Saturday, February 6, 2016

April 2015: 1499-1506: New information on Florentine cards

This essay originally appeared in The Playing Card vol. 44 no. 1 (April, 2015), pp. 61-71, as "1499-1506: Nuove Informazione sulle carte fiorentine". It is online with an abstract in English at  My translation originally appeared at and following posts, together with some comments on it by me. The translation has been corrected since then with input from the author.

English abstract:
New information is provided for the history of playing cards in Florence, deriving from the records of two repossessions of goods from a local cardmaker in 1499 and 1506, respectively. Packs of Trionfi, Germini, and common playing cards are included among the objects listed. They provide a new insight for particular aspects, to begin with the unheard-of mention of "trionfi alla franciosa" at such an early stage. Moreover, we obtain a quotation of the Germini name already in 1506, which in particular gets close enough to the first documents on Minchiate known from the second half of the 15th century. The new information is discussed in the framework of an updated view of the history of card playing in Florence.
My translation of the Italian that follows:

Historians who are interested in the early days of the distribution in Italy of playing cards, and tarot in particular, have paid great attention to the Tarot of Visconti and similar objects of great value, extending the study from the court in Milan to the Este of Ferrara, from which came the first known documentation for triumphs, of 1442. At the foundation of knowledge in this regard there are still some fundamental works as, above all, the book of Dummett (and Sylvia Mann) (1), more than any other, serves as valid point of departure for subsequent research. A useful update can be found in a book written recently by the historian now most competent in the matter (2): in a hundred pages he says all the essentials. For Florence, there can also be reported a recent collection of different studies (3). Again with particular regard to the Florentine environment, in this note we shall provide new data which must be seen as being only recently acquired. It should be noted immediately in this regard that in this case the playing cards are intended as an instrument for games widely distributed at the civic level - as indeed they were - and thus little or nothing to do with the much-studied courts of the Este and Visconti-Sforza.

Triumphs [trionfi
For the triumphs, the most important recent progress has occurred in the alert by Thierry Depaulis of the presence of a document in this regard already
1. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot. London 1980.
2. Th. Depaulis, Le Tarot révélé. La Tour-de-Peilz 2013.
3. F. Pratesi, Playing-Cards Trade in 15th-Century Florence. North Walsham 2012. (IPCS Papers 7).


in 1440 (4) (to be precise, the journal of Giusto Giusti containing that reference had already been transcribed in 1991 in the thesis of Lucia Ricciardi) (5). The two years "gained" from the previous Ferrarese attestation are almost negligible, but very significant is the shift from the ducal court of Ferrara to an unknown Florentine card maker who in 1440 produced decks of triumphs, beautiful and expensive, yes, but had the special crest of the recipient, the military leader Sigismondo Malatesta, already known to historians of playing cards for some successive requests, precisely for packs of triumphs of Lombard production (6). We can then speak of triumphs in Florence of that time as a game known and practiced locally, so much so that in 1450 passed into the small number of card games allowed by municipal laws, which shows that it already possessed the traditional character required for every such authorization.

In the future it is possible also to anticipate Florentine testimonies (and possibly from other cities), but it is implausible that the introduction of triumphs occurred many years before; therefore, even more than to reconstruct what happened just before 1440, it seems necessary to define better what happened later, with the appearance of several variants of those packs of cards and related games, also with significant differences between the various Italian cities and regions. These same triumphs distinguished themselves early into small and large, and there appeared alongside them other names of the same or similar packs, starting with the tarot which was then set universally. In Florence germini and minchiate are also met, with further difficulties for a precise reconstruction; it may be worthwhile to recapitulate the essentials of what has been found or proposed in recent years in this regard.

