Saturday, December 23, 2023

Dec. 2, 2023, Florence 1462: Playing Cards in a Dry Goods Store (Firenze 1462: carte da gioci in una merceria)

Below is my Google-assisted translation of Franco's "Firenze 1462: carte da gioci in una merceria," in Italian at Actually, in this case I had some prior assistance from "Huck" on Tarot History Forum, who posted Google Translate's version, but with no attempt at correcting it. I thank him for this incentive. You can see his version on Tarot History Forum in the posts before my version, which is at He also took the initiative, in private emails, to finding the most efficient way of inputting Franco's Italian original. That is a long story I won't get into. Suffice it to say that if you want to see what Google Translate does with an essay that he has posted a link to at, download the pdf or docx from his site and then use the "documents" option on Google Translate to produce the translation, such as it is. Actually, Google Translate now does a fairly good job with Franco's own prose; it is just his quotations from old documents that it can't handle very well.

 A few things by way of introduction: a "merceria" in Franco's Italian title is a shop principally devoted to fabrics and sewing supplies, but also sells paper goods; in the UK, it is called a "haberdashery", in the U.S. a "dry goods shop" or "notions shop." Now that people don't do much sewing, they've been replaced, in the U.S. by "crafts" shops, while Tarot cards are usually found either in bookstores or New Age shops. 

Another term is "fondo". In reference to archives, the closest English equivalent is "section" or "collection," I am indebted to Franco for supplying the meaning of some of the obsolete terms in the documents. Any remaining errors are mine, and I hope people will point them out.

Florence 1462: playing cards in a dry goods shop

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

After a long break, I started visiting the State Archives of Florence [ASF] again. The collections of documents preserved are so numerous and rich in information that studying in that environment is very promising for useful findings, whatever the specific sector of research. There is also a further possibility, impossible to encounter in any home search on recently digitized databases. In the ASF, you can meet scholars and researchers willing to share the results of their research. Years ago, I happened to meet one, Lorenz Böhninger, who informed me of one of his findings with interesting news for the history of playing cards. [note 1.]

With the distance of time, a friend once again reported to me one of his discoveries, an inventory of a dry goods shop in the Antecosimian [before Duke Cosimo I] Notary. Over many years I have had the opportunity to investigate many ASF sections, but I have always stayed away from the Notary. In truth I have looked for things even in that section, for example Giusto Giusti’s [footnote 2] documents, but only in a limited number of cases and for a specific reason. I have more than one justification for this laziness of mine. The enormous number of documents that have been preserved, and even more, the fact that they are usually protocols or abbreviations - copies of documents quickly written by the notary to keep them in his books, therefore easy reading . . . but only for the one who wrote.

As if that wasn't enough, I had the opportunity to talk with a scholar who for professional reasons had leafed through hundreds of these books. To my question, if she had come across any information on playing cards, she replied that she had never encountered any. Here the question is complex, because in the old literature we read that some scholars instead reported having found numerous attestations of the naibi precisely in that section, without this being of any interest to them for their research and without indicating precise references. One possible explanation is that if archivists come across terms like naibi, or trionfi, or germini, they will hardly be able to connect them with playing cards if they do not know their very old history.

 In many inventories of the period that I have examined in other collections, playing cards are never present, or almost never. I would have concluded on a statistical basis that decks of playing cards were either kept only in taverns, where players borrowed them for a game, or, if they were present in private homes, they were considered perishable goods - in short, non-inventoriable, worthless material.

Obviously, the situation is different if the inventory concerns what is kept in a dry goods shop, or (a case which has not yet occurred in the fifteenth century to my knowledge) in a card maker’s workshop. However, my friend found playing cards [i.e., decks with just the ordinary four suits] with their "modern" name in the fifteenth century, and also triumphs. This discovery concerns the inventory of a dry goods shop, of which I will limit myself to examining the playing cards.

2. Comment on the data recorded

The occasion for drawing up the list of goods contained in the dry goods shop in question is the death of the dry goods shopkeeper, Matteo di Paolo Corsellini, and the need to list all the goods in the shop to pass them on as an inheritance and satisfy the creditors. In this circumstance you can be sure of the correspondence between the goods listed and the goods actually contained in the shop. I copy below from the inventory of 1462 (note 3) only the entries of specific interest for playing cards.
1. The Playing-Card, Vol. 44, No. 1 (2015), 61-71.
3. ASF, Notarile antecosimiano, 17967, pp. 240r-242.


65 paia di carte da giuchare del dona
17 paia di carte di Meo di Tingho meçane
2 paia di trionfi g° da Giovanni
10 paia di trionfi piccoli g°
11 paia di carte meçane da g°
5 paia di carte piccole d.g°
12 d. di carte picole rimbocchiate da giuchare
3 paia di carte g° doppie del dona
1 cassetta di piu naibi spaiati
(65 pairs of playing cards of [or by] dona
17 pairs of Meo di Tingho middle-sized cards
2 pairs of triumphs g° of [or by] Giovanni
10 pairs of small g° triumphs
11 pairs of middle-sized playing cards
5 pairs of small d. g. cards
12 d. of small folded-back playing cards
3 pairs of doubled g° cards of dona
1 small case [or box?] of several odd [or unmatched] naibi]
That a deck of cards was referred to at the time as a "pair" is known from many other documents. I think that the abbreviation stands for “game,” that is, “for playing.” The cards folded over were those where the margins of the larger rear sheet were folded over and glued onto the front sheet of the card, making the union of the two glued sheets more stable, usually along with an internal piece of cardboard. We are left perplexed by the abbreviation d, which in cases of this kind always means dozen - in this inventory, there are many such, so many that one suspects that by writing d. he had understood “pair” [i.e. deck] instead of “dozen,” because in this context it is more reasonable to expect twelve decks of cards rather than 144.

