Review Tarot de Marseille from Paul Marteau

Name : Tarot de Marseille
Author : Paul Marteau
Publisher : Grimaud
Tradition : Tarot de Marseille type II
Packaging : Soft cardboard box / 12.8 x 6.8 x 3.7 cm
Deck : 78 cards / plasticized, satin cards / 12.3 cm x 6.5 cm
Size : normal
Handbook : leaflet of 62 pages en W&B
Reverse side : Yes, the backs of the cards are reversible.
Switch of 8/11 : No
Universe : Medieval / Renaissance
Use : Prediction , Personal development

The equipement

The equipement

The 78 cards and the small booklet are delivered in a soft cardboard game box. RWS practitioners accustomed to large, sturdy boxes may be surprised to get a tarot deck in such a fragile package and see it as a rather low-end product. However, Marseille Tarot cards are usually delivered with simple leaflets summarizing very briefly the divinatory use of the deck. The community considers that learning tarot is done by reading books, by following training courses or trainings. Moreover, the Tarot de Marseille is standardized, all editions are identical except for a few details, so the manufacturers do not feel obliged to address the specificities of the deck in a manual, when there is none or few. Of course, in the RWS Tarots, which are often original and inventive, the creators take the time to expose the particularities of their deck in a booklet that is usually complete.

The cards of the deck respect the standard size of a Tarot de Marseille which is about 12x6 cm. Shuffling the cards is therefore easy for people with small hands. The cards are printed on a sufficiently thick plasticized cardboard, the printing quality is normal and standard.

The author Paul Marteau

Paul Marteau was born in 1885 and died in 1966. He was the grand-nephew of Baptiste-Paul Grimaud and heir to the Grimaud family of master carpenters. He managed the Grimaud company for many years. At the time, Grimaud was the only publishing company still interested in the production of the Tarot de Marseille.

Indeed, since the beginning of the 20th century, there were only two tarot producers, Grimaud in Paris and Camoin in Marseille. The Camoin company took over Conver's estate, which unfortunately consisted only of used molds that had deteriorated over time. In Paris, the Grimaud company bought Lequart in 1891 and recovered the archives and moulds of the former Parisian Arnoult. In the end, the Camoin company finally abandoned the production of Marseille tarot cards to devote itself solely to the production of card decks for export (and its activity ceased completely in 1970). Taking advantage of the production stoppage at Camoin, Grimaud then took over their tarot business and recovered the Conver moulds.

After the First World War, the Tarot de Marseille was totally abandoned by the French. But Paul Marteau understood the full potential of this game as a divinatory tool. He became aware that the market for the Tarot de Marseille was tangible in the midst of French esotericism and occultism. The outlets were promising. Thus, in 1930, he published the only Tarot de Marseille available on the market: The Old Tarot de Marseille. This model was published several times in different formats (size and thickness of cardboard). It has sold millions of copies throughout the world and is still published today by Grimaud/France Cartes.

It is important to understand that for at least two generations, the one and only Tarot de Marseille sold on the market has been the Tarot de Marseille published by Grimaud. It is for this reason that the tarot de Paul Marteau is still commonly sold in France. Of course, it is less well known to the younger generation, which is now more spontaneously interested in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot. However, when a tarot enthusiast (young or not) is interested in the Tarot de Marseille, often Grimaud's "Ancien Tarot de Marseille" remains a popular choice for a first purchase, despite the fact that it is relatively criticized today. Indeed, when we do not know, we often buy the most famous product ...

It is therefore necessary to pay tribute to Paul Marteau, because thanks to him, the Major Arcana of the Tarot de Marseille is known throughout the world (naturally without being able to compete with the popularity of the Rider-Waite-Smith). Without Grimaud, the French would have had no tarot to put under their teeth for more than 50 years except for the Anglo-Saxon tarot cards. The RWS would probably have democratized much faster. And today, even in France we would not be lucky enough to have in our popular culture, the knowledge or even the memory of the existence of the Tarot de Marseille and the great value of this tradition.

The leaflet

The leaflet

The content of the booklet has evolved several times over the course of the different editions. Since 1930, it is the only aspect that has really changed in the Grimaud Tarot.

The leaflet is written in French and English. The history of tarot is not discussed. The booklet describes two drawing strategies : The classic Celtic cross in 6 cards (typically French format, Anglo-Saxons use 10 slots instead, as they also use the Minor Arcana). The second draw is the astrological wheel which deals with the twelve astrological houses. The explanations are summary and are not worth the exhaustiveness of books on the subject.

Then the booklet establishes a list of key words for the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. Concerning the trumps, the keywords indicated are classical. On the other hand, for court cards and numeral cards, the keywords are rather surprising (they come from the very vision of Paul Marteau). The meanings differ greatly from those of the Rider-Waite-Smith, but they also bear no resemblance to the modern interpretation of the Minor Arcanum of Marseilles, based on numerology and the 4 elements Earth, Fire, Air, Water of astrology. If you want more explanations on the origin of the reading grid established by Paul Marteau, you should read his book. Unfortunately the book is no longer edited and can still be found second-hand but at collector's prices.