Tarot [tarocchi]
The tarot has become the most important deck of cards of all in this context, above all for the general use that since that time it has been put to use for divination. What is usually considered a typical deck are those tarot cards called “Marseille,” with 22 “major” cards associated with 56 common (actually not too common because of the four picture cards in each suit, instead of the usual three). No one knows for sure whether this "standard" tarot deck already corresponded to the first packs of triumphs named in documents. The issue is important, because in varying degrees various Italian regions are involved, including those which adopted a tarot deck with a number of cards other than 78. In the present context. focused in the environment of Florence, the question is met with infrequently, because by the name of “tarocchi” are indicated, possibly, only the major cards of the triumphs [trionfi]. In a considerable number of documents studied on playing
5. L. Ricciardi, Feste e giochi cavallereschi nella Firenze laurenziana attraverso le memorie di Ser Giusto Giovanni Giusti d'Anghiari. Facolta di Magistero, Universita di Firenze, 1990/91.


cards in Florence, the tarot [tarocchi] decks called by that name are encountered only on one occasion, at the beginning of the seventeenth century (7). Later it is still possible to find in Florence the name of tarot [tarocchi] associated with a deck of cards, but then it is the cards of minchiate. Even for Florence there exists some doubt. as for other cities, about the actual composition of the first triumphs [trionfi]; However, in the specific case of Florence, there are other decks and games to be considered, and to be placed within the historical development of the whole family of triumphs [trionfi].

The testimonies from the Florentine environment of succeeding epochs explain that the obsolete term "germini" was first used locally instead of the term "minchiate", which become more common. It is not certain that the two names were always references to the same deck or game, and in this regard several hypotheses have been put forward. However, what can be safely said is that if there was a difference between germini and minchiate, it could not be anything but a minimal difference, so that it can be neglected, at least at a first approximation. (A stimulating idea is in a case where the deck of 96 cards is indicated, without the fool. and in another case one of 97, with the new card; but it is not confirmed.) The first attestations of the term germini were noted in the years slightly after the middle of the sixteenth century; but recently some before then have been reported, such as one in 1529 in which the major triumphs are involved (8) and subsequently that of 1517, found by Lothar Teikemeier, the oldest known today, with germini cards in the hands of Lorenzo de Medici, nephew of the Magnificent (9). Subsequently, the use of the term germini decreased, replaced in Tuscany by that of minchiate, but it can still be found attested even in the mid-eighteenth century and in none other than the official documents of the Florentine card maker Antonio Giovanni Mollinelli (10).

For minchiate the situation is much more complex. The first attestation noted is 1466 in a letter from Luigi Pulci directed to Lorenzo the Magnificent. All research to re-read the quote on the original sheet has been in vain, but it was verified that the letters written by the same hand in nearby times are perfectly legible, which increases the plausibility of that quote (11). In the early studies about it, it seemed impossible that that word would be used in that year, more than half a century before any additional proof. However, there were discovered, in subsequent research, citations of games referred to as minchiate in years a little later, both among the laws of the municipality (12) and in a
8. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2012) pp. 179-197. [Online starting at For succeeding pages click on "next" button.]
11. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 16, No. 3 (1988) pp. 12-15.[Online starting at For succeeding pages click on the "Next" button. The article is pp. 7-83 and the reference is on p. 83]
12. F. Pratesi, The Flaying-Card, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1990) pp. 7-17.[Online starting at For succeeding pages, click on the "next" button.]


conviction for blasphemy (13). On the one hand this additional information is sufficient to support the plausibility of the quotation from the extremely rare letter of Luigi Pulci, but on the other it is not sufficient to eliminate all doubts about the identification of this game of the second half of the fifteenth century with that documented only well into the next century. Several historians of card games, even among the most competent, suggest that it was two different games and decks; obviously the identification with the same game will be all the more convincing the more intermediate documents are successfully discovered.

The Court of the Merchandise [Tribunale della Mercanzia]
The history of Florence is known to many people who have some interest in works of art; but an importance at least equal to the contribution must be attributed to the civic Arts: to manufacturing production of noteworthy value, to trade in goods, and also to banking and financial activities in general. To adjust the innumerable disputes that those activities involved, there were various city courts with their civil and criminal sections, and moreover each art had its own courts to resolve disputes involving members of the guild. Above the courts of the individual Arts was, in a dominant position, the Court of Merchandise, which was set up especially to defend the interests of Florentine businessmen in relation to foreign markets. In practice, the Merchandise was institutionally called to solve the commercial crises on the state level, starting with reprisals against Florentine businessmen who located abroad or who came from pursuing business there.

