Sunday, February 5, 2017

July 5, 2023: Ideas of an Egyptian

After six years of doing other things, I am now translating a recent note by Franco Pratesi, all of whose work on playing cards, especially tarot, can be seen on, much of it there only in Italian. For an introduction to other essays or notes of his now availble in English, see my first post in Feb. 2017, updated slightly in 2021.

On July 5, 2023, Franco posted the note  "Idee di un egiziano. Cremona 1795," at What follows is my translation (run through Google Translate and then corrected). Insertions in brackets are mine. I have commented on this essay at, but for ease of reference I have transcribed it here, following Franco's essay.


Ideas of an Egyptian. Cremona 1795

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

I have recently been conducting studies of pamphlets and almanacs printed at the end of the eighteenth century in the Milanese milieu. One in particular concerns an almanac with important descriptions of the game of tarocco, of interest to me.[1] In that case I had the opportunity to express various comments on that type of publications and their fate for a short-lived and unlikely presence currently in the various libraries; I write among other things that "The very idea of the almanac-calendar is the enemy of preservation!"

In the case under consideration here it is still about tarot, but although the title speaks of a game of tarot, the subject is rather that of the tarot cards used in the game - there is no information on the actual playing practice useful here. If there was a need for proof of the unfavorable fate of these almanacs, this could be cited; in fact, it would appear that in the whole world today only two copies can be found (of which only one for the introductory part), and both in the State Library of the same city of Cremona, where they were produced not by any entrepreneur but by the "printer of the diocese and the city."

      (State library of Cremona - CIVA.A DD.8.2.12)



This is how our Almanac is filed in the catalog:

Ideas of an Egyptian on the game of tarot almanac for the leap year 1796
Cremona : for Giuseppe Feraboli print. of the diocese and the city
Names: Bianchi, Isidoro <1731-1808> (Author). Feraboli, Giuseppe (Publisher)
Physical description [24] c.; 24° long
Notes: The introductory text, from c. [pi]2 to c. [pi]5, is by Isidoro Bianchi

 2. The letter

I asked the Library for information on the initial part of my interest and they kindly sent me a complete scan, which I transcribe below, inserting capital letters as superscript in the few cases where I intend to add a comment.


My voyage in Europe has filled me with yet another astonishment, which is no less than the one I wrote you about last year. That famous book of ours, which contains the purest doctrine of our Elders, is there in everyone's hands. But there is no one who knows that this is a very rare Egyptian codex; no one tries to penetrate the meaning of the allegorical figures that it depicts. Among us too such a book is needed for our entertainment (B); but each of us knows well that our ancient Egyptians turned even the most useful knowledge into a game. The names preserved in this game are all Oriental, such as Taro, Mad, and Pagad. The word Tarrocco is composed of the following Egyptian terms, namely Tar, which means Road, [and] Ro, Ros, or Rog, which means royal, i.e. the royal road of life. In fact, our compatriots find in this game everything that can serve them as instruction throughout their lives. The name of the Madman [Pazzo] comes from the Eastern word Mat, which means drowsy [assopito] ; and the word Pagad, which the Italians call Bagatto, in the East Pa means Head, or Lord, and Gad, Fortune. In fact, the Bagatto is painted at a table like a Player of Bussolotti, which is meant to indicate that the entire life of man is nothing but a dream and a game. The figures that make up that book reach the number of 21, without the Madman, who has no number, thus wanting to show that we all have some branch of the madman. The figure of the Madman, who walks with such speed to escape a tiger which is pursuing him, is as described by Horace. But before him it was well known to the Egyptians, from whom he must have taken it. The first figure which distinguished with numbers, is the Bagatto. Numbers 2 and 3 represent two Women, and numbers 4 and 5 their Husbands. Those are among Us the leaders of Society. No. 4 represents the King, and no. 3 the Queen. Both are seated on a throne with the symbol of the eagle depicted on a shield. Both carry a scepter in their hand, on the end of which a Tau is seen. The King is seen in profile, and the Queen in front. Her throne is higher, and the King with his legs crossed sits on a chest shaped like a gondola. No. 5 represents the high priest, and no. 2 his wife the High Priestess. Everyone knows that in Egypt the Ministers of the cult are married. The dress of the High Priestess is all Egyptian, and she wears a double crown with two horns, as Isis wore; and the scepter with a triple cross, which is held in the right hand of the high priest, is also a wholly Egyptian monument, which can be seen expressed in a marble of the goddess just mentioned [the so-called Isiac Tablet – trans.]. It is carried around among us [fra di noi] when we celebrate [si celebra] the feast of having found Osiris, or the Sun, which, having been lost in Wintertime, appeared in Spring brighter than before. Osiris is therefore found in no. 7 in the form of a triumphant King seated on a chariot drawn by two white steeds. In number 6 are seen the figures of a Youth and a Girl, who are united in marriage with a love above them. A similar idea to indicate conjugal faith is found expressed in a marble reported by Boissard in his Antiquities Tom. 3. Plate 26. Numbers 8, 9, 12, 13 refer to four virtues that are too necessary for Man. No. 11 represents Strength. That is a Woman who, having become mistress of a Lion, tears it to pieces, as she might do with the smallest Dog.  In No. 13 is expressed Temperance, who pours hot water from one vase into another to thus temper its heat. In no. 8 Justice is seen, who is placed on her



throne holding a sword in one hand and scales in the other. In no. 12 we have Prudence, a virtue too necessary in human life. Such a virtue could not be expressed better than by keeping our eye on a young man who, placing one foot on the ground, keeps the other suspended, in order to carefully examine where to place it safely. However, the foolish Card makers, not understanding the beauty of the allegory expressed in this figure, had the temerity to alter it by painting a man hanged by his feet. No. 9 represents a venerable old man who, with a lantern in his left hand, seeks virtue and justice. In view of this ancient painting, many writers then imagined the story of Diogenes. In numbers 19, 18, 17 we have depicted the Sun, the Moon, Sirius, or rather the Canicole [Dog-star—trans.] with various emblems all conforming to the doctrine of the Egyptians. The sun distills from its rays tears of gold and pearls, as does the moon to indicate that it also contributes to the productions of the earth. Pausanias in the description of Phocis assures us that the tears of Isis, according to the Egyptians, were stars, which swelled the waters of the Nile every year, and which thus made the countryside of Egypt fertile. At the foot of the figure representing the Moon we see a Crayfish, or a Cancer [Cancro], and this either to symbolize the retrograde motion of the Moon itself, or to indicate that since the Sun and the Moon arise from Cancer, the floods caused by their tears occur. Beyond the Crayfish two towers can be observed, which express the two famous pillars of Hercules, and in the middle of the same, two dogs are seen, which seem to bark at the moon. These ideas are perfectly Egyptian. Our Ancients, always fond of allegory, compared the two Tropics to two Palaces, each of which was watched over by a Dog, who, like faithful Gatekeepers, held the two Luminaries in the middle of the sky without allowing them to move towards one or the other Pole. The Canicule [Dogstar] is also an allegorical figure, and absolutely Egyptian, called the Star, which rises when the Sun rises from the sign of Cancer; and the seven stars which surround her are the planets, among which she triumphs as a queen. The woman who spills two rivers from two vases, in whom Isis must be recognized, and the other objects that can be seen around her, are all Egyptian emblems. It is no wonder that in no. 13 we see Death. This is a war game. Number 13 represents an Egyptian personage, namely Typhon, brother of Osiris and Isis; and number 16 is a lesson against greed. The tower full of gold falls to ruin, and its worshipers are overthrown. No. 10 is a satire against Fortune. It is badly expressed in the no. 20 the Final Judgment. Rather, this figure represents the creation that took place at the beginning of Time. The time of facts, and not the world, is expressed in no. 21. All the other cards are divided into four suits, which signify the four estates into which the Egyptians were divided. A certain (C) Court de Gebelin was the only one in Europe who understood the allegory of this game.

I didn't keep the dots after the numbers, as was the custom at the time, but I didn't introduce any other writing update changes.

