Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Jan. 2, 2024: Florence 1814: Restoration, also for playing cards

The present essay, in Italian at and here in my English translation, is a kind of successor to Franco's essay on the reform of the Stamp Duty on playing cards in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in the year 1781.  In the present essay it is 1814, and a lot has happened in the interim. 

The reform had been part of the modernization plans of Grand Duke Leopold I, its ruler since 1765. In 1790 he was elected Holy Roman Emperor and turned the duchy over to his second son Ferdinand. Both were part of the new ruling dynasty of Habsburg-Lorraine, so-called because Leopold's father, Francis Stephen, had been Duke of Lorraine previously, while his mother was the Empress Maria-Theresa, and the duchy as a whole part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Then came the French invasion of the 1790s, Ferdinand's exile, and the establishment of a French administration over all manner of civic life, including playing cards. That all came to a crashing end in 1814, of course, and Ferdinand returned to pick up the pieces. It is mainly a return to the old system, but with a few improvements "to prevent fraud, searches, and trials." In the internal correspondence from the time, we learn more about the process that system, which included considerable control over playing card production.

Franco's pdf in Italian makes extensive use of endnotes commenting on the transcripts, as well as two regular footnotes near the beginning. I have moved all the endnotes so that they and the other two appear at the bottom of the corresponding page of Franco's pdf (indicated in the left margin). the former endnotes ae thus two numbers higher than Pratesi's numbers for them.

As usual, Franco's help has been essential, to decipher the archaic language, sentence structure, and abbreviations, regarding which Google Translate is quite clueless, as well as catching little errors of mine that would otherwise be there. No doubt there are others; please let me know. This translation first appeared at

Florence 1814: Restoration, also for playing cards

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction
    Here the point of view is limited, because we are only witnessing changes within the offices responsible for controlling the production and use of playing cards in Tuscany; but the historical moment is of European importance: the fall of Napoleon and his empire, with the repercussions that reach down to the smallest administrations, as is precisely the one of interest to us.

    We can reconstruct some aspects of the change mentioned on the basis of a bundle of documents preserved in the State Archives of Florence.(Note 1) In the Inventory of the collection in question (Note 2), there is only one item of interest to us: Playing cards and stamped paper: edicts and deliveries 1814. No. 18. The two administrations of playing cards and stamped paper were closely linked, and these documents also referred to both cases. In the following, I will leave out everything relating to stamped paper to concentrate on playing cards.

2. The plan for renewal of the procedures

    Of particular interest is the plan concerning the new system to manage the administration of playing cards and stamped paper. It is a complete plan that continually refers to the procedures in use before those of the French government, largely contemplating a return to the prior ones, eliminating the changes recently introduced.

    In reality, the changes introduced by the French administration mainly concerned stamped paper, to a lesser extent "normal" playing cards, while the system adopted for Minchiate had remained practically unchanged because it was a game, with its related cards, unknown to the new administration.

    The documentation is made even more interesting by the fact that it presents the project, preceded by the relevant covering letter, in draft form, with additions and corrections. I transcribe them both below. In any case, I indicate in square brackets the parts added to the text later by a different hand; however, I do not report sentences or individual words deleted. (Translator's comments and indications of footnotes will be in parentheses.)