As can be seen, more than a hundred decks of playing cards are listed in the inventory, divided by type and origin. A notable part is made up of cards “of dona.” I imagine that Dona is simply the nickname for Donato, as is done even in recent times, especially among friends and close acquaintances. It is not possible to trace from this name the personage involved, who could be a card maker unknown to us, or a retailer, including of playing cards, typically a dry goods shopkeeper colleague of Corsellini.

Among the cards “of Dona,” the ratio of 65 to 3 between “cards” and “cards doubled” suggests that the latter were of a more expensive and less used type. In the past, I have encountered "Naibi doubled" several times and also discussed various possible hypotheses in this regard. (Footnote 4)

The “odd naibi” are quite surprising, starting with how the name appears in a context in which "cards for playing" already appear. The different term would suggest leftovers from an older card model, now outdated by the fashions of the time. The term "odd" [also "unmatched"], however, would be better explained if applied to a set of individual decks completed by different manufacturers rather than to individual cards. Incomplete decks are not compatible with the game, and furthermore, storing spare cards in the shop to replace any damaged or lost cards for customers seems unlikely.

A particular case, probably the most important of all, is that of the two decks of triumphs “of Giovanni.” Here we find very interesting data. Let us begin with the reduced number of two decks. This fact is enough to make us understand that these were something different from the usual, different, too, from the five times more numerous small triumphs based on the same model. We do not know the exact number of cards in triumph decks of the time. Experts debate the question, with hypotheses ranging from a deck of 70 cards consisting of the four standard suits and a fifth new superior "suit," all five of 14 cards, up to the 78-card deck that we know of later on. In any case, it was a deck used for a particular game, with few or no variations, and which certainly required a greater commitment in manufacturing. From other sources we know that the cost of these decks was higher, and we also know that they were produced in rather limited quantities, facts which are confirmed here.

Of further interest is the name of Giovanni, due to its origin. One can't be one hundred percent sure on the identity of this Giovanni, but in fact there was a famous Giovanni at the time,


who in his vast and varied production appears to have also produced triumph decks. (5) It would be none other than the younger brother of Masaccio, Giovanni di Ser Giovanni of Castel San Giovanni, known as Scheggia. (6)

What remains are the decks of cards of uncertain origin and the seventeen decks of Meo di Tingo. Looking for a Meo di Tingo in the usual repertoires, also online, we find several, but some are clearly from years too far away. The one most commonly mentioned is the Meo di Tingo of Brucianesi, who was responsible for the transport of the Portinari triptych from Pisa to Florence by water in 1483. (7) In this case, it would not be a card maker, not even the keeper of a dry goods shop, but a carrier, who appears in any case involved with the transport of works of art - at least on that occasion. You could then imagine an ancillary activity for him as a distributor of packs of cards in the various locations that he went to for work; however, the different profession and the years between this inventory and the transport of the triptych are such as to leave strong doubts about a hypothesis of this kind.

3. Other people involved

There are two other people involved, the notary and the keeper of the dry goods shop. The notary, Donato Rimbotti, is of some interest, because he was a notary from San Miniato [then outside the city – trans.]. It would seem easier for a Florentine notary to operate in the countryside than vice versa, but from reading the notarial deed it is certain that this dry goods shop was located in the center of Florence.

The keeper of the dry goods shop had a surname - which in itself was indicative of a higher family level than average ‒ that of Corsellini. In the Florentine Tax Registry [Catasto] of 1427 there is another Corsellini, Bonacorso, son of precisely Paolo and furthermore a dry goods shopkeeper. (Footnote 8) One can then think of the same dry goods shop with ownership passing from an older sibling to a younger sibling; such a direct kinship remains, however, impractical, due to the temporal distance of several decades. If the relationship existed, it was of a different type. Interestingly, however, this Bonacorso Corsellini was not just any dry goods shopkeeper: at 74 years of age and with an income much higher than average, he was the head of a family of eighteen; it could be a kind of family clan in which several related families practiced the same profession of dry goods shopkeeper, with greater or lesser success. Ultimately, staying firm with the profession, it is of secondary importance whether it involved one or more workshops.

4. Conclusion

Some information has been commented upon about playing cards and triumphs present in a dry goods shop upon the owner’s death in 1462. Considering the research sector, the main people involved are obviously the card makers, but of these we have sufficient information only of Scheggia (if it is him, as is probable), because among his works there are several that were highly appreciated at the time and have been the subject of multiple studies, including recent ones; therefore, to consider him a manufacturer of [ordinary] playing cards seems very reductive. The most interesting datum here, however, is the presence of triumphs almost certainly produced by him. The fraction of these special cards out of the total - in reality in rather limited numbers - is in agreement with the recorded data in other documents preserved from the time, which confirms the greater value and lower production of these cards. Of the other two named, Dona and Meo di Tingo, I found no information for the first and very uncertain information for the second; specifically, it is not at all certain that they were card makers.

Florence, 02.12.2023 [Dec. 12, 2023]
6. L. Bellosi, M. Haines, Lo Scheggia. Florence 1999.
7. C. De Benedictis (ed.), Il Patrimonio artistico dell'Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova di Firenze. Florence 2002.
8. ... d=50000028.

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

 Translator's introduction: The original, from Dec. 12, 2023, is at It is fairly entertaining, especially the squabble about the primiera, something like a poker hand, although the game is not poker. Perhaps here, in what were mainly academies, but also establishments exempting its members from the usual prohibitions against gambling, we see the beginnings of the casinos shown in James Bond movies, the ones requiring formal dress and barring undesirables - quite different from American casinos today, full of slot machines making electronic noises, or those of the western movies where disputes are settled by gunfights. This post can also be found at

 1700s in Florence: Conversazione in the Casino of St. Trinita

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

A few years ago I conducted research in the Istituto dei Nobili [Institute of Nobles] collection of the State Archives of Florence and obtained some information on card games in that environment. (note 1). On that occasion I also carried out some research in scattered documents preserved by three previous associations that then merged to form the new Institute of Nobles. For these three, I found various pieces of information on theatrical performances, academic discussions of pre-established topics, rented premises and related payments, quality and quantity of members, and so on. I didn't glimpse anything about games that could possibly be played there.