A. There is initially talk of a Second Letter, because in the previous year's almanac the author had initially inserted a similar letter, in which instead of an Egyptian there appeared an Oriental and instead of the game of tarot that of pharaoh.

B. In these terms, it would seem to mean that no one has raised the problem of the possible meaning of the tarot before; confirmed by the following “only in Europe”.

C. “A certain Court de Gebelin” sounds strange to us, because today it would have been more familiar if we had read about a certain Isidoro Bianchi who reproposed the thought of the well-known Court de Gébelin.

3. The author

It is very rare that the author of writings present in almanacs of this type is known. In this case there is a convergence of opinions that assures us of the authorship of the text, attributed to Isidoro Bianchi. On this Camaldolese friar who traveled a lot and taught and wrote a lot, we find more information than strictly necessary in the Biographical Dictionary of Italians.[2] Beyond



remembering the dates of his birth and death, 1731-1808 in Cremona, I will focus only on a couple of points. The first concerns his long final stay in Cremona with a close relationship with the publisher Manini. 

In Cremona he bonded closely with the publisher Lorenzo Manini, collaborating on the patriotic Novellista and on the almanac he published (with writings on the freedom of the grain trade, on the "influence of commerce on talents", on "common sense," “on the game of the pharaoh,” and “of the tarot”). In association with Gian Rinaldo Carli, he procured, from the same publisher, a re-edition of the American Letters, preceded by a dedication to B. Franklin (1781) and followed by an apology of this work against Clavigero's attacks (preface in the edition of the Works of G. R. Carli, XI, Milan 1785). He also gave an edition of Opuscoli eruditi by G. Allegranza (1781). 

It can be noted that the name and date of the publisher in the reference to the tarot does not match with what can be verified in the Almanac in question; it may be that earlier editions existed, even closer to the French original. The second point of notable interest is his connection with Freemasonry, although not precisely defined. 

B. could already be in contact with Freemasonry since the time of his travel and stay in southern Italy and in Denmark, even if we do not have probative documentation in this regard. The importance of the Cremonese lodge and the intense Masonic activity of Manini could make these links closer. He then collected a vast material for a history Of the Eleusinian mysteries and of the ancient arcanum and in 1786 he published a pamphlet, with the false indication of Ravenna, with Pietro Martire Neri, but printed in Cremona, Dell Istituto dei Veri Libero Muratori. He continued to be interested in Masonic life even later.

It is not strange that an ancient Bolognese cartomancy-type writing was also found together with Masonic documents.[3]

4. Checks on the reputation and originality of the Almanac

A double comparison was necessary: on the one hand it was necessary to verify whether there were previous studies on this specific almanac; on the other hand, what in the text contained could be considered an original and personal contribution by Bianchi. Let us first look at the notoriety of the Almanac; it would be useless to report it here if it were already known by all interested parties. I have been informed by the Library that studies in this regard are not known, but articles in local periodicals and even in general works cannot be excluded. As it happens, the bibliography on tarot cards is vast, and it is precisely so because of the many fantasies of the genre that begin here. Since tarot has always interested me as a card game, I decided to limit the necessary check to a few but good sources. So I checked the existence of Isidoro Bianchi's text in the bibliographies of the first three volumes of Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia,[4] and I couldn't find it. Then I looked in vain for traces of it in a rigorous book by authors worthy of the maximum respect.[5] Finally, I looked for Isidoro Bianchi in the Tarot History Forum.[6] with the answer “0 matches” – something that happens very rarely in that kind of hodgepodge with an infinite number of discussions and information of all kinds. I finished here this type of checks. It may turn out that with this Almanac, it is as if I have rediscovered the wheel, but I cannot read hundreds of books and articles of which I hardly appreciate anything. It remains to be seen how original Isidoro Bianchi's "theory" is. In this case I find something vague already in the depths of my memory, but pages 57-64 of the book mentioned[7] were enough to



confirm its full source in Court de Gébelin. Obviously, it would have been better if it had been an unknown original reconstruction, better if sufficiently credible, but the Letter itself referred to the Frenchman "only in Europe." However, in my opinion the Second Letter copied here retains some documentary value.

5. Concluding comments

First of all, the date of this Almanac is important, because Court de Gébelin had only published his pioneering text in 1781, a few years earlier. It is not easy to reconstruct exactly the passage from Paris to Cremona, but Bianchi had more than one possible channel at his disposal. He had traveled extensively and had also maintained close relationships with Parisian circles; he was connected to Freemasonry; he had access to bookstores and libraries internationally, and so on. The possible acceptance of these ideas is not clear, however, but the mere fact of using them as an introduction to the year's almanac makes it clear that a considerable appreciation from the public was being counted on. It remains uncertain how much tarot players were looking for explanations of this kind; if it really involved innovative interpretations, the easiest situation to imagine is that scholars and neophytes of esoteric cultures were decidedly more interested than the "real" tarot players. But this too is an important step: until then tarot cards only attracted the interest of those who used them to play with, but from then on anyone, even those who did not play with them, could find great, let's say philosophical, interest in them.

In the moment when the ideas of an Egyptian on the tarot somehow arrived in Cremona, a notable importance of our  

 derives precisely from its nature, being addressed to the entire citizenry as a booklet for useful daily consultation. What better advertising initiative could you imagine, capable of immediately spreading this new "philosophy" throughout an entire city?

Florence, 05.07.2023

[1] “Per chi tarocca ‒ Milano 1793” (For those who tarocca -Milan 1793). To be inserted on

[3] F. Pratesi, L’As de Trèfle, N. 37 (1989) 10-11.

[4] Stuart R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot. Vol. I-III U.S. Games Systems, Stamford, CT 1979-1990.

[5] R. Decker, Th. Depaulis e M. Dummett, A Wicked Pack of Cards. Duckworth, London 2002

[7] [in note 5 - Pratesi's repetition of 5 changed to 7 for clarity by trans.]


COMMENTS ON FRANCO'S ESSAY by the translator Michael S. Howard

Franco Pratesi has a couple of new tarot notes on One is about a 1794 Milanese book seemingly aimed at settling disputes among experienced players of the game - Pratesi says it would be no help to a beginner. He compares it with an 1820 edition of the same work and finds it essentially the same. I cannot begin to translate the gaming terms into comprehensible English.

The other, which I want to talk about here, is a 1795 almanac (for 1796) that starts off with a lettera, the second in a series, the first, the previous year, having been about the game of pharaoh). It is a summary of Court de Gebelin's "discoveries" about the Egyptians' original meanings of the cards. The author is a certain Isadoro Bianchi (1730-1808) and the publisher is Giuseppe Feraboli, "stamp. vesc. e della città", i.e. printer for the diocese and the city. The city in question is Cremona.
This summary is mostly direct quotes, but unattributed, except with a nod at the end to Gebelin, as "the only one in Europe who has understood the allegory of the game" (p. 4 of my translation).

What I am going to do here is make some additional comments about the summary and its author.


It is in general an able abridgement, accurately translated into Italian, of what Gebelin says regarding the 21 trumps plus the Fool, as well as his derivations of tarrocco, mad (Bianchi's odd spelling of the Matto or Mat), and Bagatto. It is mostly Gebelin's own words, with his characteristic phraseology and scholarly references.

In case you were wondering what decks were actually available in 1794 Cremona, according to the histories of Italian card production they would have been Tarot de Marseille's, precisely what Gebelin was referring to. This was true even in Bologna Sometimes even the titles were in French, or else Italian translations of the French (except for "Maison-Dieu", for which they substituted "Il Torre").

What interested me was those few instances where Bianchi's summary departs from what Gebelin says, or what is on the cards. That might reveal something about the author's own preconceptions, I thought.

One error in describing a card is actually made by Gebelin, too, something I had never noticed before. Gebelin assigns the number XIII to Temperance, even though in all the French decks it was XIIII. The number XIII is even on Gebelin's illustration of the card. Here is Bianchi's description of the card
Nel num. 13 si esprime la Temperanza, che da un vaso versa dell’acqua calda in un
altro per temperare così il suo calore.

