Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Feb. 23, 2024: Florence 1472-1474. Worn-out naibi and triumphs in a bag

This is one in a series of notes by Franco of his findings from inventories of minors' inheritances, in this case two of them. Comments in brackets are mine, and this is posted in consultation with Franco, who corrected some of translation errors. The Italian original is at 

 Here are couple of findings from Franco's search through inventories of minors' inheritances. Comments in brackets are mine, numbers in the left margin correspond to the page numbers of Franco's pdf, and Franco has corrected some errors in translation.

Florence 1472-1474. Worn-out naibi and triumphs in a bag

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

I present here the results of a short study which can be considered an appendix to a much longer investigation in the same collection of the State Archives of Florence (ASFi). The section is that of the Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, which I probed again recently. In particular, I have already reported the news of two packs of naibi on sale in Ponsacco in 1421 together with various ceramics, [note 1] and of one pack found in 1426 in the Vecchietti house. [note 2] For me, finding the record of the second case indicated was like reaching a long-established goal, after which I could finish the search without regrets. Instead, I found myself “returning to the scene of the crime,” to examine a couple more registers from that same series of Samples and Revised Data.

Here I report on two findings in a register studied recently, and for any other details I refer to the two previous studies cited. In this case, following Inventory N/60 of the ASFi, we find: No. 172, Sample of inventories and revised data, Quarters of S. Spirito and S. Croce, from 1467 to 1475. The book has the usual large size of royal [reale, roughly = metric A3 or 11x17 inches] sheets and the usual thickness of a dozen centimeters. Curiously, they restored the register, pleasantly enriching it with a heavy leather binding with metal studs, which, from the back, partially goes up to the front with two closing bands or straps. Incredibly, however, the binding was fixed upside down so that upon opening, the last pages of the register are found upside down, thus ruining all the value of the work.

2. The worn-out naibi

The Naibi are met on folio 249v. We had already seen that meeting naibi in a private home was an extremely rare occasion. Here, after the first exceptional case, a second one immediately presents itself. Maybe the rarity wasn't so marked then? I do not think so. However, in this case, the inheritance is indicated as that of Franciescho di Nicholaio Biliotti; we are in Florence, and the year is now 1472, already a full generation after the Vecchietti pack, practically an entire century since Naibi had arrived in the city. Let us see what we read in the relevant part of the inventory of household goods. 

ASFi, Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, No. 172, f. 249v
(Reproduction prohibited)


1 cupboard cloth
2 pieces of cupboard cloths
12 pairs of old underwear and several fabric socks
3 mended napkins and 1 with holes
29 pillowcases of several sizes with nets and without nets
8 hand towels of several sizes
1 women's handkerchief
12 napkins of various sizes, both good and worn-out
1 children's shirt and 1 piece of linen fabric with several rags
1 little mattress for a small bed a bordo [near a wall or a big bed?]
1 pair of much-used naibi or playing cards [paio di naibi overo charte da giuchare tristi]
4 tin plates…
4 tin plates…
13 small tin bowls…
17 tin bowls…
3 tin plates…
1 pair of spurs
1 children's small harpsichord

Obviously, we are only interested in one line in particular of the inventory, but even the nearby lines are very useful for identifying the context of the conservation of the playing cards, evidently among objects reserved for family use, all of which are of no particular value. The same line of greatest interest contains more useful information.

To begin with, the adjective triste [literally “sad”] sounds curious today, because no one uses the term with that meaning anymore. Imagining discontented or desperate playing cards today would make one think of extravagant fairy tales with flights of fancy that here are completely off-topic. In fact, the same adjective is also found a few lines above this entry, and moreover, it is encountered very often in these inventories. The meaning in these cases is “worn out, used up, become barely usable.” This reporting is very important because it directly affects the commercial value of the object, and it must not be forgotten that these are inventories of household goods within a complete economic evaluation of the inheritance to be administered. Therefore it is more than logical that it is reported when an object presents itself with a value reduced to only a fraction of what it could have been worth even when used if still in good condition.

