oct. 1421 - 20 Mar. 1425
168 Sample of inventories and revised data for the Santo Spirito and Santa Croce neighborhoods, 1432 - 1439
169 As above for the Santo Spirito neighborhood, 1439 - 1454
170 As above for the Santa Croce district, 1439 - 1454
171 As above for the Santa Maria Novella district, 1439 - 1454
173 As above for the Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni neighborhoods, 1467 - 1475
186 Inventory list, 1464 - 1510
The registers in question are large format books, folios measuring 41x29 cm, thickness from 8 to 15 cm, in short, double the size, in all three dimensions, compared to a thick book today. The number of folios varies, usually around three hundred, but they reach five hundred and correspond to twice that number of pages. In reality, the thickness would also suggest a higher number of pages, but it must be taken into account that each of these sheets had a decidedly greater thickness than what we are used to.

For each inheritance registration, several pages are reserved, some filled immediately, others gradually later, others left blank. In the end, there are just under a hundred files contained in one of these registers. As mentioned, in these inheritance practices, the pages with the inventory of household goods (which are not always present) represent the part of almost exclusive interest to us, which significantly reduces the pages to be examined carefully. Sometimes we encounter homes with few rooms and furnishings, but there are also large buildings, with several pages dedicated only to household goods. However, one should not think that this is little data, because all the objects, even the smallest, present in the home and possibly in the shops of the deceased are examined room by room.

In the end, it must be clear that searching these very long lists for any gaming implement is equivalent to looking, as they say, for a needle in a haystack and really requires the patience of a Carthusian, or at least of a pensioner. What made the insistence on continuing the research possible in the face of practically non-existent results was the importance of the issues at stake; here I am only considering card games, but there is also a further interest in board games, for which contemporary evidence is similarly incomplete.

5. Questions opened

Before discussing which games we were likely to find evidence of, a digression on terminology may be in order. In any case, the context remains that of the implements necessary for the game, because only of such objects is it possible to identify some traces.

For card games, there are no complex problems. It is certainly not a problem to eventually encounter naibi written as naibj, or replaced during the fifteenth century by the corresponding term for playing cards in use to this day. The problem can only arise in the corresponding attributes, if present, because in other documents naibi are found as small [piccoli], large [grandi], middle-sized [mezzani], halved [scempi], doubled [doppi], classy [fini], folded-back [rimboccati], favored [avvantaggiati], and second-rate [dozzinali], terms some of which have a meaning that is difficult or impossible to reconstruct. [note 2]

We know that we shouldn't look for a pack [mazzo] of naibi, but a pair [paio]. This determination is not of much help, because there are many objects registered with the premise of one or more pairs, and not only of the "normal" type such as scissors, socks, gloves, or boots, but also of the most diverse kinds, such as springs, andirons, sheets, and so on, including terms for tools for particular techniques whose use and meaning have been lost. If you then move from naibi to triumphs (and you could encounter some results of

much interest, especially for early times), the context will be enough to determine their use for the game.

However, it remains to be clarified what can be expected from the research. Above all, it remains to be understood how widespread the naibi and, later, triumphs, were, and for the latter if there remain traces of a use prior to the first date known so far of 1440, found by Thierry Depaulis. Already encountering its frequent distribution, even in the poorest homes, would be a sure indication. Furthermore, the commercial value of playing cards at the time is also not clear, because very different prices were encountered.

Findings of writings that expose the details of the games that were in vogue at the time, and, with a few exceptions, even their names themselves, are to be excluded here. We therefore only search for any objects related to the game, namely playing cards. This is where the specific type of game comes into play. If it was children who played, then such players could be found in every home. In other words, if naibi were educational decks, we can expect examples of them in almost every home; if, however, they were only used for gambling, we expect to find specimens only in houses and shops that could organize gambling dens, possibly clandestine ones.

Predicting the possible house-to-house distribution therefore requires that the playing cards be associated with one of several possible types of games, and it may then be useful to dedicate a parenthesis to a summary review of the various possible uses.

6. Parentheses on the different card games

Educational games. In many histories of games there is a quote from Morelli [note 3] in which the recently introduced naibi are appreciated as useful teaching tools for children. Such testimony is very rare, because more often one finds condemnations of games, and their negative aspects are highlighted, but it is widely understandable. A first "instructive" application can in fact be that of adding small integers, as are present in playing cards and necessary to count in many common games. Or even, without a specific game, using the cards directly as numbers. Another important application is one that still has a large following - so much so that entire original decks designed just for this game are sold, Memory Game Cards - in which the aim is to associate identical cards face down in a group, revealing them in pairs and winning them when they discover two alike.

Houses of cards. Again in a predominantly children's context, cards can be used to form houses of various sizes. I have in mind an entire book dedicated to this topic, [note 4] which as a rule is not found in current manuals on card games. The advantage of such a game is that it adapts to every age of the child, from minimal houses to constructions that require skill and a steady hand.