In no. 13 is expressed Temperance, who pours hot water from one vase into another to thus temper its heat.
Comparing this to Gebelin himself, we find the number XIII but not the temperature of the water (Monde Primitif, Tome VIII, p. 372, at ... texteImage.
XIII. La Tempérance . C'est une femme aîlée qui fait passer de l'eau d'un vase dans t un autre, pour tempérer la liquer qu'il renferme.

XIII. Temperance. It is a winged woman who passes water from one vase to another, to temper the liquor it contains.
To me this shows nothing about how Bianchi or others saw the card, but might about how they saw the stereotypical image of Temperance: as cooling hot water.

What Bianchi says about number 11, Forza (Gebelin's Force), is also of interest.
Il num. 11 rappresenta la Forza. Quella è una Donna, che, resasi padrona di un Lione, lo sbrana, come potrebbe farsi del più piccolo Cane.

No. 11 depicts Strength. That is a Woman who, having become mistress of a Lion, tears him to pieces, as might be done with the smallest Dog.
Gebelin does not say such a thing, but says only that "she holds open its mouth, as she might that of her little spaniel" ("lui ouvre la gueule avec la même facilité qu'elle ouvriroit celle de son petit éspagneul"). So Bianchi is probably thinking of what Samson did to his young lion, or Hercules with his.

When Bianchi gets to Death, he correctly identifies it as 13, despite its being the second card with that number. Not only that, but he gives the card that Gebelin identified with the Egyptian Typhon, brother of Isis and Osiris, the same number. Gebelin had associated Typhon with card 15, of course. As a result, Bianchi has nothing for card 15 at all. Bianchi:
Non è maraviglia, che nel num. 13 si vegga la Morte. Questo è un gioco di guerra. Rappresenta il num. 13 un personaggio Egizio, cioè Tifone, Fratello di Osiride, e di Iside.

It is no wonder that in number 13 is seen Death. this is a game of war. The number 13 represents an Egyptian personage, that is, Typhon, Brother of Osiris and Isis.
Le no. XV représente le célebre personnage Egyptien Typhon, frere d'Osiris et d'Isis, le mauvais Principe, le grand Démon d'enfer.

No. XV represents the famous Egyptian personage Typhon, brother of Osiris and Isis, the bad Principle, the great Demon of hell.
Finally, when it comes to the Sun and the Moon cards, 19 and 18, Bianchi cites Gebelin's story from Pausanias about the tears of Isis:
Pausania nella descrizione della Focide ci assicura, che le lagrime d’ Iside, secondo gli Egiziani, erano stelle, che gonfiavano ogni anno leacque del Nilo, e che rendevano così fertili le campagne di Egitto.

Pausanias in the description of Phocis assures us that the tears of Isis, according to the Egyptians, were stars, which swelled the waters of the Nile every year, and which thus made the countryside of Egypt fertile.
This sentence appears between his mention of the Sun and his mention of the Moon, so it is not clear which card he is talking about. It doesn't matter, since these "tears" are on both cards. What is absent from the cards is any suggestion that they are stars; nor does Gebelin say that they are stars, although all the rest is a direct quote. Whether Bianchi has actually looked at the card is unclear. Gebelin (p. 373):
Pausanias nous apprend dans la Description de la Phocide, que, selon les Egyptiens, c'étoient les larmes d'Isis qui enfloient chaque année les eaux du Nil & qui rendoient ainsi les campagne de l'Egypte.

Pausanias teaches us in the Description of Phocis that, according to the Egyptians, it was the tears of Isis which swelled the waters of the Nile each year and which thus restored the countryside of Egypt.
At the end, Bianchi says, "A certain Court de Gebelin was the only one in Europe who understood the allegory of this game," his only acknowledgement of Gebelin. So for Bianchi, Gebelin is offering a unique interpretation, hitherto unknown in Europe.


While the almanac is dated 1795, its preface is quite possibly a reprint of work printed earlier. Pratesi refers to a rather long biography of Bianchi on Treccani, ... iografico). Besides his best-known work, the Meditations, and others, it mentions the almanac, including his piece on the tarot:
Ripubblicò a Lodi, presso Antonio Pallavicini, nel 1779, le sue Meditazioni e riprese l'attività di pubblicista. A Cremona si legò strettamente con l'editore Lorenzo Manini, collaborando al Novellista patriotico e all'almanacco da questo pubblicato (con scritti sulla libertà del commercio dei grani, sull'"influenza del commercio sopra i talenti", sul "senso comune", "sul gioco del faraone" e "del tarocco"). Legatosi con Gian Rinaldo Carli, procurò, presso il medesimo editore, una riedizione delle Lettere americane, facendole precedere da una dedica a B. Franklin (1781) e seguire da un'apologia di quest'opera contro gli attacchi di Clavigero (prefazione nell'edizione delle Opere di G. R. Carli, XI, Milano 1785). Diede pure un'edizione degli Opuscoli eruditi di G. Allegranza (1781).

He republished his Meditations in Lodi, with Antonio Pallavicini, in 1779 and resumed his activity as a publicist. In Cremona he became closely linked with the publisher Lorenzo Manini , collaborating on the Novellista patriotico and on the almanac he published (with writings on the freedom of the grain trade , on the "influence of trade on talents", on "common sense", "on the game of pharaoh" and "of the tarocco"). Linked with Gian Rinaldo Carli, he procured from the same publisher a reprint of the Lettere americane, having them preceded by a dedication to B. Franklin (1781) and followed by an apology [i.e., defense] of this work against Clavigero's attacks (preface in the edition of the Opere of G.R. Carli[/i] XI, Milan 1785). He also gave an edition of the Opuscoli eruditi by G. Allegranza (1781).
I wondered about this Lettere americane. I findat, that its author, Gian Rinaldo Carli (1720-1795), also known by other names, was an Italian economist, historian, and antiquarian. That site continues, "This work contains Carli's letters theorizing about the origins of the American Indians, possibly from Europe via Atlantis to Brazil." Bianchi wrote the dedication. Carli was another pro-Austrian enlightenment intellectual and has his own biography in Treccani.

Given the inclusion of the article on the tarot in Treccani's paragraph going from 1779 to 1781, Pratesi is justified in wondering if the 1795 publication is perhaps a reprint of something earlier.

Treccani says that he maintained a vast correspondence. Treccani lists a series of Italian and perhaps Portuguese or Spanish names, but no French ones. However, it adds (most of this part quoted by Pratesi):
È possibile che questa rete epistolare segua talvolta canali latomistici. Con la massoneria il B. poté già essere in contatto fin dal tempo del suo viaggio e soggiorno nell'Italia meridionale e in Danimarca, anche se non abbiamo una documentazione probante in proposito. L'importanza della loggia cremonese e l'intensa attività massonica di Manini poterono rendere più fitti questi suoi legami. Raccolse allora un vasto materiale per una storia Dei misteri eleusini e dell'antico arcano e nel 1786 pubblicò un opuscolo, con la falsa indicazione di Ravenna, presso Pietro Martire Neri, ma stampata a Cremona, Dell'istituto dei veri liberi muratori. Alla vita massonica continuò a interessarsi anche in seguito.