At the head of the institution was the Officer of the Merchandise, initially a notary then a jurist who came increasingly from other cities; He was assisted in his deliberations by the Council, made up of representatives of the five major Florentine arts. Making up the workforce of the Merchandise was at least one other foreign notary as coadjutor, a treasurer, six foreign police directly salaried by the Officer and in a later time also estimators who decided the value of pledges [pawned items]. The details of the functions of this important judiciary changed repeatedly over time and in particular returned within its competence also the causes of failures; To the Merchandise often fell the task of settling the most various commercial disputes arising between Florentine businessmen (14).

The site of this important court was by 1359 the Palace of the Merchandise (Fig. 1, next page), known to many tourists today as the Gucci Museum, founded in 2011. Even among Florentines there are not many who know the activities that in the past took place in that building, located at the eastern side of the Piazza della Signoria, behind the bronze statue of Cosimo I on horseback. In that place stretched in Roman times the big civic theater; at the time in question
13. F. Pratesi, L'As de Trefle, No. 52 (1993) pp. 9-10.
14. R. Davidsohn, Storia di Firenze. I primordi della civiltà fiorentina, Parte prima. ( History of Florence. The origins of the Florentine civilization, Part One.) Florence 1973. pp. 513-534.

Figure 1 - Palace of Merchandise, the facade on the Piazza della Signoria.[see, top of p. 5]

the building on the square had a richly decorated portico, like the inner rooms, which was later demolished during one of the repeated reconstructions that followed.

The books of the Merchandise
In the State Archives of Florence is preserved the archive section of the Merchandise, including 14168 units with an extreme range of dates from 1306 to 1770; for its consultation an old inventory in two volumes is still used, dedicated exclusively to this section (15). The numbering of the archival units obeys a criterion of distribution into the following sections, where the volumes are grouped by similarity of material. The initial sections are: Statutes, Matriculations, Squittini [Franco says "election sessions", i.e. gatherings where representatives were chosen], Tratti [Franco says "extractions of candidates", meaning occasions on which names of eligible citizens were drawn by lot to be considered for particular offices], Resolutions of foreign Officers, Speeches of the Officer and the Six of the Merchandise, followed by larger sections of Acts in ordinary cases and Acts in extraordinary and executive cases, at which you arrive somewhere in the middle of the Inventory. Following are another thirty brief sections, divided by topic. The section that concerns this study is that of Pledges and Demands of Payment. It is a section which. like the others, contains within it units in chronological order, beginning, however, relatively recently: its first archival unit, where inventories are presented and discussed in this work, covers the years 1485-1506; it can be said that, with some exceptions in the beginning, the series as a whole begins only in the sixteenth century.

The inventories, found by Lorenz Böninger
By studying the book mentioned above, Lorenz Böninger has identified among others two inventories that are linked together, if only for the common production of
15. ASFI, Inventario N 35.
16. ASFI, Mercanzia, 11585.


playing cards. The first inventory is located at c. 117v and, except for errors, can be read as follows.
Sinubaldo<Giovanbattista> di Francesco Monaldi chartaro fu gravato questo di 18 di novembre 1499 [...]
3 paia di forme da fare charte
1 lima
1 paio di cesoie
1 paiuolo p.
1 fastelo di fogli non dipinti et parechi dipinti