    Intent always to reactivate and make prosperous those Branches of Finance entrusted to me by the I. and R. (Imperial and Royal) Government with the view that the Royal Interest should not suffer any detriment by this part, [and with further consideration due to the public,] I have tirelessly dealt with the examination of the progress of the two Royal Stamped Paper and Playing Cards Enterprises, with the aim of proposing to Your Excellency that system which I believed to be the most advantageous [and the most adapted to the circumstances of the time].
    First of all, I must let Your Excellency know that these two enterprises have always been united with each other and were equally so at the time of the auspicious Government of S.A.I. and R. (Sua Altezza Imperiale e Reale = His Imperial and Royal Highness) Ferdinand III Our August Sovereign. (Note 3)
    Speaking first of all [about the reorganization] of the Royal Playing Card Enterprise, I am pleased to point out to Your Excellency that this Enterprise, in no way removed from [the essential principles of that] system which has been practiced since the time of the aforementioned Government, only needs to be reactivated with new regulations, in order to prevent the fraud which could occur and which is the cause of a large number of trials and searches, with disaster for the public.
    To this end, I have formed the Plan for the setup of said Enterprise, as I put it together for Your Excellency, imploring your wise determination.
Combined with said Plan, Your Excellency will find the System [in detail] that was practiced at the time of the above-mentioned A.S.I and R. (same as S.A.I. and R. above) and that adopted by the past French Government.
    In relation to the penalties for violators, I would believe that the Notification of 30 December 1780, as the one in force at the time of our beloved Sovereign, should be maintained.
    It is necessary for me to point out to Your Excellency that there is in the warehouse a quantity of white watermarked paper in the number of sheets of approximately 130 thousand left by the past French Government, which was used for the manufacture
1. ASFi, General Administration of Royal Revenues, 18.
2. https://archiviodistatofirenze.cultura. ... endite.pdf
3. Ferdinand III of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1790 to 1801 and from 1814 to 1824.

of playing cards, as well as other watermarked paper of approximately 46 thousand sheets where the figures necessary to form said cards are (already) printed.
    I would therefore be of the opinion that it would be profitable for the Royal Interest to use the aforementioned watermarked white paper to continue the manufacture of cards in their current size, because of this alone it is capable, and once this is completed, the Royal Enterprise will be able to use other paper manufactured on its behalf by a paper mill in the Grand Duchy to form Playing Cards of even larger dimensions; and I would believe it is even more appropriate to use said paper [which could be given greater body, or thickening, since the public is very dissatisfied with the thinness of the cards] to make use of that paper where the figures are already printed, because some of them represent Sacred Objects and venerable principles of good morals. (Note 4)
    I commissioned Carlo Caolieri, the skilled and only wood engraver employed in the R. Gallery [and in the works] to engrave a printing block for the aforementioned figures similar to those [very decent ones as] customary at the time of the previously praised Government of R. and I.A.S. (same as A.I.S. and R.).
    If my Plan is fortunate enough to meet with the approval of Your Excellency, it would be appropriate to issue a Notification to remove the Article relating to the permission of Cards without stamps outside the State, and to reinstate the penalties for violators under the terms of the aforementioned Law of 30 December 1780.
    Now moving on to talk about the reorganization of the other Royal Enterprise, that of stamped paper, . . . In these two systems there is an enormous difference in the stamp duties; while at the time of R. and I.A.S. previously mentioned, such a duty was rather mild, at the time of the French Government, it was taken beyond the just and honest . . . .
For stamped paper, the writer therefore proposes to return to the old procedures and describes the operation in detail; he continues with the list of staff roles (19 ministers, assistants, and custodians already active and re-proposed for the two Enterprises), and concludes as follows.
[Should these very humble propositions of mine dictated by the zeal and attachment that I have always nurtured since my earliest years for the Royal Service be found worthy of your approval which I implore with this respectful representation, there would then be nothing left other than to refer it to this Imperial Secretariat the draft of the notification in compliance, to be published appropriately. In the meantime, I dare to propose the following formula for regulating the Role enunciated.] This present provisional Role of the Royal Revenues Stamped Paper and Playing Card Enterprises of Florence is approved, and the Counselor General Administrator of the Royal Revenues remains in charge of enforcement.
And with the deepest respect I pass to the honor of reputing myself
The 4th July 1814

