Saturday, December 23, 2023

October 18, 2023: Florence - Three Account Books of the 1400s (Firenze: Tre Libri di Conti del Quatracento)

The original Italian of this translation is at

I am indebted to Lothar Teikemeier, who published Google Translate's machine translation on Tarot History Forum (, which I am presenting here with corrections I made, with some discussion by Lothar ("Huck" on THF). I am also indebted to the author, Franco Pratesi, for his deciphering of the two account book entries in the final section.

Franco Pratesi - Three Account Books of the 1400s


Several years ago I found useful information on naibi [ordinary playing cards - trans.] and triumphs in account books of fifteenth-century Florentine workshops, especially haberdashers [American English: dry goods stores - trans.]. [Note 1] I recently started doing some research again in the sector, and here I report on three other account books, preserved in the State Archives of Florence. Documents on the family and commercial administrations found in this large archive are innumerable, but the quantity is considerably reduced if we limit ourselves to the first half of the fifteenth century, or slightly beyond. For this period usually in the various funds you can either find nothing or at most encounter only the first few terms of a long series that holds much more documentation for the following centuries. Therefore the set of books to be selected is composed of scattered elements, with different business sectors. Unfortunately, the hope of finding something useful for our research on playing cards is therefore focused more on the presence of some random and exceptional information, as no specific sector can be identified in the preserved documents.

1. Journal of Tommaso d Luigi Ridolfi and company,  gold-beaters

1.1. Introduction and motivations

The account book in question is No. 1744 of the Strozziane Papers. It is part of the fifth series, the last, rather independent from the others and with documents of more varied origins.To this end, in Inventory N/197 we read the following. “Fifth series - 1772 pp. (14th – 19th centuries). Donated to the Archive of State by the Paolozzi Strozzi family in 1937; it is the family archive of the Filippo Strozzi branch and of his sons Lorenzo and Giovan Battista (known as Filippo the Younger), preserved in Palazzo Strozzi from the lines that lived there from the mid-16th century.” [Note 2] In particular, the book in question belongs to the Fondo [Section- trans.] Ridolfi, and in the same Inventory we find it indicated in this way.

 Numero d’ordine 1744. Fondo Ridolfi. Giornale di Tommaso di Luigi Ridolfi e compagni battilori in Firenze - Martelli 8. Segnato A. Registro rilegato in pergamena con corregge di cuoio. Estremo remoto 1447, Estremo recente1450.

 (Order number 1744. Ridolfi Fund. Journal of Tommaso di Luigi Ridolfi and co., gold beaters in Florence - Martelli 8. Marked A. Register bound in parchment with leather straps. Remote extreme 1447, Recent extreme 1450.)

I saw a possibility of finding news of interest in this book. As a rule, there are only hopes of identifying some useful trace, without any guarantee that the search will be successful. The possible connection with playing cards, which were then the naibi and within a few years also triumphs, is found in the very profession of the gold beaters. 

The production of very thin gold sheets was essential for the backgrounds of panel paintings and others artistic and artisanal productions, including playing cards. For sure, playing cards with bottom gold were not common. At the time the playing card makers used wooden matrices and the use of gold was limited to luxury specimens to be sold to great lords. However, there was also an intermediate version of the cards, that of the "crowns", in which fragments of gold leaf were used to decorate the playing card, only on the kings' crowns, or a few other suitable superior cards, typically present in the triumphs [major arcana - trans.).

1.2. Immediate negative surprise and conclusions

The information that can be gleaned from this book is interesting, but not for the specific sector of playing cards. It seems possible that several gold-beating workshops had

1 F. Pratesi, "Playing-Card Trade in 15th-Century Florence," IPCS Papers No. 7, 2012.


differentiated productions dependent on customers. In other words, from one shop it is not possible to obtain valid information for the entire sector. There must have been customers who turned to gold beaters to purchase gold sheets for their production, but not to this shop. Here the clientele is mainly those of nuns from the main Florentine convents, and less frequently individual embroiderers or weavers, and even some swordsmiths. In all cases observed, however, the gold was not sold in foil, but in wire; changed only the size and packaging. I knew that gold thread was the best-selling product for her importance in the production of brocades and other luxury fabrics, but I didn't think it was the only one. From the abundance of recurring sales, one conclusion that can be drawn is that to the Florentine nuns there was little time left to pray and therefore in the classic "ora et labora" obedience to the second precept had to prevail.