I recently resumed my research, starting with the “Conversazione” of the Casino of S. Trinita. [Note for non-Italians: A Conversazione was an organization for conversing and other interactions among members, a kind of salon. A casino was a house where such activities occur, typically a small villa or lodge.] While for the other two associations of the time in the Inventory of the Archive on the Institute of Nobles we read some news on their prevailing activities, for this Conversazione, the conclusion based on the documents preserved is the following: "The acts of the internal life of this Academy tell us little or nothing.” (note 2).

2.The documents studied

I examined the following documents, indicated as follows in the same Inventory:

No. 11 Input and output of the Institute of Nobles of the Casino of S. Trinita, 1752 to 1761 -  P.
No. 12 Envelope containing receipts (bound and loose) of the Conversazione of the Casino of S. Trinita, 1684-1761.
No. 13 First Filza [group of documents typically held together by a string or long nail in an archive] of past justifications of the Academy of Nobles, from 15 May 1689 to 1 May 1698.
No. 14 Envelope containing: files relating to various transactions of the Academy of the Casino of Nobles, 1676-1761.

No. 11, marked P, is the latest in a long series of input and output books. There are only eleven written pages, mostly recording membership fees collected, and these records do not highlight any gaming activity in the Conversazione. Even in the three voluminous files of receipts and justifications, it is not easy to find traces of what was sought. Files No. 13 and No. 14 are similar in content, but not in structure: No. 13 contains a thick bundle of sheets tied together without being grouped by subject, while No. 14 contains about twenty files with headings of relatively homogeneous content, again composed of loose cards.

The main topics are association fees, with frequent lists of delinquent members or requests for suspension of payment due to prolonged absence; exchanges of correspondence on this matter are abundant. Almost equally abundant is the evidence of the nobility of foreign visitors, for whom there is a copy of the passport and letters of introduction (usually in Latin) from the sovereigns of their states of origin or from known nobles who testify to the validity of their noble titles.

The main activity appears to be the management of an academy in which young nobles follow courses and participate in plays and presentations, especially on the occasion of celebrations at the grand ducal court. Out of curiosity, the traditional subjects were in the morning: law, mathematics, French and Italian, drawing, Italian and French dancing, fencing, jumping on horseback, pike and flag, and in the afternoon: morality, geography and history, civil and military architecture, German and Italian languages, fencing, jumping on horseback, pike and flag, and French dancing.

   Regarding game activities, in the No. 13 series I only saw a negative mention, in the sense that a draft of 1690 of a statute directs "that any sort of gaming [probably meaning what we would call gambling – trans.], even in jest, is prohibited in the House of the Academy."
As for literary exercises in any language that one


1. F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nel Granducato di Toscana, Ariccia 2015.


might imagine to have been in frequent use, there is only an invitation to participate every Wednesday evening at the Accademia degli Apatisti, [for which see - trans.] in Via de' Pescioni.

     However, in fascicle 13 of file No. 14 we read, "Orders on Card Games, and cases followed in this matter. 1743," just what I was looking for. Opening the file, unfortunately, we find only two sheets. One is a large printed sheet, folded, with the 1743 ban on gambling: all the licenses are revoked, and from now on only new licenses will be authorized, "signed by the Tax Accountant, with the tax ordained in said Rescript, the payment of which must appear at the foot of the license. With a declaration, however, that this general revocation of licenses does not include the Gentlemen's Casinos, which are found opened in various cities of the State with the approval of the Most Serene Grand Dukes." In short, the members keep a copy of the general prohibition, as it certifies that it does not apply to them!

   More interesting, because it cannot be found elsewhere, is the other sheet, handwritten on both sides, with the only "case" present. I transcribe it below, inserting paragraphs and changing the punctuation.

The Bambara case

Playing Bambara, Tizius initiates the stake, Sempronius and Caius meet it, and the others throw theirs away [vanno a monte]. Caius makes primiera [a desirable combination], shows it to Sempronius and another who did not meet the stake, and then throws it away [getta a monte]. Sempronius pays. Tizius adds: if I have to pay the stake, I want to see the primiera, and since you, Caius, have thrown your cards away you cannot demand the stake, but rather you have to pay it to me who holds my cards in my hand; and my points, although small, are the ones that win because I hold them in my hand. A dispute arises. The Minister was called to have it judged.

    The Minister [in this case with the sense of supervisor] asking how the case is, Caius replies together with Sempronius: You should ask [players and bystanders] whether by showing a primiera on the table, and then throwing it away, it should be respected. And Tizius does not contradict this representation, although other than the case.

   The Minister inquires of it, and comes to judge, that when a primiera has been on the table it must be respected, even if it is thrown away, as there are no other primieras that can counteract it, however greater or lesser. However, since there is another primiera on the table unrevealed, the person who holds it on the table can also claim to make it count as greater by saying that his should be counted, and the other, thrown away, not. But since there are no other primieras, the one that is said to have already been on the table must be considered good, since everyone is free to look at the cards, yes or no.

   Once the Minister answered what had been decided, Tizius paid the stake without objecting. Once the Tavolino game [round] is over, Tizius goes against the Minister saying that he didn't know how to do his job because the primiera hadn't been on the table [i.e. revealed to all], and if he didn't know how to do it, the minister should learn or do some other job, and that he [Tizius?] would leave it to himself [?] to do what he thought was right.