It is possible that this epistolary network sometimes follows Masonic [latomistica] channels. B.[Bianchi] could already be in contact with Masonry [massoneria] since the time of his travel and stay in southern Italy and in Denmark, even if we don't have any probative documentation in this regard. The importance of the Cremonese lodge and Manini's intense Masonic activity could make his ties even closer. He then collected a vast amount of material for a history of the Eleusinian mysteries and of the ancient arcane and in 1786 he published a pamphlet, with the false indication of Ravenna, with Pietro Martire Neri, but printed in Cremona, Of the institute of true free masons. He continued to be interested in Masonic life even later.
In Denmark Bianchi had been part of a diplomatic mission for the Kingdom of Naples, working as secretary to the prince of Raffadala, for which he got permission from the Holy See to travel (Bianchi was a monk). I think that this prince must be Salvatore Montaperto Uberti e Branciforte, listed at ... 6102013685, ca. 1717 Palermo - 1801 Madrid. Naples was then one of the two most active centers of Masonry on the peninsula. Luca G. Manenti, in The Grand Orient of Italy, 2019 (online), p. 30, writes:
Most of the lodges were to be found in Turin and Naples, seats respectively of the Grand Priory of Italy, founded in 1775 and presided over by Count Gabriele Asinari of Bernezzo, and the Grand Lodge “Lo Zelo” [The Fervour], led by Francesco d'Aquino, prince of Caramanico and the favorite of Queen Maria Carolina.
Treccani's biography also mentions that after Denmark, in 1776, Bianchi spent some months in Paris, where he met Rousseau and the encyclopedists among others, and then Bordeaux, traveling with the prince of Raffadala. Paris is an obvious place for contacts with Freemasons, as Franco observes.

Some of the correspondence between Bianchi and Manini in the relevant time period is online; I have not yet found any reference to Masons in it. It seems to be mostly about Latin and Greek inscriptions on marble slabs.

Bianchi's book Del Instituto dei veri liberi Muratori is online at ... &q&f=false. It appears to be a speculative history going back to ancient times rather than an account of recent actual Masons, although they are mentioned in very general terms and never referring to Italy. Actual Masons were called "Franchi Muratori," or "Franc-Maçons," as opposed to "Liberi Muratori." Both mean "Free Masons". I do not know the term "Liberi Muratori" outside of Bianchi.

Pratesi does not go into the political situation at this time in relation to our author, but it seems to me worth mentioning. Lombardy, including Cremona, was at the time of Bianchi's return (starting 1779), occupied until 1796 by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bianchi expressed himself a fervent supporter of the enlightenment-oriented emperor Joseph II, Trecanni says. This is the emperor who supported Mozart, and also religious toleration and Freemasonry, as did his immediate successor (who died in 1792). In fact, it seems that Bianchi owed his job to Austrian connections: the count of Fermian, plenipotentiary to Maria-Theresa (n. 5, p. 238 of the Correspondence Inedite, ... _13_1_6096), enabling him to leave the Calmadolese monastery in Classe, outside of Ravenna, where he then lived and taught, and take up a professorship at the gymnasium (academic high school) of Cremona, his hometown. He even tried to get himself defrocked, unsuccessfully. Treccani says that his friends warned him that if he entered the papal state, he would be arrested by the Inquisition. After the French Republic invaded in 1796, he managed to keep his teaching position; there is a letter urging him to teach republicanism. When the Austrians took over again, Bianchi wrote against the previous French occupiers. When France retook Lombardy, Bianchi had to retire but kept his pension.


Franco in his comments reminds the reader of the fact that the Bolognese cartomancy document was (and is) stored at the University of Bologna Library (BUB) with material on freemasonry ("Franc-Maçons"). I can say a little about that, since the storage seems not to have changed. It is 3 pages, "Dall'origine dei Franc-Maçons," BUB_4029-R-2; the cartomancy document is 2 pages BUB_4029-R.

BUB_4029-R (cartomancy):
BUB_4029-R2 (freemasonry):
The handwriting of the freemasonry document of subfolder BUB 4029R-2 seems to me, and to Franco, similar to that of the cartomancy document in the nearby subfolder 4029R (file 4029 itself has many subfolders, each with a letter of the alphabet; R is the highest). I asked Franco what date range he would give for this style of handwriting. He emailed back, "1750-1850," adding that perhaps an expert could give a narrower range. Lorenzo Cuppi, in his article discussing the cartomancy document, said
Regardo a questo manoscritto vorrei osservare brevemente che esso si trova tra manoscritti del 1760 e che la sua grafia e talmente moderna che puo sembrare ottocentesca.

Regarding the manuscript, I would like to remark briefly that it is found among manuscripts from 1760 and that the handwriting is so modern that it may seem nineteenth century.
("Tarocchino Bolognese. Due Nuovi Manuscritti Scoperti e Alcune Osservazioni, Part II," The Playing Card 30, No. 4 (2003) p. 191.)
Cuppi supposed it to be a copy of the original (probably based on the erroneous supposition that fantesche - female pages, maids - stopped being used in Bologna by 1760).

There is also a BUB_4029-R-1, a 2 page letter, plus a doodle on the back of the second page, that purports to be the translation of a letter from Paris. Pratesi tells me that the handwriting of this letter looks "foreign"; it seems to me similar to French handwriting I have seen. I can't read it, but it doesn't seem to pertain to either freemasonry or cards. There is no date, but the subfolder tab has the dates 1783-1784 printed on the other side; someone recycled the back of a handout of some kind. Below, I have flipped (left and right) and enhanced the scan so that the other side is more legible.
Napoleon entered Bologna in June of 1796, and his forces remained until 1815, except for one year under Austria, 1799-1800. I personally do not think that the cartomancy document is as late as 1796, given the dates on the subfolder tab for the letter from Paris. But you never know. The French opened Masonic lodges en masse, part of spreading revolutionary French values; Italians signed up in their tens of thousands (Manenti p. 39).

In the handwritten Freemasonry document 4029-R-2, the last date I can make out is 1766. When I emailed the scan to Franco, he noticed a large watermark on the center of the 2nd and 3rd pages, the letters DV in a circle. If anyone knows that watermark, it might at least help document the time and place of the paper that was used:  
BUB_Ms4029_R2_03bis1Resized.jpg Not downloaded yet 198.85 KiB


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Jan. 18 and March 9, 2017: ...before1377? Holland

Here are my translation of  "Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Olanda", in Italian at, dated Jan. 18, 207, as well as an Addendum of March 9, 2017, in Italian at These notes are largely an outgrowth of internet research done by Lothar Teikemeier ("Huck") and posted on Tarot History Forum in a thread starting at Franco adds important additional material, involving considerable personal communication on his part, as well as an analysis of the whole thus far.
In what follows, comments in brackets are mine, for clarification. If anyone sees any problems with the translation, let me know. Franco clarified several passages for me, for which I am grateful.

For other notes in this series "Playing cards in Europe before 1377?", see the list of posts for Nov. 2016. I had no comments of my own to add to what Franco gives here.

Playing cards in Europe before 1377? Holland

by Franco Pratesi (Jan. 18, 2017)

1. General considerations

1.1 Introduction

This study is part of an investigation on notices handed down on the presence of playing cards in Europe before 1377, where there is usually little precise information, whose verification is always difficult and sometimes impossible. We often encounter a recurring question: if a historian of the nineteenth century, perhaps amateur, wrote that he had found useful information in an ancient document, but today the document is no longer detectable, can one give credence to the notice if it is the only information on the subject? The case at issue here, however, is different from the usual, because the original documentation of the fourteenth century might be stored and traceable; thus we shall recap the notices that have been handed down and possibly verify them in the documents, and not in the copies remaining from the following centuries.

The point on which testimonies agree is in regard to the personage involved, Jan van Blois, of a noble family that had extensive properties in France and the Netherlands. He was the Count of Blois and Dunois, lord of Schoonhoven, Gouda, Beaumont, Chimay, Waarde and other Dutch cities. His most important positions were transitory: Governor of Holland and Zealand as deputy of Albert of Bavaria and contested Duke of Gelderland, a position he tried to recover a hereditary right from his wife, but he had to yield to the rival claimant. He is often remembered for his participation in two crusades against the Poles-Lithuanians in Prussia in the sixties at the side of the Teutonic Knights (1). Finding traces of him as a card player is not mysterious (except the dates), because the had the reputation of being an inveterate gambler, also avid in hunting and other pastimes.

As for the dates when Jan van Blois would be involved in card games before 1377, we read of two different cases: one witness reported dates for 1362 and earlier; another for 1365. One possibility is that they are both true; if

Jan van Blois played cards already in 1362, we do not see how he could not play in 1365. Since, however, the two sources are very different, it is appropriate to examine them separately. To our good fortune, or perhaps misfortune, many documents of the van Blois family are stored in a register [fondo] of that name in the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives, located in The Hague. Also, residing in the Netherlands and still active is Lex Rijnen, the historian of playing cards that used an unspecified source for the second notice of interest to us.