2. Book of Input and Output, by Lorenzo di Dietisalvi and company

2.1. Introduction and motivations

This is again a goldsmith's shop. After studying the previous book, I tried to look for others in the State Archives to obtain confirmation of production. I found one in the Manuscript section. In Inventory N/187, the book in question is described as follows.

Lorenzo Neroni MCCCCLVII / Al nome sia ecc. / Questo libro è di Lorenzo di Dietisalvi e compagnia battiloro, chiamasi Entrata e Uscita segnato A. Va dal 1457 al 1459. N/187 Codice cartaceo, in quarto, di cc. 81 scritte da 1 a 12, da 30 a 48 e da 60 a 79. È diviso per Entrata e Uscita di fiorini e Uscita di £. Legato in cartapecora, con riboccatura. Sulla coperta: Entrata e Uscita A, e di mano più recente: 1457 e 1458 di Lorenzo di Dietisalvi Neroni. 3

(Lorenzo Neroni MCCCCLVII / As the name may be etc. / This book is by Lorenzo di Dietisalvi and company. gold beater, called Input and Output marked A. It goes from 1457 to 1459. N/187 Paper codex, in quarto, of cc. 81 written from 1 to 12, from 30 to 48 and from 60 to 79. It is divided by Input and Output of florins and Output of £ (Lire). Bound in parchment, with refilling. On the cover: Input and Output A, and by more recent hand: 1457 and 1458 by Lorenzo di Dietisalvi Neroni.) [Note 3]

The reason I decided to look at this account book was simply to check in a second shop whether the production consisted exclusively of gold thread.

2.2. Reading and conclusions

While consulting this book of accounts I encountered two reading difficulties, largely unexpected. There first is that the handwriting is not easy to read, at least for me, even though I was quite trained. That means that even when the words are written with the intention of being read without problems, I personally find some problems. Additionally, there is a second difficulty, let's say of a higher level.  Much writing doesn't just require being read by a handwriting expert; that would not be sufficient. There is a prevalent amount of abbreviations, acronyms, and you might say scribbles, which would require reading by a specialist in commercial writing and related "syntheses." Let's be clear, this is not an encrypted writing, but "simply" something that resembles our shorthand. Sales material is rarely written legibly, while name and surname (or patronymic, or convent) of the customer or supplier are usually the only terms quite readable.

From this premise it follows that in the accounts under examination there may be much useful information that escaped my reading. (On the other hand, I would exclude obtaining information from it that is not actually contained in it.) In all this uncertainty, there are a few fixed points. One is that in at least two cases I clearly read "gold leaf." In short, somehow I had an answer to the doubt whether these craftsmen by now only produced thread. It would then be said that, probably to a much lesser extent, the traditional production of thin gold sheets was maintained. Here for me there is also a technical problem. I well know that the great ductility of gold also allows very thin sheets or wires to be obtained. However, the equipment and skills are different in the two cases; even later rolling between cylindrical rollers would be used, or extrusion drawing through dies. I do not believe


 a necessary step to obtain the thread was the classic very thin sheet produced by thread beaters.

Above all, I missed the connection I was looking for between the gold sheets and the painters, and maybe even the manufacturers of playing cards and luxury trumps. Unfortunately, the only craftsman registered frequently enough, who was not a silk weaver, a weaver, or a nun, is a certain Andrea di Matteo, scissors maker [or sharpener, or user - trans.], a profession that doesn't help our research much.

3. Book of input and output by Cipriani di Simone

3.1. Premisses and motivation

This study originated from the indication of an account book in the State Archive Inventories of Florence. The section in which it is found is that of Purchases and Gifts, which understandably contains scattered pieces of various origins. Furthermore, the book in question is part of a group which is suitably characterized as of "Unknown provenance."

In Inventory N/184 we read the following.

N. 83 Ins. 2. Libro di dare e avere di Cipriani di Simone di Guiduccio di Spicchio del popolo di S. Michele Visdomini di Firenze. 80 carte numerate e 3 non numerate 1417-1472.

(No. 83 Ins. 2. Book of input and output of Cipriani di Simone of the Guiduccio di Spicchio of the people of S. Michele Visdomini of Florence. 80 numbered and 3 unnumbered pages 1417-1472. [Note 4]

My curiosity was piqued by the date and also by the location. At the time, these account books of simple private individuals were frequent, as far as I know, only in Florence. There were all kinds, too, because, unlike in other cities, many Florentines were able to write and keep accounts. Once the task of small-scale administration was over, almost all these books were then recycled for the most varied uses, including using the sheets to wrap goods. To be stored there, particular conditions were wanted, often completely random and independent of the "value" of the object. 