   The Minister added to him that when Sempronius and Caius presented the case to him he should have objected and said that the case was not as presented. Tizius replied that he was not obliged to do so, but that the case should be described by those around him. And the Minister replied that Tizius's silence at the representation made by Caius and Sempronius was a sign that he approved, and that it was not necessary to hear the case from those around him unless the parties to the dispute were not in agreement about the facts.

[Explanation: the point at issue is that the primiera was only shown to two players without being revealed to all, whereas the situation was later described, and judged, as if it had been revealed.]

3. Envelope No. 12 - The Receipt Notebook [Quaderno]

I considered this No. 12 as the most promising because interesting information could emerge from the receipts for small expenses, and I was not disappointed. This archival unit actually does not present itself today in the form of an envelope but of a large binder, with two very different objects inside, at least apparently: a book covered in parchment and a thick bundle of receipts in loose sheets, badly tied with string between two wooden slats whose lateral dimensions are considerably smaller than the sheets.

   The book is also, in effect, a book of receipts. However, in this case we are not dealing with individual receipts subsequently bound in a book, but with a book or notebook [quaderno] - which is exactly what would be indicated on its cover: Quaderno di Riceute Della Conversaz.e de SS.ri Del Casino di S. Trinita. Del 1684 al 1761 - initially dedicated to recording the receipts written by those who collected money from the Conversation. On each page, two or three receipts can typically be read, signed by the person collecting the money or by someone on his behalf. Most of these receipts concern the six-monthly rentals of the premises, but there are also many receipts for maintenance work by craftsmen, especially bricklayers, painters, and carpenters.

   But what exactly did these illustrious gentlemen do in the “Conversation”? Obviously, they were conversing, by definition, but were they just talking? Certainly, the nobles also drank good wine, because receipts for many flasks are found (of different quality for gentlemen and servants). Did they play games? In this entire book, I saw a suggestion of only one game, sbaraglino, which, among other things, is a typical game of the backgammon family between two players, and therefore would not seem sufficient for a very large "conversation."

On 17 December 1712
I, Paolo Marghieri, received twenty-six Lire in consideration of a Sbaraglino with its accompanying pieces and cups, and because he said he didn't know how to write, asked me Vincenzo Zurli in my own hand to make the present [statement] under his request and presence.

All that remains is to look for any playing cards among the loose sheets.

4. Envelope No. 12 - The loose sheets

    On the sheet containing the receipts we read, “Various Receipts relating to the Accademia del Casino from 1731 to 1760.” These loose sheet receipts are also partly actual receipts from craftsmen which list the work done and the amount paid, separately on their own sheet. Receipts of this type are mostly added in bulk, separately, after the normal receipts. There are also some revenue receipts, for example, one in 1749 for Payment of Taxes current and Arrears, in which the following names of members can be read:

Ill:mo [Most illustrious] Sig:re [Lord] Alessandro Orazio Pucci
Ill:mo Sig:re March.e [Marquis] Andrea Bourbon Del Monte
Ill:mo Sig:re March.e Ferdinando Incontri
Ill:mo Sig:re Alfonso Marsili
Ill:mo Sig:re Count Guicciardini
Ill:mo Sig:re Prior Giulio Orlandini
Ill:mo Sig:re March.e [Marquis] Andrea Alamanni
Ill:mo Sig:re Caval.e [Knight] Bened.o Tempi
Ill:mo Sig:re. Ferdinando Nerli
Ill:mo Sig:re March.e Scipione Capponi
Ill:mo and Sig:re [Senator] Anton Francesco Acciaiuoli
This is only a part of the company; in other documents are much longer lists; in any case, as expected, they are certainly not the names of popular Florentines!

   However, the typical receipts are nothing more than a list of small expenses that the servant presents on the first of the month for what he had paid in the previous month on the most diverse occasions. In fact, here you can read about everything; fortunately for us, we also find those playing cards that we were looking for as an explanation of the activity of the “Conversation” of Santa Trinita.

    There are also obviously recurring expenses, such as candles, lighting oil, brooms, canoes, stationery, and in winter firewood and charcoal; there are also occasional expenses for small jobs, repairs, and alms. Of the two types of expenses, playing cards appear among the recurring ones, in the sense that there are not many monthly receipts where playing cards do not appear at all. Unfortunately, there are many years when playing cards do not appear for the simple reason that monthly receipts were not kept. I have gathered together, in a single table below, all the occurrences that I found in this bundle of receipts.

[Below, “low cards” means cards of lower dimension, smaller or shorter than minchiate and “grandi” cards, and with 40 cards per deck.]



 *  Purchased together :180 gettoni [small round chips] and 3 dozen white fiscie [modern fisci = larger chips, often rectangular, with a value of an agreed number of gettoni].

    As can be seen, the series is fairly continuous over time, with the exception of a first scattered receipt from 1841, the range covered is smaller and more recent than we could have hoped for. The data for 1841, as a single value, does not allow us to extrapolate the absence of a minchiate deck or the rather high number of low cards to the entire year; however, it serves at least to confirm the long-term consistency of card prices.

   As noted in previous research, the prices of the cards were expressed in a simple way by dozens of decks: thus, in this period of time, 14 lire per dozen for the low cards, 22 for minchiate, and 16 for rovescino. To go from this base to the prices of various numbers of decks has become quite difficult today, due to the subdivision of one lira into 20 soldi and one soldo into 12 denari (or into three quattrini, as was usual in practice).

   The decrease in the decks of cards used each year is evident and can be verified at a glance in the following graph for low cards (1) and minchiate (2).

Decks per year

   We don't know exactly what the favorite game with low cards was, perhaps hombre or tressette, certainly suitable for a “conversation” of the time, but more probably the bambara already encountered in 1743 and better compatible with the subsequent appearance of rovescino. For minchiate and rovescino, the games are those linked to the deck. At first glance, one would conclude that minchiate disappeared after 1754, but in fact the ratio between ordinary and minchiate decks never differed too much from the 10 percent also found in other companies of players at the time.