In this note I act like a researcher and in fact refer mainly to research already done; but if, as often happened to me, I' were to write the results found in the research, it would be possible to condense what follows into a couple of lines

1.2. Tarot History Forum

Michael Dummett in his famous book cites a reference to playing cards used in Holland in 1365 (2); this is a notice that did not have confirmation and therefore was never of interest to me. But I could not continue to neglect it, because recently I was studying such uncertain notices of that time. and the matter was brought to our attention on the Tarot History Forum with a discussion initiated by Mikeh and continued almost exclusively by Huck (3). People like me who know Huck, that is, Lothar Teikemeier, certainly will not have been surprised by his numerous comments in the Tarot History Forum, also on this specific topic. His typical attitude is to insert into the web communications in rapid succession, so as to definitely hit the target, as well as other possible targets glimpsed nearby.

In particular, also in his comments on this subject we find all the necessary pieces of information, and several more. To one who doubts, like me, that playing cards have come so early into Holland, Teikemeier reassures not only on the validity of those witnesses but adds many references that he can place in the context of other locations, even distant ones, and from even earlier times.
2. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot. London 1980, p. 11-12.
3. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1103&hilit=van+blois.

As a more general reconstruction, which appears recurrently in Huck's contributions, the first transmission of the new packs of cards would be connected to the trips of one or other of the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. which would spread to the various courts visited the playing cards, still unknown locally. In this specific case, Teikemeier in particular suggests a link with the Teutonic knights, since precisely in 1362 Jan van Blois went to Prussia to join the knights in the crusade against the Poles-Lithuanians. Teikemeier even finds a reference to Poland, where he had the notice, unreliable, that Polish nobles were playing cards already in 1340 (3): Albert I of Bavaria, with whom Jan van Blois definitely played on several occasions, had married, coincidentally, a noble maid of Brzeg or Brieg, then capital of the Polish duchy of that name, where cards could have already been known.

Despite doubts on some of his digressions, Teikemeier's contribution on the sources of the notices concerning Jan van Blois and card games are valuable and comprehensive; the situation remains confused on the subject, but we cannot lay the blame on him, because it is the sources themselves that are not sufficiently precise and consistent in giving us the notices searched for.

1.3. Writers of the Nineteenth Century

At the origin of the main notice in the discussion are some studies by nineteenth century authors whose reliability remains to be demonstrated. Teikemeier's useful contribution in the Tarot History Forum on this part of the research saves me the trouble of searching further, and I can summarize what appears basic among the monographs exhumed by him

A first study on the subject of card games in Holland, which presents itself as a pioneering and accurate as a whole, is contained in the writings of Henrik van Wijn. However, despite the abundance of information presented and discussed, the first notice that he found dates back only to 1390. (Apparently van Wijn does not take into account previous documentation in the Brabant court.) On the other hand, he had information from the surrounding environment that would make earlier dates acceptable,
5. H. van Wijn, Historische en letterkundige avondstonden etc. Amsterdam 1800.

since he believed that cards were already known in France in the mid-fourteenth century and in Italy since at least 1299.

Another author called into Teikemeier’s cause is the German August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who in a report on Holland also reports notices on playing cards in Germany in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (6). Obviously this is information which, if found true, could indirectly confirm the notice of our interest on Jan van Blois; that is, there would be nothing surprising about notices that cards, already popular for some time in nearby regions, had arrived in the sixties in Holland.

The information on card games in Holland is reported by various historians who repeat practically the same text, which indicate among other things that at the time cards were so expensive that they were handled with great care; even at the courts of Alberto of Bavaria and Jan van Blois, before playing they would first spread soft cloth over the playing table.

The writer who introduced into the discussion the only notice of interest to us, however, is Gilles D. J. Schotel. He was a pastor and theology scholar who also became a prolific writer on card games in Holland, publishing notices on several occasions, in the course of twenty years. However, only in his publication of 1869 does the news appear that Jan van Blois played cards in 1362 and even before: "De eerste sporen die van Wijn van dit spel ontdeckte waren van 1390, doch in de rekeningen van Jan van Blois komt het in 1362 en vroger vor" (7) [The first traces that van Wijn found of this game were in 1390, but in the accounts of John of Blois it comes in 1362 and earlier].

Teikemeier, indicating that the notice would then be confirmed for 1362 (and not 1365, as in the other source), and considering that in previous publications by the same author this notice was absent, advances the reasonable hypothesis that it was a document that only a little before 1869 had come to Schotel’s attention. In fact already in an edition of 1859, among those cited by Teikemeier, Schotel, commenting on van Wjin's results, adds in a note at the bottom of p. 330 that "In de rekening van Jan van Blus komt dit spel reeds vele jaren overig voor" ( [In the accounts of Jan van Blus this game already comes many other years before"].
6. A. H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Altniederländische schaubühne: Abele spelen ende sotternien. Breslau 1838
7. G. D. J. Schotel, Het maatschappelijk leven onzer vaderen in de zeventiende eeuw.
Haarlem 1869.
8. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1103&hilit=van+blois

This repositioning by a decade in the nineteenth century certainly does change the situation we are considering. The significant fact is something else, which makes us different from those historians of the nineteenth century: while for them playing cards were already widely used in France or elsewhere prior to 1377, we do not know any valid testimony. For them, if a Dutchman, who still did not know playing cards, had an opportunity to find himself among French and Prussian nobles who played cards regularly, it would be only natural to assume that he had brought home the new game. For us, such notices would lead us in the wrong direction, because in this study we are interested mainly, or only, if in Holland it had its origin.

2. Notice of 1362

2.1. Holland up to November 1362

The year 1362 is a special year for Jan van Blois, with two trips that will be considered separately later: in November he traveled to Gelderland; in December he left for the first of his two expeditions to Prussia. However, neglecting the previous years, Jan van Blois spent most of 1362 in Holland; therefore, giving a minimum of plausibility to the affirmation of Schotel, it is first of all in Dutch documents that a trace of playing cards must be sought.

In the vagueness of the information, what is most striking is "previous years": for how many years prior to 1362 will the archive documents reasonably have to be sounded out? After all, in this quest for the reasonable there is very little to go on, and it could date back to when Jan van Blois was still a boy. I will limit myself to considering in what follows some of the documents potentially involved, dating back to 1362 and a few surrounding years.

To limit the interest to Holland is not sufficient, however, because Jan van Blois made several stays in other regions in which, at least in principle, he would have been able to learn the game of cards. It would in particular need to be understood whether, in the path of the diffusion of playing cards, the testimonies in Holland corresponded, with respect to other European countries, to a point of departure or arrival.

The hypothesis that the first notice about card games in Europe comes from Dutch territory is in itself unlikely, if only for geographical reasons, having to assume either that cards had been invented in Holland, or that it was a convenient gateway to Europe from Asia, from which all historians argue that the cards came. On the other hand, if it became known that Jan van Blois had encountered playing cards in France in the sixties or before, such a notice coming to us from Holland would be amazing news, unknown to all serious historians, absent in all French documents of recognized validity.

With these assumptions, the research into Holland already begins with considerable skepticism. I felt it was still useful to carry out a search for the original documents, and in June, shortly before the appearance of the indications from Teikemeier, I was interested in the problem, with a first search the web. I soon found online the searchable inventory of the van Blois archive (9). I have some experience In consulting manuscripts of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance compiled in Latin or Italian. This language, too, did not discourage me, because Dutch is quite similar to German, which I read; I then considered the issue of who to ask for reproductions from the archive; In fact I was not willing to return to The Hague, where many years ago I spent fruitful hours of study in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (which is right next to the Archief), which contains the most important collection of chess literature from all over Europe.