Pastime card games. This has been the most widespread application over the centuries. It is an opportunity to meet up with some friends and spend a few hours together, forgetting the worries of everyday life. They can typically be played at the tavern with a drink at stake, or even with the family. Any objective of the game can, if desired, be made to transform an innocent game into gambling, but in this sector these are rather exceptions.

Gambling games with cards. In every era cards have been used for gambling. What varied, depending on the times and places, was above all the control by the government, sometimes tolerant (also in view of the possible revenue into the public coffers), sometimes very rigid. In the early fifteenth century, there were certainly no places like modern gaming establishments, but if we find traces of this use of cards it is above all among convictions for prohibited gaming.

Magic tricks. This is a separate sector that has always had some followers. For a couple of centuries, starting from the sixteenth century, if in a library catalog we find a book with the title Card Games it was in practice "explanations" of magic tricks. In this case, the players
3. Istoria fiorentina di Ricordano Malespini coll aggiunta di Giachetto Malespini e la Cronica di Giovanni Morelli, Florence 1718, p. 270.
4. U. Niedhardt, Kartenhäuser einstürzende Neubauten, Reinbeck in Hamburg 1993.

are reduced to one, who performs in front of the spectators in a living room or a booth. The spectators are shocked not only because they couldn't do the same, but also because they don't even understand how that trick is possible. For these games, special or rigged decks are often required, which can be expected to have limited diffusion.

7. Answers not found

Based on the previous considerations, I expected to find playing cards in different types of homes and to be able to deduce some concrete hypotheses on the use of the cards and the type of games. Instead I found, after a long time, only one answer, and I communicated it above. Aside from what can be deduced from that finding, and that's no small thing, it also served me as "authorization" to now also comment on the absent results, i.e. the largely unexpected negative outcome of the research.

Sometimes, in research, it happens that an experiment that has a negative outcome ends up proving very useful, to the point of causing one to change the theories that had given rise to the experiment. In our case, we are not in those conditions, and the lack of results does not provide us with precise information, but only bases for further discussions which still remain rather uncertain. However, I see a big difference between playing cards not found and the same ones not searched for: if I look for them and don't find them where they could or should be, this is already a result worth discussing.

For example, in almost every house there were children and teenagers; if the naibi were used by them, I should have met a few "pairs" in so many such homes researched. If, however, the naibi were used in gambling dens, to encounter them it would have been necessary to have an inventory of one of those gambling dens. The ideal would have been to find the inventory of the shop of a playing card manufacturer, but I haven't found one yet; I only found dealers like the silk weavers already mentioned, with account books in the Ospedale degl'Innocenti, or this German shopkeeper from Ponsacco.

A possible explanation for the absence of the naibi, and then of the triumphs, from the inventories was suggested to me by an expert scholar of the period. According to him, if they really were valuable objects (and at least for the first examples of naibi and triumphs this would seem quite probable), the residents could have moved them before the magistrates arrived to have the inventories compiled. In fact, this explanation is not convincing to me, because there are many homes in which objects of gold and precious stones are recorded, which certainly had a much greater value than any deck of cards and which would also have been easier to make disappear within a suitable time.

Considering the systematic absence of playing cards in the household inventories, the opposite hypothesis appears more plausible, that is, that they were considered of no value. With some exceptions, this could be understood, because everything leads to the conclusion that a deck of cards has a short life: the nature of the material, the dimensions of the object, the extreme ease with which a card can be torn or lost in the game (and you usually can't find games to play with an incomplete deck).

In the absence of specific indications, we can think of various intermediate cases of the value of playing cards between very high and practically zero. From other sources, we know that the cards could be produced at different levels of quality and prices, even significantly different, starting from the extraordinary specimens produced for the great lords. It is not certain that decks of medium-high level cards were not present in the homes of several Florentine citizens. But if we don't find them registered, the conclusion seems to me to be that, once used, they thereby lost all their commercial value.

If we are not convinced by the hypothesis of playing cards that are present but remain absent in the registers, we must reach a different conclusion. Perhaps then playing cards didn't really exist in the private homes of Florentines, either in the city or in the countryside. To find them, you should then simply look for them in taverns where any local group or traveler could find decks of cards available, new as well as used, or in the inventories of specialized shops, obviously starting from those of the playing card manufacturers, or at least of retailers. Why then did we find the two decks from Ponsacco's workshop mentioned above recorded? Because that was merchandise for sale, new decks, with a commercial value to them, even if very small.

8. Conclusion

After long research, I happened to find the presence in 1421 of two packs of small naibi in the middle of a shop where the most varied goods were on sale: hardware, pottery, kitchen and work objects, for both home and business, etc. The locality, Ponsacco, was in a territory that was then Florentine but long disputed with Pisa, a much closer city. Already this unpredictable group of goods, together with the unexpected location, can serve to reconstruct some routes in the diffusion of playing cards in the first half of the fifteenth century. However, it must be considered equally important that no other registrations of playing cards were found in the numerous inventories examined. Possible reconstructions on the distribution of playing cards in various homes and shops have been discussed, but other findings are needed for decisive confirmation in one direction or the other.

Florence, 02.02.2024