   As far as rovescino is concerned, the situation is different. The name of the game has been retained locally still today, in particular for variations of tressette, but in general the name was and still is sometimes used for non-trick-taking games of various types. However, in this environment

and era, rovescino was the Italian name corresponding to the French reversis, a game of chance whose rules can be found described in detail by one of the leading experts on the subject. (note 3.)

   Due to the nature of this game, in this case there are additional costs for the purchase of small and large chips, but if looked after with care it is only a one-time expense, because they are objects that do not wear out, unlike cards. It is therefore not surprising that in the few times in which we subsequently find the purchase of rovescino decks, we no longer find the costs for the associated tokens and chips.

5. Conclusion

   It was reasonable to suspect that in the “Conversations” of the Lords of the Santa Trinita Casino, time was spent playing cards. However, no information on this activity appears in the minutes and accounts books that were kept. In a receipt book can be found only the purchase of a sbaraglino board. Only in the loose sheets with the lists of incidental expenses made during the month by the servants were the expenses for decks of playing cards identified, actually rather many. We thus obtain a complete list of their purchases for the period from 1752 to 1759. For the following years, we know that this “Conversation” converged into the new Casino dei Nobili, and therefore it is logical not to find other receipts here. Less obvious is the absence of previous receipts, with one exception, from 1741, but one can imagine that receipts of this kind, reserved only for small expenses, were easily dispersed.

Florence, 02.12.2023



Dec. 2, 2023: Minchiate, Reflections on Design (Minchiate, Reflessioni sul Design)

Note from translator:  This essay was first posted by him in Italian on Dec. 2, 2023 at My Google-assisted (then corrected) translation first appeared at, after which, in the next post, I gave some of my own reflections on Franco's reflections.

The footnotes are at the bottom of each page, as in Franco's original (the page numbers of his original are in the upper left margin of each). Where I had doubts about how to translate a word or phrase, I have indicated them in brackets. They are very few. At one point, Franco says "voluti arrivare fin qui," which literally would be "wanted to get so far"; my suggestion was "got so far." Another issue is how to translate the names of the court cards we call Pages and Knights; the publications on minchiate speak of Jacks and either "Horses" (in quotation marks) or Knights. Since the meaning of the term "fante" is one consideration Franco brings up, as having military connotations (as in "infantry), I have translated it as "Page," which has that connotation. "Jack" does not; moreover, speaking of female Jacks is a little awkward: so "Maids" for fantesche. The Italian word for the Knight card is Cavallo, and the same in chess, and not cavaliere, the usual word for a person with the rank of knight. It makes a difference in Franco's text. Also, the term for the Minchiate suit with gold medallions is called ori; I had always thought it was denari. Finally, I translated presa (taken) as "trick-taking power." These are very minor details. Although Franco did review the translation, anything I have missed is on me.

Minchiate, Reflections on Design

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

   Years ago I wrote two books essentially dedicated to chess design. [note 1]. My basic approach was that priority should be given to pieces designed for the game, rather than those aimed solely at collectors. In reality, chess players will hardly be convinced by a new model that replaces the traditional Stauntons, even if from a design point of view it was more valid. I realized that players of any game and sport tend to be against innovations in professional objects, and I have also verified a similar situation among card players.

   Now I happened to reflect on the issue in the case of minchiate, because a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to observe in practice this ancient game of my city. In reality I have only seen games played with two experienced players and two beginners at the table. If my practice of the game is poor, this is not strange, because there have been no experts for more than a century, and only recently Renzoni and Ricci have learned the game again and are committed to re-spreading it. [note 2]. However, the experience of observing the difficulties of beginners even only in "reading" the cards was useful.

   Thinking about the different types of playing cards, we soon come across the difference between those for players and those for collectors. Sylvia Mann's great teaching, valid for all cards, should have been a perpetual lesson for collectors: look for the decks that are played with today in every part of the world and those that were played with in every era, not those never used to play, even if they show artistic illustrations as beautiful as you want. [note 3] Yet the many artists who today undertake to design original decks of cards do so for artistic interest, precisely without taking into account any advantages or inconveniences for those who use those cards to play. The goal is not for the newly designed deck to be purchased by many players, but for it to strike the fancy of enough collectors to purchase it for their own collection. Also when thinking about a new minchiate deck we soon come across this dilemma.

2. The minchiate deck

   The minchiate deck is unique in the sense that no other tarot deck with 97 cards is known. The main peculiarity consists of the additional cards compared to a normal tarot deck of 78 cards, namely the twelve signs of the zodiac, the four elements, the four virtues that complete the seven overall, minus the Papessa or in any case one of the Papi, lower tarots [tarocchi].

   Even in this case, decks designed for particular cases, rather than for common play, could be taken into consideration. Of particular interest were, for example, the geographical minchiate, also because in those small maps included in each playing card even remote, newly discovered regions appeared, and therefore still today they are cards of both historical and geographical interest. [note 4]

   The "normal" minchiate, those cards that have passed through the hands of many players, are usually divided into two main models, defined respectively as No. 28 and 29 in the Pattern Sheets of the International Playing-Card Society. [note 5] The first is the older, longer lasting and more widely distributed; the second is the modern one which, introduced in the eighteenth century, then became the preference of Florentine card makers and players, especially in the second half of the nineteenth century, with designs and characters better corresponding to the fashions of the time, whether in clothing or figure. (In what follows


1  F. Pratesi, Scacchi da Venafro al futuro, Tricase (LE) 2017; Pratesi, Observations on Chess Set Design. Tricase [2018].