(Sinubaldo <Giovanbattista> Francesco Monaldi card maker was disencumbered of this November 18, 1499 [...]
3 pairs [paia] of templates [forme] for making cards
1 file
1 pair of shears
1 cauldron p.
1 bundle/bunch [fastelo] of sheets, unpainted and much painted.
The second inventory of objects of this study is at c. 190r, the third to last of the whole book, and can be read as follows.
Giovanbattista di Francesco Monaldi fu gravato questo di vi dezembre 1506 [...]
36 paia di germini e tr(i)onfi
1 paio di tr(i)onfi alla franc(i)osa non finiti
117 paia di charte
2 mazi di fogli bianchi
40 chanoni dipinti
11 libri tra grandi e piccoli
1 paio di manicha nera
1 beretta nera
1 chonellino bianco di suantone da fanciullo
I faldi?
1 maza finita
1 paio di vanghonle? sanza<manicho>maza
10 pezi di pronte di pionbo
26 forme tra grandi e piccole da germini
più chartoni
5 chasette tra grandi e pichole, e 1 chiave

(Giovanbattista Francesco Monaldi was disencumbered of this on 6 December of 1506 [...]
36 packs [paia] of germini and tr(i)umphs [tr(i)onfi]
1 pack [piao] of Frenc(h) tr(i)umphs [tr(i)onfi franc(i)osa, meaning "in the French style" but made locally] not finished
117 packs [paia] of cards
2 bunches [mazzi] of white sheets [fogli]
40 painted altar cards [chanoni]
11 books between large and small
1 pair [paio] of black sleeves [manicha]
1 black cap
1 skirt [chonellino], child's white suantone [some type of textile]
1 Faldi? [Franco suggests falde, meaning "brims", as in the brim of a hat]
1 finished bunch [maza]
1 pair [paio] of vanghonle [a tool: "kicker"?--] without <manicho>maza [mallet handles?]
10 pezi [pieces] of lead stamps [pronti=impronte]
26 templates [forme] between large and small of germini
more cartons [chartoni]
5 boxes [chasette] between large and small, and 1 key)
Both inventories are preceded and followed by short sentences, difficult to read, which specify, in the first instance, those who make the demand of payment, and after, showing the results of the operation. These parts will be subject to future research, to define define better the life and work activity of this Florentine dealer

The card maker Monaldi
A piece of information that could be useful concerns the same card maker involved. Of the Florentine cardmakers [cartai], or “Naibai”, as they were usually called, at least a dozen are known, also of the previous generation. For some of them there has already been collected biographical and also financial information, obtainable especially from the Florentine Catasti [income registers for tax purposes], beginning with the the first, of 1427. A group limited to Naibai is present also in a voluminous study on Florentine

painters (17); among them is not Sinibaldo or Giovanbattista Monaldi. The name of Giovanbattista is present the second time alone, but is deleted and replaced by Sinibaldo in the first document. It seems likely that they were two brothers, but it is also possible that it was the same person who had a specific name, but that was familiarly called by a different name, as often happened at that time and then also end today. As for the name of his father Francesco, it seems that in Monaldi families it was quite common, so much so that in the first Castito of 1427 there are already two householders called Francesco, in the four Monaldi families then present in Florence.

That we are in the presence of a card maker is explicitly indicated in the document and confirmed by the material confiscated. It might seem that this is just a few objects, certainly not comparable with those listed in the noted inventory of Francesco Rosselli of 1528 (18). However, the two cases are not comparable. Already to start with, that was a big shop, this looks like a workshop that could be contained in a normal room of a house, as happened a few years earlier for card makers Filippo di Marco and Benedetto Spigliati (19); in that case the seven forms under contention had to be kept in the home of Benedetto, and Filippo had to go precisely there every time he wanted to use the wooden blocks. However, if we meet our card maker in this book, and in the section of Pledges and demands of payment, his economic situation had to be badly reduced. Probably one can find more information about him and his debts, such as to lead to foreclosures recorded in this documentation. For the moment we can make do with what is present in his shop, objects that provide us important information beyond expectations.

Items of the inventory

It is useful to examine specific items before discussing them in the context of the history of the games. In the first case the elements are few and of limited interest: tools and material of work, of which only the 3 packs of forms, or blocks of wood used for the production of cards, have a certain importance. which will be discussed later.