Plan (note 5)
    For the setup of the Royal Enterprise of Playing Cards [similar to the system practiced since the auspicious Government of S.A.I. and R. Ferdinand III with the addition only of what leads to ensuring the Royal Interest, and to preventing the contraventions that a longer experience has made known, which Project] can largely serve as instruction to the Ministers for the management of the same Enterprise.
    This Enterprise will be reunited with the other of Stamped Paper, as it always was in the past, and the Ministers assigned to the mentioned Stamped Card Enterprise must equally serve for this of Playing Cards.
    The cards that must be manufactured will be the following; like those that were customary in the past, and will pay as in the past [at the time of the auspicious Government of the aforementioned S.A.I. and R.
    Minchiate cards, large Picchetti of 52 cards per deck and large Low Cards: one Paolo per deck. Said small ones and small Picchetti, one-half Paolo per deck. (note 6)
    The manufacture of these cards must take place only in Florence, as has always been usual, and the General Administration of the Royal Revenues must grant the Patents to those subjects who will be deserving of them, as has been practiced in the past [i.e. since the time of the Government of the aforementioned Sovereign].
    Said manufacturing must be carried out with the following method.
    Each manufacturer will receive from the Warehouse of the Royal Enterprise [watermarked] paper which will be manufactured on behalf of the same by a paper mill, and this will be used to print the Suits of the decks to be formed [i.e. Diamonds, Clubs, Spades, and Hearts] together with the component Figures of the same, and he will pay the value that will be determined.
    One can print the Suits (probably just the numeral cards) in his own factory. The Figures must be printed (note 7) in the Office in the presence of one of the Ministers, who will be designated by the Principal Minister.
    To this end there will be only one printing block in the Office for the Figures for Picchetti and Low Cards, which will be used by all the manufacturers. (Note 8)
    Each [of said manufacturers] will have to present themselves to print those quantities of Figures that they believe form said decks, but always on the paper designated by the Office, which they will request in the document. [The Minister responsible for this object will retain many small labels (Note 9) where the name and surname of each Manufacturer will be engraved, as will be printed on the Queen of Clubs when printing.]

4. They are obviously minchiate, and the respect for those images is curious, almost to be venerated like holy cards, sheets of paper similar in shape but with sacred images. In the following paragraph, he clarifies that he also proposed a more customary version.
5. The Plan is written on one sheet of paper divided into two columns, leaving the left one blank to accommodate numerous additions.
6. One paolo corresponded to 8 crazie. The lira (without entering into other units of account or coinage such as the various types of florins, or in more recent times the scudo) was divided into 20 soldi of 12 denari or piccioli [little ones]. Once we are able to easily read account books with this system, here is another one: in practice, the same lira was also divided into 12 crazie of 20 of the same denari. There were coins scattered between the two systems, usually with the copper quattrino of 4 denari at the base (so three quattrini made a soldo and five quattrini made a crazia). In the end, we thus find that 1 paolo corresponds to 13 soldi and 1 quattrino (L-S13d4), and half a paolo to 6 soldi and 2 quattrini (L-S6d8).
7. The method of "printing" the numeral cards is not precisely indicated, as they were probably not yet printed but only hand-painted, possibly with the help of perforated sheets.
8. This is important information, because in other times each card maker had their own woodblocks.
9. Rather than tags, they appear to be small plaques engraved in a personalized manner to be inserted in a special space in the single woodblock of all paper makers.