By a happy combination (perhaps connected with many important Dutch contributions to the history of games), living in Leiden - only 20 km from the Archief - was Theo van Ees, one of my best friends, with whom I have written several books and articles on the history of the game of go in Europe. While it must be recognized that there is some difference between the history of the game of go in Europe, mostly limited to the last century, and that of fourteenth century playing cards, I did not hesitate to ask a favor from my Dutch friend, to check the Archief, in particular for what documents could be most promising for my study.
Pratesi 23/06/2016) I ask him to check the Archief for van Blois documents.
(Van Ees 28/06/2016) He is studying what appears in Tarot History Forum and will search in the Archief the next week.
9. ... 10.ead.pdf.

(Van Ees 07/05/2016) He has examined the pieces of interest in the van Blois archive. The search is made easier by the fact that those documents are accessible on microfilm. The writing is difficult to read; he has focused attention on a few words, such as kvarten and the like.
With my experience in reading Florentine accounts of the same period, I thought instead I could "read" the account books, even if written in Dutch, which by "reading" I mean to understand the topic roughly and identify among various mostly incomprehensible things those very few of interest to us?][/b]

In fact, in the rich van Blois archive the amount of documents to be examined is reduced a lot if the search is limited to a small range around 1362. Making me decide on those of which I ordered a copy from the Hague (numbers 90-94) were three considerations: these books were not among the ones available on line; Teikemeier had focused his attention on those documents, considering them the "most promising" (10); and, as we shall see, Lex Rijnen had cited the importance of Schoonhoven.

In what followed I had reason to [look back on with] regret times past, when I would not have hesitated to go to the Archief in person; in particular, receiving the documents was exceptionally laborious and in parallel the request for information from the archivists was also slow and useless in the end. I will give a review the correspondence, without thereby wishing to discourage other attempts: usually these procedures are carried out in a more streamlined and effective manner.
(Pratesi 19/09/2016) I order reproductions.
(Archief and Pratesi 09.22.2016) I receive confirmation of the order, a little unclear, I answer the same day.
10. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1103&hilit=van+blois#p16970.

(Archief and Pratesi 23.09.2016) I get a quote for EUR 75-80, answer the same day agreeing.
(Archief 10.25.2016) an archivist responds to my request, pointing to the link to the archive's van Blois inventory that I had known for a long time.
(Pratesi 31.10.2016) I rewrite my archivist request with more details.
(Pratesi 30.11.2016) remaining unanswered, I send a new email..
(Archief 06.12.2016) I receive notice that the copies were shipped 3.11.
(Pratesi 06.12.2016) I ask for a second dispatch of the copies not received.
(Archief 06.12.2016) I also receive the archivist's answer: the archive does not search and suggests the publication of Schotel.
(Archief 27.12.2016) I receive an invoice (from 5.12) for photocopies sent.
Following another of my requests I then confirmed that a second shipment of copies was made, by registered mail. Finally, on 10.01.2017 I received the envelope containing the photocopies requested four months before. I spent a few days "reading" this documentation.

In truth I have to explain again what the verb “to read” means for me in this specific case. If one reads a page of text one assumes that it includes a percentage that is close to one hundred. This favorable limit is never reached in reading manuscripts of the fourteenth century, and the "read" operation consists of puzzles in which the imagination fills in the gaps left out of view. But in the case of all these documents from the Archief, the gaps are so large that for me they cannot be filled! I had to face the obvious and give up understanding the content, even in general terms. In particular, I did not find simple lists of various goods purchased among which I could recognize cards, if any were there.

I do not think I will encounter a Dutch scholar skilled with such documents who can quickly browse through the material and see if there are notices of interest to us, which already are not very likely in the source. Possibly it remains to be verified even whether the game in question was really of cards: it should be noted among other things that the word "qwarten" or the like used for cards was related to "fourth-four" and could sometimes be attributed to a another kind of game, with four participants. Using my skills only, I unfortunately could not make any progress in this research. This time, unfortunately, much more than usual, the fact that I could not find any notices of interest cannot constitute evidence of its absence in the documents taken into account.

2.2 Journey to Gerlderland - November 1362

If one fixes attention on the year 1362 and neglects the information that in the Jan van Blois documents there would be notices of card games also in previous years, there remain two other parts to consider up to the end of the same year, corresponding to the sojourns in Gelderland and Prussia.

Gelderland is now the largest of the provinces of Holland, towards the German border, with Arnhem as its capital; at the time that interests us it was a duchy in the Holy Roman Empire with its capital city of the same name (now Geldern, a German city in the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen. The region would not of itself have any special reason to be studied in this context, but it so happens that in November 1362 our Jan made a trip to that duchy in company of none other than Albert of Bavaria.

Albrecht I of Bavaria (Monaco 1336-the Hague 1404), of the Wittelsbach royal family, was Duke of Bavaria-Straubing, Count of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut, and Lord of Friesland. He remained at the head of territories in part very far apart for almost half a century and greatly increased in prestige and power, thanks also to the marriage bonds contracted by his daughters. A special merit that is recognized was that ofo encouraging shipbuilding, which later reached the top levels in Europe. The main residence of his court was the Hague.

It seems that Jan van Blois was a frequent gambling companion of Albert of Bavaria from adolescence. The two noble personages (with Jan about 20 years old and Alberto 26) found themselves together on this journey in Gelderland and among other pastimes it is possible that they would also play cards. The appearance on the scene in 1362 of Albert of Bavaria allows us to glimpse the possibility that the two noble friends had been able to play with cards already then, but of this we must seek confirmation from some precise testimony.

The notice from Schotel speaks of accounts and therefore would seem to be connected to playing card purchases. It would perhaps have been possible in Holland, in the usual residence of Jan van Blois, interpreting the purchase preferably as a payment to a craftsman in charge of its manufacture, but not during a trip, in which he would have found the cards already for sale. But where in that year in Gelderland (and indeed in any other European region) could playing cards have been found

for sale ? On reflection, it seems even absurd to seek notices of this kind.

There remains the hypothesis that cards were present in the documents not as purchases, but as notices of losses or winnings at the gambling table. One can imagine that Albert of Bavaria had his own pack of valuable playing cards at his fingertips and kept it with him both in his court and during this trip to Gelderland. But then the related document would probably be found in some travel diaries, written in medieval Dutch, which for me would still be indecipherable.

Therefore, in this case, for those interested and able to read where I did not even try, I must confine myself to reporting the following archival unit of the van Blois register in the Archief.
38 - 24 december 1361-25 december 1362, afgehoord 1363 november 29. 1 deel
Voor bijlagen zie inv.nrs. 66-74. Hieruit uitgegeven door P.N. van Doorninck, Rekening van Jan van Blois, 1361-1362, de tocht van Jan van Blois met hertog Aelbrecht naar Gelre, november 1362, naar het oorspronkelijk handschrift, Haarlem, 1899.

[38 - 24 December 1361-25 December 1362, afgehoord [?] 1363 November 29. Part 1
Attachment see nos. 66-74. From this issued through P.N. van Doorninck, Account of Jan van Blois, 1361-1362, the journey of Jan van Blois with Duke Aelbrecht to Gelre, November 1362, after the original manuscript, Haarlem, 1899.]
In fact, this particular piece of research would be much easier by the fact that the documents themselves have already been transcribed and printed (11); then the difficulty remains of the uncommon ancient language, but no longer of the deciphering of the text to be read.

One indisputable observation of Teikemeier is that Schotel could not obtain his information from this book, printed many years later, though he might have read it directly in the ... archival source, shown above. This Dutch pastor, a prolific writer, has not yet earned a reputation as a meticulous and reliable archival researcher; indeed, the opinion in a biography, as indicated by Teikemeier, does not leave much hope: Niet alles wat hij schreef, was grondig bestudeerd, gebaseerd op origineel materiaal of getuigde van een gewogen analyze en inzicht (12) [Not everything he wrote was thoroughly studied, based on original material or witnessed from a gewogen [?] analysis and understanding.]