The double name of the cards [naibi, charte da giuchare] remains, and this is also an important fact. The terms separated by “or” [overo] might seem like a normal repetition, inserted for greater clarity, but in my opinion they are not. They would have been many years before, when the two terms could really have been synonymous. [note 3] I think that in those years, if it had been new playing cards, they would no longer have been called naibi, but everyone would have called them only “playing cards,” carte da giu/o/care. But those in the inventory are not new cards; they are old and badly damaged, and in my opinion they are also of a type that is no longer in circulation - and if by chance you see them, they are cards with which only a few grandparents can still play.

I recognize that the above is just my idea, not based on certain data, but what convinces me is the fact that it is not the first time I have come across such a lexical combination. Also in a previous study, the terms were encountered together, whether of decks of playing cards or odd naibi, in 1462. [note 4] And then the interpretation of one circumstance ends up confirming that of the other.

Why then was there the need, or at least the usefulness, of using a double name? Because those cards were naibi, but whoever saw them for the first time needed confirmation, as if they were saying:
3. Some examples (1407-1429) in F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nella repubblica fiorentina, Arachne 2016, pp. 209-211.

"even these cards called naibi, with their own pictures, were used as playing cards, exactly like those of today."

This is the second deck of naibi found in a private home among the hundreds in which inventories of household goods were compiled for inheritance reasons in the fifteenth century. The hypothesis that, for one reason or another, none could be found had already been discredited by the first discovery. Going from one to two decks now is not a very significant progress, also because almost half a century has passed from the first to the second; however, if nothing else, the fact is also confirmed that it was not by strange chance that the first deck was found together with objects of little value.

3. Triumphs in a bag

If finding a second pack of naibi in an inventory from half a century later could not arouse great surprise, the same register has reserved another one for us: in an inventory registered on f. 313v, we encounter the first deck of triumphs in an ordinary house!

In this case, the legacy is that of Brano di Nicholo Gherardini (or similar surname) of Florence. As usual, below is a reproduction of the text and the transcription of the part of interest.

 ASFi, Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, No. 172, f. 313v
(Reproduction prohibited)

1 local hand towel . . . with holes
1 local hand towel with holes . . .
1 Parisian-style hand towel
1 white Neapolitan blanket with more holes
1 pair of triumphs in a bag
6 used shabby overcoats for men
7 pairs of used men's underwear
1 pillow covered with taffeta of Brano
1 Milanese knife with black handle
That old naibi could be found in the company of objects of little value could no longer arouse a strong surprise to us. Here, however, we find a pack of triumphs next to holey linens and seven pairs of used underwear!

To be able to include it in the list of precious tarot cards preserved by the ducal courts, at least the bag containing them would have to have been made of brocade, with gold threads and gems incorporated into a very luxurious decoration. However, it is much more realistic to instead admit that at that time even triumphs were objects of common use, so much so that only when new, and perhaps in versions with more careful workmanship, could they maintain a certain commercial value.

In my opinion, triumphs in Florence were not luxury objects even at the beginning, precisely because they spread in the same environment as Florentine card makers and players who certainly had no intention of spending fortunes on objects intended for consumption characterized by very quick depreciation. In the case in question, there was no longer even a possible push of fashion or novelty: by now a good generation had passed since triumphs had been introduced into players’ use.

If I can advance another personal opinion, I would say that it is a great disappointment that this bag did not reach us with the pack of triumphs inside; today it would in fact have been very useful for setting certain limits to the endless discussions on the extraordinary tarot cards that have reached us from the ducal courts.

4. Conclusions

When I thought I had concluded the research on possible decks of naibi preserved in private homes in Florence and the surrounding area, I continued a little further, tracing a second deck of naibi in Florence in 1472 and even a deck of triumphs in 1474. In both cases, it clearly dealt with everyday objects. The triumphs were simply stored in a bag, among used linen. For the old Naibi, the term, which has been in use for some time, of playing cards, is added. Ultimately, they were rarely inventoried items, but of little value.

Florence, 02.23.2024

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