This is not one of those account books of haberdashers, retailers or minor silk workers whom I had studied, but S. Michele Visdomini is in the city center, between the Duomo and Santa Maria Nuova, and in an account book there could also be found items of interest to me such as chess expenses or playing cards. It seemed worth a look, because for the specific sector we still need to specify various pieces information from the first half of the fifteenth century.

3.2. Immediate negative surprise

As soon as I browsed through it, this account book turned out to be very different from what I had imagined. Partly because it is precisely a book of input and output, as indeed was correctly indicated in the Inventory; that is, the credits are listed and, below, the various installments in which they are paid. 

The negative surprise was that the environment is not that of the city center but that of Empoli and above all of surrounding countryside. In short, it is an agricultural administration, like hundreds documented in Tuscany in the following centuries. The goods sold are mainly grain and wine, but also timber and canes for vineyards. As the years go by, additional sales are also added such as, for example, bricks obtained from a kiln. 

A property of these records that is immediately noticeable is the meticulousness in describing not only, obviously, the amount collected and who delivers it, but even the exact place where the delivery took place. As an exemplary case of this fussiness I can cite the following. 

Ane dato ghuglielmo adimarj manovero in casa sua in sulla tavola ad viiij di novembre 1424 S otto di quatrinj”.

(Has given of it [the amount owed] Ghuglielmo Adamari laborer [or craftsman] on the table in his house, 9th of November 1424, 8 Soldi, in quatrini.)

Translator's note: ane = ha-ne = has of it. Ane dato = Out of the total due he has given - as follows. Only found in account books of the time.

3.3. Unexpected positive surprise

It turned out that our citizen-countryman was very meticulous in his recordings. Coincidentally, it is precisely this particularity, apparently of minor importance, that made this book of interest to us. Thinking about the interest of the whole book is an exaggeration, because of all these transactions


of an agricultural-commercial nature we are in fact interested in none of them. However, thanks to the fussiness, we find a record that interests us quite a bit.

Domenicho di berto mide dare lire cinque e meço duno albero il [qua…] -------L. 5 ½
Ane dato grosi undici addi daprile in sulla pancha di soraglio alzolaio---------L. 3 S. 6
Ane dato S. 8 e quegli mide quando giuocavo a naibj-----------------------------------S. 8
Ane dato ad 27 doctobre 1419 unopra a fare la [pol… a luctricieto]
-------di messer ruggiero pe tutto S. dieci --------------------------------------------------S. 10
-------pago di mala moneta

Domenico [in English, Dominic], son of  Berto, has given of it [the amount owed] five and a half lire for a tree on [qua...] -----------------------------------------------------L[ire] 5 ½

Has given of it eleven grossi [coin apparently = 3 lire] on day in April [unspecified date] on the bench di soraglio alzolaio [of cobbler Soraglio?]----------L[ire] 3 S[oldi] 6

Has given S. 8, and those given me when I was playing cards------------------S[oldi] 8

Has given, 27 October 1419, for work cutting burdock at [luctricieto, spelling and meaning unclear]
--------of Mr. Ruggiero [Roger, in English], in total ten S[oldi].-----------------S[oldi] 10

----------paid in counterfeit money.)

Translator's note: Ane = "has of it," but in English the "has" is typically omitted in a note if the subject is not specified. Addi = "on [the] day." For alzolaio, if "cobbler" is meant, the full word would be calzolaio. Pago = pagò = "he paid." The brackets in the original are for where it was not possible to make out letters in a word.]

My involvement with the naibi is such that I often glimpse that strange word in many writings difficult to decipher, even if most of the time I have to recognize that they are names and objects completely different. But this time the naibi remained where I no longer expected to meet them. Of course, the information does not bring us news of great importance, nor with specific useful details. However, it allows us to imagine a peaceful environment, a game to be considered a pastime; if our master had found himself in a group of avid players intent on playing Condannata [Doomed], the situation would not have been suitable either to receive the money owed, or to remember and record it for registration later. In this context, a peaceful game, with little or no risk, is more consistently connected. The memory seems serene and rather allows us to imagine a peaceful pastime, perhaps with a carafe of wine and some glasses taken from the innkeeper together with the deck of cards, if not actually in the sphere of the family. 

Florence, 10.18.2023

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