The fame the two noble personages had as avid gamblers will also be extended to card games, but it derives from their habits of later times (especially toward the end of the century in the case of Albert of Bavaria)
11. P N van Doorninck, De tocht van Jan van Blois met hertog Aelbrecht naar Gelre nov. 1362. Haarlem 1899.

and only Schotel's brief mention allows us to imagine a preceding practice in common. In short, further research has some justification and fails to appear absurd from the outset; however, the outlook remains unpromising.

2.3 Journey to Prussia - Winter 1362-1363

Remaining in the usual fateful year 1362 opens one last chance, the journey in Prussia. On this I have nothing to add to what Teikemeier has already discussed in Tarot History Forum, apart from the preliminary comments that if the news of Schotel had referred to the Prussian expedition, there would have been reported the year "in 1362 and the year following", not "1362 and the years preceding".

If you forget to add in the notice of "years preceding", preciselyin Prussia Jan van Blois could learn the new (at least for him) game of cards. Unlike the trip to Gelderland, in this case local gambling companions would appear, who indeed could also show playing cards to van Blois for the first time. It so happens that fromthose regions located at the northeastern end of the European continent there are a couple of occurrences of “prehistoric" witnesses, but they are not usually accepted as valid.
Two insecure reports of the order of German knights (possibly later forgeries) attest the presence of playing cards in 1308/1309 and then in the time of Werner von Orseln (1324-30) in a prohibition at the German knight order states. The German knights had participated in the late crusaders wars, when Mamluk playing cards already existed. (13)
That the Teutonic Knights had come to know playing cards many years before in Palestine is not absurd; that they had kept this knowledge to themselves, without spreading the game outside of their environment, has as well a minimum plausibility. This is not a completely absurd hypothesis, but to accept it would still require much more documentation than we have available. Obviously, those who wish to continue this
13. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1103&p=16970&hilit=insecure+reports+later+forgeries#p16970

line of research will have to forget Holland, where we started, and open a new front, surveying very distant locations and social circles.

3. Notice of 1365

The presence in Holland of playing cards in 1365 corresponds to the case that is most frequently mentioned in histories of card games, albeit associated with doubts by their uncertainty, lacking secure confirmation. The same Dummett, as already mentioned at the beginning, reports the notice as lacking confirmation; it is not so absurd as not to mention it, but at the same time not secure enough to take it into account as actual data. At the origin of this information is a news item published by Lex Rijnen in an article in the official organ of the IPCS, the International association of collectors and historians of playing cards.

Obviously, the most convenient way to eliminate the uncertainty about the date of 1365 is to ask for the notices from the one who had introduced it into discussion, Lex Rijnen himself. Teikemeier also suggested in the Forum the opportunity of searching for him, since he was still active as an author of publications on games. The involvement in this search of Theo van Ees was instrumental first to come in contact with Lex Rijnen and then to ask him for first-hand information; his request was answered as follows
(Rijnen 04/08/2016) Reported Archive van Blois no. 3:19:10. But a part of the archive may have been lost. In the digitized part are not found notice of playing cards. He refers to the Schotel notice on "1362 and before". He remembers that Jan van Blois enjoyed a pleasant life at court in the residence of Schoonhoven, like the dukes of Brabant and Bavaria with whom he was in contact. In particular he indicates accounts of playing cards from the Wenceslas court in Brussels (1379-1382) and Duke Albert of Bavaria (1392-1400). Other notices of 1800 are collected in the book by van Wijn. Other sources are the prohibitions of games but he did not find any for Holland before 1397.
As is seen, the most useful citations are again those of the nineteenth century, while the notices of the time indicate some information, results
14. L. Rijnen, Journal of the Playing-Card Society. Vol, 4 No. 42 (1975) 34-37

dating from later times than our limit of 1377. The only indication that leaves some glimmer for research in Holland is that at the lords' [signorile] house of Schoonhoven. At this point, I saw fit to address personally Lex Rijnen to get more precise information and directions about archival documents to verify, resulting in a brief e-mail exchange that helped to clarify the issue sufficiently.
(Pratesi 25.09.2016) I ask him to indicate the sources of his article. I recall the quote by Dummett, and the discussion in the Tarot History Forum. I am only interested in documents before 1377! In this case there is hope that they kept the original documents. I ask for an indication of the section of the archive where to look.
(Rijnen 08.10.2016) Read the discussion in Tarot History Forum with information already known. It is more than 40 years ago when he visited the archives of the van Blois family, at that time in Gouda. He will communicate information later, in order to have time to provide more notices.
(Rijnen 13.10.2016) About 40 years ago he visited the Gouda archives to see the van Blois documents. The curator said that the documents were not complete, many were damaged or burnt. Afterwards the accounting books of van Blois were gathered in the Nationaal Archief (Inventaris van het Archief van de Graven van Blois-1304-1397; 3:19:10 inventory.) The date c. 1365 was not based on the visit in Gouda, but what can be recalled from documents on card games, of later dates, of van Blois and other nobles. [My date c 1365 was not based on my visit to Gouda, but as far as I can remember on documents (of later dates) of card playing by Blois and other Noblemen.] Jan van Blois was on friendly terms with Albert of Bavaria. They were companions and competitors in gambling, drinking, hunting and chasing women. After the death of his brother, the Duke of Holland, Alberto settled in the Hague as the new duke and we know accounts of card games from 1390 to 1401. Considering that van Blois traveled a lot in his short life (39 years) he must have met playing cards in the course of his travels through Europe. But where you can find the documents? * At Beaumont, France; the van Blois family had a castle, where Jan was not long. The National Archives has suggested that other archives can be found in Beaumont, as well as in Brussels. * In previous accounts of Albert of Bavaria, before 1390. He believes that van Blois must have seen his first cards in Albert's ducal court, where he served as a page in his youth (ca. 1362). * At the Nationaal Archief, where many of the documents are not yet included on the internet. After the article in The Playing-Card, he has not done other research (so far) on old packs. His interest is directed to the Dutch card makers. The first is found around 1595. We must not forget that in the past the states of Belgium and the Netherlands did not exist.
Pratesi 14.10.2016) I was hoping to get a more accurate description for the research on the archive documents. Currently I have no way to come to The Hague, and I have to order expensive photocopies from the Nationaal Archief. I will probably have more questions to be submitted in the coming weeks or months.
(Pratesi 11.01.2017) I have received the envelope of the Archief and ask only the most accurate indication about the documents in which he had read the year 1365.
(Rijnen 12.01.2017) He asks for news on the Archief documents; he needs time to search among his notes from 40 years before.
(Pratesi 12.01.2017) I reiterate that I await as soon as possible the communication of where he had found the date 1365, at least if in manuscripts or printed books.
Barring errors, it seems to me that the results of this correspondence can be summarized as follows. Currently the van Blois archive is kept at the Nationaal Archief, but when Rijnen got notices they were stored at Gouda and it was to that city that Rijnen went to obtain the notices; the local archivist knew that the documents were incomplete and in disorder, making it difficult or impossible for consultation. The date in 1365 that he announced in his article had not been read in a document of that year, but acquired from later writings. I do not know if he said this meant archival documents of a few years after, examined in person, or relevant studies published by historians of recent centuries, but I am inclined to the latter.

In any case, it is clear to me today that the date to search for is no longer 1365, but possibily Schotten's “1362 and before". If one wanted to follow the track indicated by Rijnen, one would even abandon Holland and look in France at Beaumont and in Belgium at Brussels.

In conclusion, that in the van Blois archive is a document dated 1365 which shows that Jan van Blois played cards remains a possibility that I would tend to exclude, unless the other notice presented as an alternative comes to be recognized as valid, the 1362; in that case, 1365 could be traced, but then loses all its importance, seeing anticipated by three years the primacy in antiquity of the related documentation.

4. After 1377

My interest in this case was limited to verifying the testimonials on card games in Europe before 1377, the date that remains in my opinion the oldest associated with secure documents, thus not recognizing the involvement with playing cards of earlier Catalan documents now commonly accepted. Thus I could disregard some of the oldest information on playing cards, from Holland or neighboring regions. However, if we assume, with good reason, that the cards were not present in those locations prior to 1377, some difficulty is encounted in understanding the popular tradition on the matter and thus one has also to look at some subsequent events.