Much more illuminating is the list of objects of 1506. 136 decks of germini and triumphs appear immediately as an interesting item, to which a specific section will be dedicated. A pack of triumphs in the French style, "trionfi alla Franciosa", is perhaps the most surprising element in all the classified entries, because in Florence playing cards “in the French style” were notoriously a part of local production ... in the eighteenth century! To find a fashion of French origin in this context was not at all predictable.
17. W. Jacobsen, Die Maler von Florenz zu Beginn der Renaissance. Munchen-Berlin 2001. p. 54.
18. A.M. Hind, Early Italian Engraving. Part 1, Vol. 1, London 1938. pp. 10,11, 305-308.
19. Ref. 3, pp. 21-25.


The 117 “mazzi di carte” [bunches of cards] correspond to an important quantity. It was found that the Florentine card makers often sold the produced cards to haberdashers or even to minor silk dealers, who sold them in their shops (20). One might assume that this practice entailed that there remained only a few examples in the house of the dealer; the fact that here they exceed one hundred suggests significant direct sales, from manufacturer to consumer.

The two “mazzi di fogli bianchi” [bunches of white sheets] are especially significant for the use of the term in the sense of “fascio” [bunch/bundle]: so when "un mazo di charte" [a bunch of cards/papers] is written in the inventories of the time, one should not commit the error of reading it, anachronistically, as "un paio di naibi" [a pack of cards].

The 40 painted cannoni seem to belong to an accessory production of the card maker. These cannoni may have been of the types of spools on which thread was wrapped, silk in particular, and which then constituted the unit most commonly used for work payments; they were usually made of cane, in accordance with the name. [Translator's note: Franco now informs me that "chanoni" are altar cards; this error was pointed out to him by Thierry Depaulis.]

The “libri fra grandi e piccoli” [books between large and small] are not easy to identify; it seems likely that the books were only for personal use, kept for the mandatory registration of accounts, with the usual lists of debtors and creditors gradually updated; probably other books were objects of production, to be decorated with illustrations, if not with truly fine miniatures, not very compatible with the ordinary quality of the cards.

Then we find listed a few clothes: sleeves, a hat, a skirt for a child, (Faldi?) Perhaps “falde” [brims]. There follow items of particular interest that seem tools of the trade: a mallet [mazza], a tool with the name “vang...” ["kicker ..."], impossible to read with certainty, but if it was completed by a handle [manico] and bat/mallet [mazzo], then a kind of mallet [mazzuolo] or hammer [martello]. Moreover, there are pieces of lead, "pronti" to be understood as stamps, used in the production in the manner of punches or stencils. Regarding these last, one can imagine a variety of applications; but the technique used was not an innovation, considering that objects likely very similar had already been used at the time of Francesco Datini, more than a century earlier, even before playing cards (21). Then we find an item that is of great interest to us, the 26 templates [forme], which will be discussed later. Finally, various cartons and boxes.
20. Ref. 3, passim.
21. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1997) pp. 38-45. [Online starting at For succeeding pages click on "next" button.]

Triumphs [trionfi] in the French style [alla francese]
It may be useful to point out that for France the game of tarot is documented for Avignon in 1506; and greater knowledge of this story suggests that it was known in Lyons – an important production center for playing cards - at the beginning of the century.

The oldest known French mention of tarot dates to December 1505. It is written in a notarial act of Avignon, [...]. The Avignon card makers were in close relationship with Lyons, from where their expertise and their models came. It is therefore permitted to think that the word was understood in Lyons also and that the game was known there around 1500 (23).
But no one could have imagined then that there was already a typically French style of designing and producing triumphs, and still less that it was also adopted in Florence, together with the style of the local tradition. With a little fantasy, one would rather have imagined the inverse, that Lyons was producing triumphs in the Florentine style ...; but imagination can make a mistake, while this document speaks clearly, albeit catching us, as usual, rather unprepared because of the many remaining gaps in the documentation so far brought to light.