   Once said Figures have been printed, he [each manufacturer] can take them to his own factory to be colored according to the model (Note 10) that will be given to him by the Office, but before this, the number of printed Figures, and precisely the number of decks so formed, must be verified by the Minister in charge, by having the usual mark showing a lily affixed above the Queen of Diamonds.
    Said Minister will then have the manufacturer produce a Receipt for the number of decks of cards, which he will have printed and will pass this on to the Accountant.
    The Accountant will keep a Register in which he will open a Debit and Credit Account of each Manufacturer depending on the watermarked paper delivered, both to print the Suits and the Figures, in two different columns.
    In Debit will be noted the watermarked paper for said Suits and the number of decks which will be printed as above. [The Manufacturer must use the paper marked with black dots externally, as was customary in the past, which was always used for minchiate cards under the happy Austrian Government.] (Note 11)
    When said Manufacturer has decks such as Picchetti and Quadriglie formed in his factory, he will wrap these up as in former times, in plain white paper and present himself to the Accountant's Office, from whom he will receive an Entry Mandate to pay the Cash for the Stamp Duty on that quantity of decks which he wants to stamp.
    [Said Accountant, in addition to recording the Entry for the Cash in the Copy of Orders, will immediately note in the above-mentioned Register of Manufacturers' Accounts and credit to the respective account the number of decks for which the stamp duty has been paid.]
    Having paid such a fee, he [said Manufacturer] will present himself to the relevant Minister, show the Receipt for the payment, and upon this, the stamper will be ordered to affix the stamp to the quantity of decks for which he will have [as above] paid the fee.
This stamp will be affixed to the Jack of Hearts, as was practiced [as above at the time of S.A.I. and R.]
    A single press will also be held in the Office to print the decks for Minchiate [, on which the extinct French Government, which did not know this Game at all, made no changes]. (Note 12)
    Each manufacturer will go to the aforementioned Office, and on common paper at his pleasure, as has always been practiced by all the Governments, he will be able to print the decks, but in the presence of a Minister assigned to it.
    The system mentioned above for the formation of decks of Picchetti and Quadriglie must also be extended [in terms of formalities] to that of Minchiate, with the exception of not making use of watermarked paper, but common paper, as has been said above.
    The Mark showing the Lily must appear on the Libra (Bilancia) Card, and the stamp on the card showing No. 27, as was practiced in the past. [None of the manufacturers will be able to give the decks for resale, except to those persons who will be provided with the Resale License by the General Administration pro tempore of the Royal Revenues.]
    They [Ministers] will have to carry out extraordinary Visits to the factories of each Patentee every time, as ordered by the same General Administrator of the Royal Revenues, in order to detect, with the results of the Register intended for the same, whether there are any frauds, i.e. if they have supplied unstamped decks [having found] a lack in the Figures already printed.
Such visits, however, must indispensably take place at the end [of each year], at which time the remainder of both the white watermarked paper and the paper on which both the Suits and the Figures will have been printed must be verified.
    Such a balance must correspond to that which will result from the Debit and Credit Account of each manufacturer, entered in the Register as proposed above.
    The manufacturers will be granted only a 10 percent allowance (on the amount) of this type of watermarked paper, which he (the manufacturer) will show as incapable of being used to make the decks (in order not to be accused of fraud, presumably). This paper will have to be withdrawn by the Enterprise, to be burned or torn up, but the manufacturer will not receive reimbursement of any amount on the value paid for it.
    Once a lack of paper is found, where the figures forming said decks have been printed, the manufacturer will be obliged to pay the fee for all missing items, as he would have paid if he had presented himself to have the stamp affixed to them.
   Such a failure will be considered as fraud, because it indicates a sale of decks without stamp duty, and therefore it will remain in the power of the General Administrative Officer of the Royal Revenues, in similar cases, to deprive the criminal manufacturer of the License [as was customary with happy success before the French].
    There must be no agreement, as in the past, for the export of unstamped cards abroad, as the cause of an immensity of frauds to the detriment of the Royal Interest, and of a mass of trials and searches, with disaster for the public].

3. The handover of the superintendency of the offices

    A brief correspondence between the offices, of which the one preserved is only a part, prepares and accompanies the transfer of responsibilities from one director to another.
10. Not only a single woodblock for all card makers, but also the freedom of how to paint the cards was evidently very limited.
11. Florence's relations with Lorraine were quite varied. The Lorraine from whose court Cristina, the wife of Ferdinand I of the Medici (with whom Galileo maintained an epistolary correspondence of a scientific nature) could not be considered Austrian; it so happens that this Grand Duchess had as her maternal grandmother the Queen of France, namely Catherine de Medici. However, when the new rulers of the grand duchy arrived from Lorraine, they were members of the Habsburg family, and Francis Stephen moved from the grand ducal court of Florence to the imperial court of Vienna. Since 1766, Lorraine has been a French region.
12.The tone is one of relief because, thanks to ignorance of the game, the French had not been able to introduce any of their obviously unwelcome changes. In the meantime, however, some changes to the card figures had been introduced.