After 1377, playing cards are documented very early at the court of the dukes of Brabant; the same Jan van Blois, after having been repeatedly described as passionate about the most enjoyable pastimes, also gambling with very high stakes (especially with Albert of Bavaria), he is also remembered as a card player. For Albert of Bavaria in particular, there were many future opportunities to play cards, until his death a quarter of a century later. For Jan van Blois, the situation was different, however. If you believe in this regard what various historians have transmitted, Jan van Blois spent his last years first at his court in Arnhem until 1377 and then retired to Schoonhoven with his followers, until in 1381 he could die in two locations as far apart as Schoonhoven and Valenciennes (confusing sometimes death in the first with burial in the second).

The notices on card games in Holland often have Jan van Blois together with Albert of Bavaria. Even earlier on, their attachment to gambling and the involvement of large sums had become public knowledge. To explain the situation, and this popular fame, we would assume that the two players had continued with cards their usual entertainment previously met by other types of games. Holding 1377 fixed for the introduction of playing cards, in the case of Jan van Blois this new activity would be of short duration; it seems insufficient to give rise to the popular reputation of the two nobles also cited together as card players.

On the other hand we also know that the deep friendship between the two nobles had broken down in the last years, and when both played cards, after 1377, they did not play together but in different locations and company. So the popular opinion on both noble card players would be explained better if in fact Jan van Blois and Albert of Bavaria had played with cards before 1377. Personally I prefer to think of a popular tradition which over the years has ended, mistakenly, by including in the games practiced together by the two noble personages also cards before they were actually present; but I have to leave a minimum of probability to different reconstructions.

5. Conclusion

Two notices have been examined on card games in Holland before 1377, one concerning 1362 and previous years, the other 1365. With the study presented here the notice of 1365 is not deserving of further research for its confirmation. However, were unable to prove the falsity of the notice in 1362, for which grave doubts remain, starting with the imprecise additional reference to previous years. There were taken into consideration some account registers of those years in the van Blois archive stored at the Hague were taken into consideration, but the results are indecipherable to the point that it was not possible to exclude or confirm the presence of the playing card references. Schotel, the only historian who, in the middle of nineteenth century, has alluded to the fourteenth-century account books in which this notice would be recorded, is recognized as an author of many historical works in which the sources were often not used faithfully.

Considering the arrival of playing cards in the Netherlands, some historical constructions move the issue of the first accounts on playing cards in Europe to areas (in France, Prussia or Poland) far not only from the Netherlands but also from the towns from which we know the most ancient documents, all the more reason for needing to independently confirm localities for them to be worthy of consideration. My impression on the initial spread of playing cards in Europe still remains that the multiplication of these non-verifiable reports does nothing to make up for the absence of certain confirmations for the years

before 1377. In my case, skepticism is the predominant basis. I would still be happy to be proved wrong, for example in this case by someone who could actually find in the van Blois archive the fourteenth century original document, which I discussed here but could not track down.

Franco Pratesi – 18.01.2017

On March 3, 2017, Franco Pratesi posted an Addendum to his note on playing cards in Holland, entitled "Carte da gioco in Europa prima del 1377 ? Olanda - Addendum" ( Here is my translation, with my comments (my attempts to translate the Dutch, left untranslated by Franco) in square brackets:

Cards in Europe before 1377? Holland

by Franco Pratesi (March 9, 2017)

This note does not correspond to a new study on the subject, but only to a further development of point 3 of the previous note. This is the date of 1365 introduced in the discussion on the oldest records for playing cards in Europe of an article by Lex Rijnen (1). In the previous note the issue was commented on, even with the help of a prolonged correspondence with the author who introduced the notice. In recent days that correspondence has been enriched with an important element; Lex Rijnen has announced to me (2) that the British journal had introduced an error, then corrected in the next issue of the same magazine, the official organ of the IPCS, better known later as The Playing-Card (3).
Due to editorial misinterpretation, apologies are due to Lex Rijnen for a serious mistake appearing in his article on MAKERS OF PLAYING-CARDS IN THE NETHERLANDS in the issue of November 1975. The fourth line of the first paragraph should read “...north of Amsterdam, it is said that playing-cards are mentioned)...”.
Let us then re-read all the parentheses in question, after the correction as indicated in the magazine:
(in the accounts of Jan van Blois, dated c1365, who owned several manors north of Amsterdam, it is said that playing-cards are mentioned)
To me it is not clear where that "it is said" is intended. From the phrase as it is written I would understand that in the account books "it is said" that cards are cited, but I assume that the "it is said" must be understood better as the voice of the people, or as a common opinion among historians.

An example of such reading would be: in some studies
1 L. Rijnen, The Journal of the Playing.Card Society, Vol IV, No. 2 November 1975, p. 34-37.
2 L. Rijnen, email 08.03.2017.
3 The Journal of the Playing.Card Society, Vol IV, No. 3 February 1976, p. 36.

of the nineteenth century "it is said" that playing cards were mentioned in the Jan van Blois account books for years around 1365.

The date remains problematic, however, although indicated approximately. If you read that in Jan van Blois account books, playing cards are mentioned, there would be no surprise, knowing on the one hand the passion of Jan van Blois for the game and the other the early spread of playing cards at the ducal courts of Brabant, Luxembourg, The Hague; however, as previously found in the documents, they are always dates after 1377, albeit slightly.

In the same personal communication, Lex Rijnen adds some other references on the early days of playing cards in the Netherlands.
Besides SCHOTEL and WIJN, other 19th century writers mention playing-cards, but no exact dates.

In: Merkwaardige Kasteelen in Neederland; 1854 -v.Lennep, Hofwijk .... edelman.....wanneer hij (J.v.Blois) zich ter Goude op hield, hetzij om KAART te spelen met Jan v.d.Goude......

[My guess: when he (J.v.Blois) stopped in Goude, either (?) to play CARD with Jan v.d.Goude ...]

In: Het Land van Rembrand; 1882--1884 -Busken-huet.
.....Hij (j.v.Blois ) ging gekleed als een zot in de boutste maskeradepakken, speelde KAART en dobbelde met zijn ondergeschikten..........

[My guess: He (j.v.Blois) went dressed like a fool in the best fancy dress, played CARD and dice with his subordinates]

In: Geschiedenis der heeren en beschrijving der stad van der Goude.
1813 - De Lange van Wijngaerden.
Onder VERMAKEN: .....behalve het spelen met de KAART, hetwelk toen QUAERTEN wierd genoemd wegens de vier kleuren of standen, den adel, geestelijken, burgers en boerenstand ..........waren Hertog Albrecht van Beieren en heer Jan v. Blois ook gewoon om te kolven.

[My guess: Under ENTERTAIN: ..... except playing with the CARD, which then were named QUARTERS because of the four colors or positions, which were the nobility, clergy, merchants and peasants.......... Duke Albrecht of Bavaria and Mr. Jan v. Blois also simply to pump (?).]
My opinion is that here also nothing precise is given; no confirmation, that is, on any possible card games in the Netherlands diffused before 1377, no concrete indication from fourteenth-century documents in which the news could still be found recorded.

The only problem, already encountered in the previous note and with no immediate explanation, is the simultaneous citation of Albert of Bavaria and Jan van Blois. Alberto lived until 1404, but Jan van Blois died in 1381, having spent the last years withdrawn in Schoonhoven with his court. The few years of Jan van Blois’ life after 1377 could have been sufficient to hand down his reputation as a player of

cards; for several previous years, the participation of Albert of Bavaria together with Jan van Blois in pastimes and the most varied games is widely documented (but not of cards); however, in the years after 1377, the friendship of the two men had broken and they would not have sat at a table to play cards together.

In short, if the information was true that the two friends played cards together, this would be an indication of a practice definitely anterior to 1377; but the suspicion remains that over time the popular reputation of their passion for the most varied games is extended to include also the cards that were not present in the games they did together.

Franco Pratesi – 09.03.2017