3  S. Mann, Collecting Playing Cards, London 1966

4 "Atlante tascabile e minchiate del 1780," The Playing-Card, Vol. 47, No. 4 (2019) 252-262.




I will sometimes indicate the second, simplifying, as a nineteenth-century deck.) As an example, I report two cards of the two models in the following Figure.

From: and Accademia dei Germini

   The structure of the deck requires some preliminary information, also due to the lack of uniformly adopted technical terms. In fact, there are different terminologies for tarot and minchiate, such as to confuse the descriptions if we discuss them at the same time. Meanwhile, it is always customary to distinguish between lower and higher cards. Those who use tarot cards for divination solve this nomenclature problem by introducing two terms that appear appropriate: minor arcana and major arcana. For me the term major arcana is almost impossible to accept and that of minor arcana decidedly impossible, because at least in the "normal" cards I cannot, with all my good will, see anything arcane at all. The minchiate players called (and therefore the few of today also call) the lower ones cartiglie - except for the prized Kings - and the higher ones tarots [tarocchi]. However, it would not be easy to talk about tarot cards as the superior cards in a tarot deck; there is a lack of suitable terms; I will thus usually use the term triumphs [trionfi] for the higher cards.  I know it's arbitrary, because in reality triumphs was the name used in the earliest times for the entire tarot deck, but this way there is less confusion. I will also not use the term triumph rigidly and will also call a triumph a card when the context is clear.

   So let's take a closer look at the minchiate deck. As in every tarot deck (except for the reduced ones, used in other Italian and foreign regions) the "normal" cards can in turn be divided into the 40 numeral cards, from 1 (Ace) to 10 for each of the four suits, and the 16 figure [i.e., court - trans.] cards, because instead of the usual three per suit of ordinary card decks there are 4 here (let's say Page, Knight, Queen and King), and as we will see, some have additional peculiarities.

   The triumphs (including the Fool, which would usually be considered a card apart) are 22 in the tarot and become 41 in minchiate. In tarot they can be considered as an increasing series from 1 to 21, plus the Fool, the twenty-second triumph, to which the number 0 can be associated and which is



independent of the series because it cannot take or be taken, with rare exceptions. Correspondingly, in minchiate there is the Fool and a series of triumphs that goes up from 1 to 40 as the order in trick-taking power [presa].

   However, in minchiate (and not in tarot) there is a further distinction among the triumphs, which no longer concerns the order in trick-taking but the score attributed to the given number. First of all, they are divided into counting cards and cards without value. It is not usual in card games to encounter a high card that is then worth zero, and this causes some difficulties for beginners. In my opinion, if you want to design a new deck of minchiate aimed at potential players, you should somehow indicate directly on each triumph card some information on the different values of the card itself, and I will return to this at the end.


3. Reconstruction of a "correct"  model

   After these premises, one should be able to reflect on the most suitable way to produce a new minchiate pack today, in the twenty-first century. However, fundamental data is still missing. First we must answer the inevitable question: for what and whom should the new deck be used?

   You can consider the game of minchiate as a game that is now completely dead, neglecting the attempts to bring it back to life. By doing so, few people are wronged, while it may capture the interest of scholars of local history, the history of games, and playing cards in particular.

   In short, this new deck would be a reconstruction that takes into account above all the older model of minchiate, but with some possible influence also of the nineteenth-century type, in order to reconstruct a single deck capable of representing the past of these cards in the most adequate and complete way possible. It seems like an artificial intelligence job to me; to be completed based on the countless decks produced in the past by numerous manufacturers, examined in order to extract the characteristics that distinguish these cards from others, until the individual details are understood. In short, a sort of average minchiate pack, as a statistically representative sample; that is, in such a way as to reduce the many particular decks to one, thus indicating the entire genus with a single standard example.

   However, in this reconstruction starting from the specimens produced in the past, we encounter some difficulties. Minchiate figures are traditionally composed of a main figure and some secondary minor figures of associated objects. For example, there is no Prudence without a mirror and a serpent that belong to it; but there are other cases in which the association is not predictable and is due to reasons that remain more or less unknown to us, such as the porcupine below and the fox above Libra. It so happens that, for both the main and secondary figures, over time, changes have been introduced by card makers, even substantial ones, which in the reconstruction end up forcing us to give greater weight to the older examples.

   Another case in which - despite recent "progress" in this regard - it would not be easy to arrive at an average example among those produced in the past, is that of the sex of certain main figures such as the pages and knights of the suits, one Pope or two, and even the angel of the Trumpets, who are encountered in the past drawn either as males or females. Only for Gemini could a Solomonic solution be found.

   There is also a third difficulty in finding an intermediate model, of a technical nature. What can the intermediary be between an ancient woodcut and a nineteenth-century lithograph that now has an almost industrial character? A challenge may come to mind, so as to technically overcome that dilemma towards current events: switching to color photographs. I seem to have glimpsed tarot cards on this technical basis, but perhaps I saw them in a dream: my experience in the matter is limited. However, it would be enough to gather a group of figures, modify them, dress them appropriately and equip them with the relevant accessories, including animals and monsters; however, not even Disneyland could propose such a masquerade, which doesn't seem suitable to me if in fact you want to reconstruct a standard model of minchiate. 4

   Once the task is finished, one way or another, that same deck can also be used both as a standard type for divination, provided that it is associated with a booklet that reveals the arcane meaning of the cards, as well as in the game, provided that it is also laminated and preferably that it goes into the hands of already expert players. In short, we would have created an all-round deck. However, it is possible to more precisely target a new deck of minchiate towards its specific use; we then encounter not one but two different possibilities of this kind: precisely, for cartomancy and for game-playing, with different needs.


4. Minchiate for divination.

     The most promising use of minchiate today is in the sector of divination. After all, minchiate is nothing more than an extended variant of tarot and today the prevalent use of tarot throughout the world, is for divination. There are countless tarot decks designed for this purpose. There are even some packs of minchiate aimed at that market.