1815 18th February
Stamped Paper and Playing Cards
    Note from the Royal Secretariat of Finance, with which the General Administrator of the Royal Revenues participates in the reunion of those Enterprises at the Department of Contracts Revenue in the form of the Sovereign Law of said 11th February, that it is therefore necessary to accomplish the consignment of the Superintendency of the aforementioned office of Stamp Duty to the Director of the provisional Deputation of the Administration of Ecclesiastical Goods and United Enterprises.

Lord Counselor Administrator
Of the Royal Revenues
    The Sovereign Law of February 11th current on Stamped Paper and Playing Cards, having reunited these Administrations with that of Contract Revenues, or Registry, and having equally ordered that they cease all dependence on the General Administration of the Royal Revenues, the provisional Deputation for the Administration of Ecclesiastical Goods and United Enterprises, to which was also temporarily entrusted the management of the aforementioned Contracts Revenue, remains in charge of the provisions to be made for the activation of same Law, at the time prescribed therein of 15th March next.
Consequently, it is necessary for Your Excellency to immediately hand over the Superintendence of the aforementioned Office of Stamp Duty and Playing Cards to the Director of the aforementioned Deputation, so that those measures are not found to be stranded by the subordinate Ministers, which it is necessary to take with the utmost promptness, and which the regularity and best performance of the service require that they be given by those who must also subsequently supervise its execution.
    I have the honor to indicate this to Your Excellency as a rule, to the effect that you can comply with the provisions of the Royal Government, while with perfect esteem I am honored to be
    Of Your Excellency
    Most Devoted Most Obliged Servant
    A. Pontenani
    From the I. and R. Secretariat of State
    The 18th February 1815

His Excellency Lord Counselor Alessandro Pontenani
General Administrator of the Royal Revenues
    Consistent with the highly esteemed note of Your Excellency dated 20 current (month), I have instructed Secretary Alessandro Fabbroni to go to this Department, of which You deservedly preside, to receive the delivery of the two united enterprises of stamped paper and playing cards, having, by disposition of the Most Venerable Edict of the 11th current, both to be combined in the Office of Contracts Revenue.
    Your Excellency will therefore please communicate to the aforementioned Minister everything that has to do with the two enterprises mentioned, convinced that you will give him everything to ensure that the Sovereign Orders are perfectly fulfilled. (Note 13)
    And with the greatest respect I confirm myself
    Of Your Excellency
    Most Devoted Most Obedient Servant
    Alessandro Galilei
    From I. and R. Deputation of Ecclesiastical Goods etc.
    The 21st February 1815

4. The transfer from Siena
    One of the notifications introduced by the reform is the restoration of Florence as the sole production site for playing cards. Thus, Pasquale Falugi, who had recently managed to open a factory in Siena, was forced to move it to Florence, with control over the equipment used. From what little we find in the file, we would conclude that the official exchanges of news between Siena and Florence, and also between different offices in Siena, were not sufficiently timely and complete. (Here, in order for the items each to fit on one line, as in the original I had to use small print.)
Royal Office of Stamp Duty and Playing Cards
Inventory of the woodblocks for Playing Cards of the Siena Factory of Pasquale Falugi placed in this Stamp Office by the Director of the Royal Customs of Siena on 1 February 1815 and existing at the consignment of the undersigned Minister of the Office of Stamp Duty and Playing Cards.
One woodblock of twelve Figures for Low Cards---------------------------------------------------No. 1 (Note 14)
Eight woodblocks for cards of Rovescino as follows, i.e. (Note 15)
12.The tone is one of relief because, thanks to ignorance of the game, the French had not been able to introduce any of their obviously unwelcome changes. In the meantime, however, some changes to the card figures had been introduced.
13. If the form remains obsequious, as usual, in substance it seems that he is abruptly responding to orders. Instead of going in person to receive the delivery, he sends the secretary. The way he requests assistance also seems like a higher-level official, in contrast to the tone of the previous correspondence.
14. The twelve figures are obviously three for each of the four suits; therefore a single woodblock is both necessary and enough. Only the way to "print" the numeral cards at the card factories remains a little uncertain.
15. The transition from one woodblock for Low Cards to eight for Rovescino cards is unexpected. Furthermore, these eight woodblocks would seem to be mostly used for the card backs, in different versions. We do not notice a woodblock for the figures different from that present for the Low Cards. Conversely, it can be assumed that at least one of these eight woodblocks was also used for the Low Cards, as an alternative to leaving the back blank. Indirectly, from here we have the news that the production of minchiate had not started in Siena.