Germini and minchiate
It seemed useful to add this section entitled "germini and minchiate", even in the absence of the second term in the documents in the studio. The reason why minchiate cannot be ruled out of the discussion is precisely the date of the second document: 1506 is a year that anticipates by eleven years the first known evidence of the term germini applied to typical Florentine cards.
22. Ref. 8, p. 191.
23. Ref. 2, p. 36.


This is already new information, original, useful; at the same time, however, this evidence fits into that intermediate zone that is still without information about the game of minchiate. If after a few statements from the third quarter of the fifteenth century we skip to the second or third quarter of the sixteenth century, what the experts suggest can be justified, that these are two different decks in the two cases; but if the two separate sets of information end up reunited thanks to the discovery of new documents, that interpretation will become less and less plausible. The gap in time is not yet fully covered, but you can see the result; with patience, other claims will be found and you will be convinced not only that germini and minchiate were the same thing (save minor differences, not significant) but also that Florentine minchiate was introduced shortly after the "normal". triumphs

Templates [Forme] for making cards
To find, at the end of the fifteenth century, that a card maker was using wooden templates [forme] to produce playing cards cannot be considered a discovery, because the first evidence of this kind already dates back to the twenties of the century in Palermo and shortly after in Florence itself. A reference closer in time is that involving Filippo di Marco and Benedetto Spigliati (24). The wooden blocks in use in that case were seven and it was not easy to imagine a deck of cards that required so high a number of blocks; The simplest hypothesis was that these blocks were used, in most sets, for different cards. The number of four wooden blocks that is at the end of that document, on the other hand, suggested that four templates corresponded to the minimum number that allowed a card maker to print the cards. The term “printing” should not be understood here as in the typical printing processes realized when working with a specialized press: on these templates, inked, they laid the white sheet and if needed passed above the sheet with a roller.

Here are two new pieces of information, rather different. The first, of 1499, records three pairs [paia] of templates. In this case, more that 3 counts as the pair [paio]; I think he means what in English would be “counts as pairs”], due to the fact that the forms are counted in pairs [coppie, i.e. couples)]; and it is not possible to avoid the mental association with the “pack of naibi” [mazzo di naibi] that also was always referred to as “a pair” [un paio] (25). Again reasoning in terms of pairs [coppie] of templatess, the preserved Rosenwald deck shows (albeit not in an explicit or direct manner, but as a suggestion of the possibility in such cases) that a deck of 96 cards of minchiate could have been produced with two pairs of wooden templates (26). Instead of having to produce 97 cards, the problem is immediately met that 97 is a prime number, and thus it becomes impossible to use a "reasonable" number of forms of the same type. Of course, nothing prevents one from using templates of different sizes, with the only limit the size of the sheet of paper that
24. Ref. 17, p. 552.

was used with it. The same cards could be produced in different sizes, requiring more pairs [coppie] of templates.

In the second document, however, we find an impressive and unexpected figure, which cannot be mentioned without discussion: the number of 26 templates of germini, in fact. The number of 97 cards had already been met, a very "uncomfortable" one for using similar templates. But also 26, dismantled only in 2x13, and an "uncomfortable" number. In short, understanding why this card maker had a total of 26 types of wood is not immediate and you have to think of more types of cards produced. One case that comes to mind is that different templates were needed for large and small triumphs; but what we are talking about is not triumphs but large and small; unless, as is likely, the germini were precisely those decks that alternatively were called great triumphs in the Florence area. Certainly, the same need also to produce triumphs “alla francesa” will have made its contribution to increasing the templates to be utilized. We can also think of different hypotheses, such as the simultaneous presence of duplicates of templates, possibly varying degree of wear, or even forms for the production of different objects, such as those santini [holy pictures] that several card makers produced together with cards [naibi] also in the past.

Some useful information has been obtained for the history of playing cards in Florence in the passage between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Among the most important news can be highlighted the production of germini packs in 1506, earlier than so far known, with forms large and small, and yet the most unexpected production, triumphs “alla francesa,” at a time when France is just beginning to get the first vague news about it. More research is needed to better define the artisinial activity of card makers involved in identified foreclosures, for which we do not have sufficient information so far.

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