   Then, once you have identified a tarot deck that you like among the many, it would just (!) be a matter  of introducing some changes to customize it and find designs for the twenty missing cards as compatible as possible with the existing ones. Given the fortune of the sector, one might think that the increase in the number of cards available would be considered an appreciable advantage, even if one only uses them to predict the future. It is therefore not surprising if a minchiate pack of this type has already been produced.

   Two decks of minchiate that are certainly new, especially the second, and which cannot be considered either the average sample indicated above, or the innovative playing deck that I discuss later, but which could already be used for divination (also because they are equipped with the necessary booklet or leaflet for the meanings of the cards) are those of Solleone, designed by Costante Costantini at a distance of one year apart in the last century. Even in cases where the figures are very simplified, the secondary "little figures" mentioned above regularly appear, as can be seen in the examples in the following Figure. 

From: Edizioni del Solleone - Minchiate fiorentine 1980, and Nuove Minchiate fiorentine 1981


5. Minchiate for the game, among those that exist

   We come now to Florence and the use of minchiate in the game. This presupposes that there is a certain number, certainly not enormous, of minchiate players intent on reviving the ancient local game. They will need a  suitable deck.

   The first requirement of such a deck seems in stark contrast to all possible traditional decks: the two outer surfaces must be laminated! This is the only way to guarantee sufficient durability and smooth use. The drawing of the figures, which until now has been fundamental, now becomes secondary, although remaining important and in need of preliminary discussions to define the possible contours.

   If one intends to revive the game today, in the twenty-first century, the choice of figures also has its importance. Is preference given to the first model, let's say from the eighteenth century, to the second model, let's say from the nineteenth century, or do we maintain the old game rules but use a newly designed deck? (I would exclude, at least for now, the possibility of a new deck with which to play a new game, although someone might also come up with this idea sooner or later.)

   The choice of the first model would mean returning to the origins, when, however, the rules of the game were already those adopted later. Having to revive a dead game, why not go back in time as close as possible to its origins? The woodcut matrices used initially required drawing simple figures, with the bare minimum of lines in the figure, without flourishes, and the suggestion of these images maintains its value, without making the past weigh too heavily.

   The choice of the second, nineteenth-century model seems to me to be based less on the figurative- artistic level, but rather on the historical one. Our elders got so far [voluti arrivare fin qui - wanted to get so far?], and today we take their cards back into our hands to continue their gaming activity. We use plastic that they didn't know about, but otherwise we keep the tradition as faithfully as possible. It is then about



going into the details, having a ready-made model but with countless minimal variations in the design of the figures introduced by the various manufacturers, from which to choose or to modify.

The uncertainty of whether to give preference to model one or model two, with its relative strengths and weaknesses, can be resolved with . . . model three, completely innovative.


6. Innovative minchiate for the game

   If we intend to start from scratch in designing a new minchiate pack, we can appreciate the freedom of no longer being bound by the many constraints to be respected in reproducing versions of existing models. However, we still encounter constraints.

   The first constraint, already encountered, is that all 97 cards must have plasticized surfaces in order to make the cards easier to handle and to greatly extend their life. Here, however, I must open a parenthesis: Elettra Deganello, who deals with the matter professionally, pointed out to me that our usual plastic cards are not as "modern" as I thought. Precisely for the use of cards in the game, in the USA and other countries have been recently introduced



more suitable types of cards, often embossed and with special finishes, sometimes patented like the one used for Cartamundi's Bee or SlimLine. [note 6] It will take experts!

   Even the dimensions cannot be just any: you will have to choose average, or better yet below, to more easily hold the twenty-one cards in your hand that appear at every start of the game. Possibly, within limits to be evaluated, it will be possible to increase the height and reduce the width compared to standard formats. Once the right dimensions of paper have been found, some alternatives must also be found in the creation of the figures. I try to look at them group by group.

   The numeral cards. The main problem with the 40 numeral cards is the dimensions to adopt for the suit symbols. After the introduction of modern cards with spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts we are used to seeing an increasing number of suit symbols, each with the same design and size. The convenient system of reproducing them with perforated molds, always using the same module to be repeated several times, has undoubted advantages. Even for the system - still common in minchiate but forgotten in many regions - of swords, batons, coins [ori, literally “golds” - trans.] and cups, the same method of repeating a suit symbol of the same size can be used. However, this does not appear to be at all convenient when you have to hold many cards in your hand: in practice this would make it mandatory to introduce numbers in the margin as indices, visible even with cards largely overlapping each other.

   Thinking of keeping the numeral cards without the index of the number (also to leave the different numerical series of triumphs unique), it would be necessary to operate as in Neapolitan cards, i.e. decreasing the size of the symbols as their number increases, so that you can distinguish cards of the same suit quite easily even without seeing them in full.

   The picture cards. Also in this case minchiate has some significant peculiarities. Meanwhile, the pages of cups and coins are usually females. The matter, even if only figuratively considered, is not simple. The male pages [fante] are usually understood as military men, but the female pages [fantesche] are understood more as maids, which might also suggest the male pages as a kind of butler. Conversely, thinking of female soldiers nowadays would not be strange, although certainly foreign to the minchiate tradition. Even more unusual are the figures of the cavalli [meaning both "knights" and "horses'] which at most only have parts of a horse: they would be centaurs for swords and sticks, while for cups and coins [ori, literally "gold pieces"] figures with human busts above the lower part of a beast or dragon; in both cases finding a correspondent among today's people and animals would not be immediate.