1. One representing a medallion with a half-bust and inscription at the bottom Pelican---No. 1
2. As above, a Pelican feeding its children, with Sun and Moon in the corners--------------No. 1
3. As above Grand Ducal Arms, and inscription as above-----------------------------------------No. 1
4. As above a Fox holding a Snake as above---------------------------------------------------------No. 1
5. As above a Medallion as above and more Trophies as above---------------------------------No. 1
6. As above Arms Imperiale Austriaca and as above------------------------------------------------No. 1
7. As above, an armed Justice that Punishes Crime, and Pelican inscription-----------------No. 1
8. As above an Array of Points with Roses and outline of Festoons and Inscription as above-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------No. 1
    Plus one hundred and ten glued cartoons containing prints of twelve Low Card figures without coloring, from an old model.
    On the 9th March 1815
    Undersigned Minister of the Stamp and Playing Cards Office, I declare that the aforementioned woodblocks and sheets, or glued cards, are delivered and that these are deposited in the Archives of this Stamp and Playing Cards Office of Florence.
    G. Giusti

Siena Sig. Director
Of Contracts Revenues
The 13th March 1815
Most Illustrious
    From Your Excellency's request day last, I note the reasons why you were unable to send me the General Account of the Income and Expenses from Stamp Duty and Playing Cards from January 1st to 24th March inclusive. In the meantime, I ask you to have these Auditors speed up the settlement of their accounts and to send me the result as soon as possible, so that I may be able to submit to the Royal Government the Final Demonstration of the products and expenses of that Enterprise for the time that was incorporated into the General Administration of the Royal Revenues.

Siena (Note 16)
Lord Francesco Chigi
Director of the Registry and United Enterprises
10 April
    The woodblocks owned by card manufacturer Pasquale Falugi, of which Your Excellency speaks to me in your letter of day last were delivered to the Minister of the Stamp Office, Sig. Giuseppe Giusti, in accordance with his receipt of the 9th March past.
    Finding from your aforementioned statement that this pending matter has not been completed either [two words not deciphered] with the aforementioned Minister in order to remove it.
   And with the most distinguished respect I confirm myself

5. Conclusions
    After a quarter of a century, Grand Duke Ferdinand III returns to govern Tuscany after the interval of French rule, understandably restoring many of the old administrative procedures. Control over playing cards is also involved in the changes; now that the grand ducal government returns, the offices are rushing to restore the old procedures, except to take into account the innovations introduced in the few cases in which they could prove useful for the Treasury.

    Some of the relevant documentation, coming from the offices in charge, has been reported in detail. This is official correspondence, incomplete and sometimes present only in the preparatory draft version. However, these characteristics help us penetrate the offices and closely witness the events, intentions, and proposals on the measures to be taken. We thus obtain some information that we could not have known from the official laws and regulations which then represented the final result of these preparations.

    These are documents of great interest, because they somehow photograph the confusion of the offices at the moment in which the French government had recently ended and that of the Habsburg-Lorraine Grand Duchy was being reorganized anew. The French came from the revolution and had actually revolutionized in every detail even the administrations of the subject states. The grand ducal offices had to adapt to the notable and sudden changes, and throughout the world and at all times this is something that is not appreciated by the bureaucracy.

Florence, 02.01.2024
16. The letter from the previous day is missing.


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