   Thinking in terms of trick order, the four court cards of each suit could be denoted by the numbers 11 to 14, regardless of how you draw the court card. At most, the same figure might not even be reproduced, leaving the field to just the number, perhaps with a title block with the name of the figure. However, the peculiar role of the Kings remains in minchiate (and only in this game, I believe): the four Kings are in fact the only counting cards among all sixteen courts, and indeed among all the 56 numeral and court cards. If the counting cards of the triumphs worth five points were marked in some special way, the Kings of the four suits could or should also be marked in the same way.

   If it were decided that the numbers added as indexes are useful for marking the card, we encounter the problem of having to distinguish these numbers from those of the triumphs. You could think of more possible alternatives to overcome the inconvenience. The most "traditional" would be to continue using Roman numerals for the triumphs and thus the distinction with the Arabic numerals of the suits would be automatic. At most, the triumphs could be marked with Roman numerals only up to X or XIV, and then with Arabic numerals, no longer being confused with those of the suits.

   The numbers of triumphs. A first drawback for an updated deck is the Roman numerals traditionally used on triumphs. Among other things, even those who know them from school remain confused when faced with numbers like XVIIII and similar "errors" compared to the classic format. What a disadvantage there would be in passing




from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals? None, if you do not enter the numbers for the low cards [cartiglie]. However, if the low cards have Arabic numerals as indexes in the margin, the triumphs would not be easy to distinguish if drawn similarly; therefore, Arabic numerals could be used on the triumphs, even with very large characters, but without inserting the numbers in the margin. Or other systems might be found to better distinguish them from those of the suits. However, it will not be by chance that the triumphs in the tarot cards most recently used among the players of France and the German-speaking countries usually have large indexes - and as Arabic numerals! inserted at the top, mostly on both the right and left.

   In minchiate, an important warning for beginners would be to clearly distinguish the triumphs with an associated score from the valueless ones. This is an unusual feature for tarot games and creates some problems. A different color or font or other identifying mark should be used for counting and non-counting triumphs. As if that wasn't enough, counting cards don't "count" the same way. There are three degrees of associated score: 3 points for 2, 3, 4, 5; 5 points (like the four Kings) for 1, 10, 13, 20, 28, 30-35; 10 points for the  Airie: 36, 37, 38, 38 and 40. So the associated distinguishing marks or colors should necessarily increase.

   Finally, there is the problem of indicating, if possible, which triumphs can constitute the versicole, the typical series of cards that give high scores also because they are counted at the beginning, during the game and at the end of the game. This problem has been solved in a definitive way by John McLeod with his diagram which in one fell swoop indicates both the score value and the formation of versicules, as shown in the following Figure.

From: M. Dummett, J. McLeod A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack. Lewiston 2004, p. 335.

 It is not surprising if this diagram appears in every reference to the rules of the game today.

There is even a new deck of minchiate, by Amparo Aguirre, which has an extra card with this diagram to keep an eye on during the game; [note 7] in another version, the same deck is packaged in a box together with an instruction booklet and, more unique than rare, with a booklet of forms for recording the games (see Figure). It doesn't appear that this deck has solved many of the problems encountered when designing for players, but it at least takes their needs into account to some extent. One can hope for a continuation in the "right" direction, considering in particular the fact that Amparo Aguirre herself is preparing the release of a new minchiate pack.





   The figures of the triumphs. For the triumphs, a serious problem is how to represent the corresponding subjects. For an artist this is precisely what becomes the main problem. In the case of a new deck of minchiate designed for divination, I had advocated as a working method to first identify, among the countless tarot cards invented for the purpose, a deck considered preferable and then design cards in the same style for the additional triumphs present only in minchiate. However, in the case of a deck for the game, one could perhaps advantageously follow the reverse procedure: for example, start with a recent artistic representation of the twelve zodiac signs (there would also be a wide choice 8) and use it for the new deck of minchiate, then trying to plan the remaining triumphs in the same style. It is understood, however, that the seven Virtues or the Popes, for example, will not be easy to draw in a "very recent" form. More possibilities would be found for the four elements: we could try means of transport: a spacecraft in a space plasma, a truck on the ground, a ferry on the sea, a plane in the air; or with other objects in the environment: fire truck, bulldozer, submarine, hot air balloon; other ideas would not be lacking.


  Amparo Aguirre. Booklet for recording the score in a game of minchiate.

   My completely personal opinion, to overcome the inevitable difficulties of representing in a current way the mostly chimerical depictions of concepts and personalities from several centuries ago, is to completely eliminate the problem, removing it completely, or almost completely, from the artist's task. If someone like me is not an artist, nor a craftsman in the sector, it becomes possible to replace each figure of the triumphs with a beautiful title block with the corresponding name written on it. A word instead of a picture, that is, in as large a font as possible, easily readable. If desired, with more or less bright colors to leave some space for the pictorial creativity that has been so severely damaged.

   At the limit, again for someone who does not require traditional artistic contributions to the design - which will presumably immediately turn away all potentially interested artists from the idea - one could eliminate even the title block, the word, and meaning of the card. The extreme limit would be to use its large central number as the only indicator of the value of the card and, with the signs or colors or other things that were introduced for the distinction of the score - everything





needed to play would be present. I fear that this last solution is the most suitable for absolute beginners or for. . . the 22nd century; but you never know.


7. Conclusion

   The number of new tarot decks that are offered every year is high, and minchiate is a form of tarot with the "advantage" of having nineteen more cards. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases the destination of these decks is cartomancy, but it must never be forgotten that they have been used for centuries to play games commonly considered to be of a high strategic level. I have discussed various possibilities for designing a new deck of minchiate, especially in the event that players once again find themselves willing enough to commit themselves to reviving this ancient Florentine game, forgotten for a century and a half. I have analyzed several particular aspects, and this may be useful to anyone who intends to design a new deck of minchiate; the synthesis, however, indispensable to reach the final design of an entire new deck, remains open to his or her initiative and imagination.

Florence, 02.12.2023