Some freedoms in relation to the canonical form

"L'Ancien (Old) Tarot de Marseille" by Paul Marteau is based on the tarot of Nicolas Conver. The Conver images have been faithfully reproduced. This tarot remains an authentic creation, as the lines of the Conver drawings have not been preserved but followed with a certain precision. On the whole the canon is respected, but some details are missing compared to the Conver

  • The acorn between the fingers of the BATELEUR becomes a coin.
  • The wreath of flowers of the woman on the right on L'AMOUREUX disappears.
  • The laurel wreath on the head of LA REINE DE BATONS is barely discernible.
In my opinion, these details are important, obviously not for Paul Marteau. Also if this tarot is suitable for beginners. For me, this deck is unsuitable for an in-depth study of the initiatory message of the Tarot de Marseille.

A free PDF to print, cut out, and fold!

Key words for the 78 cards for the Tarot of Marseille, to slip into your favorite deck. Your leaflet always with you, at hand, to guide you in your readings. Thanks to it, your interpretations gain in richness and subtlety.

1st distinctive feature of the images : their colors

What strikes you when you first discover a tarot by Paul Marteau are the colors of the images. There are only 5 colors: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Pink. The carder spreads his colors not with a brush but with a roller. Before being an artistic choice, there is a technical reason for this. At the end of the 19th century, with the era of industrialization and new printing processes, the master cardmakers of the time continued to produce tarot cards but with a simplified color scheme, adapted to the machines.

In 1930, Paul Marteau continued along this path, delivering a colorful tarot of his own vision. The cardmaker has always defended himself from having just restored the Tarot de Conver, so he called his deck: "L'Ancien (Old) Tarot de Marseille". But in truth, he made personal choices in the use of colors, which make his tarot a true creation, but if it takes the exact images of a Tarot de Conver.

And these bright colors are certainly the reasons why Paul Marteau's tarot is criticized. By the current times, it is clear that such a tarot does not let indifferent, even it shocks by its dark colors, without nuances and omnipresent.

On the other hand, these colors have a clear and assumed codification : red for the active aspect, blue for the receptive aspect, yellow for materiality, green for spirituality, and pink for the human. The images thus have a deepened and renewed meaning thanks to the color coding. This is remarkable in Paul Marteau's tarot far more than any other tarot. Thus one likes or dislikes the pink painted skeleton of THE DEATH, or the pink tower of THE TOWER. We like or dislike the blue hair of THE STAR. These few examples are specific and unique characteristics of this tarot. These specific details offer an intelligible and immediate meaning of the cards, beyond the necessary learning of symbols. I am addressing these few cards below to illustrate my point.

2nd distinctive feature of the images : the strokes of the drawings

While many people criticize Paul Marteau for his colors choices, I mainly focus my remarks on the size of the strokes of the drawings. The strokes are thick, coarse, without finesse, even for the time one could expect a better work of the cardmaker. As a comparison, you will find below an extract of the card LE BATELEUR, on the left : Conver (1760) and on the right : Marteau (1930). Almost 200 years later, Marteau produces an image with less finesse and detail. This is particularly evident in the faces.


The presence of copyright

The presence of copyright

Finally, the presence of copyright on the cards (as shown below) disturbs many tarologists. We can understand them, for a divinatory tool, Grimaud could have made his copyright more discreet, and even removed it from all the cards. For a product that claims to be cultural, for images that hold Art, the presence of copyright is very questionable, and the practice is rather unusual.

The cards I Like

VI Le Chariot

The cards I Like

The idea that the two horses do not necessarily go in the same direction is reinforced by the fact that they are each of a different color. Red and blue are colors that are usually opposed to each other (on hot and cold water taps for example). It is obvious to understand that horses can be harnessed side by side, they are in opposition, they fight against each other.



The skeleton is colored pink, making it human. It does not necessarily represent the incarnation of Death with its big scythe. It is necessary to think that this skeleton represents above all the individual who must mow down his past, cut his bonds in order to be reborn.

XIII Tempérance

XIII Tempérance

The wings of TEMPERANCE are pink, attributing a very earthy and human character to the angel. This messenger is not of divine nature, he comes from us, he is in us. The two amphoras are red and blue, the half-red, half-blue dress tell us that we must balance and reconcile what is nevertheless antagonistic or incompatible.

XVI La Maison Dieu

XVI La Maison Dieu

The pink tower evokes the individual. It is not a tower that we have before us, but an allegory of Man. These crenellations which form a royal crown, naturally evokes the head of the individual, his ego.

XVII L'Etoile

XVII L'Etoile

L'Etoile's blue hair characterizes her receptive nature, her mind is turned towards listening, sensitivity, the unsaid. While she holds red amphoras in her hands indicating that her action is voluntary, focused, active. The woman listens with a receptive and vigilant mind and then acts with will and initiative.

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My opinion on Tarot de Marseille

Criticisms about this tarot are for the majority: awful colors, a coarse fineness of the lines and a shameful copyright. It is difficult not to take these remarks into account.

However, two points must be admitted:

  • No matter what one says about this deck, it remains a Tarot de Marseille of pure tradition. It thus proposes a Major Arcana of great coherence, based on a universal and profane symbolism. This makes it a much more interesting subject of study than many RWS Tarot decks, including the most beautiful and recent ones. A Tarot de Marseille, however indigestible it may be, remains a Tarot de Marseille!
  • These colors, indeed vivid and even garish, nevertheless offer a first level interpretation, easy and simple to memorize, on which we can rely for our readings, even before entering into the in-depth learning of symbolism. For the beginner practitioner, it can be a good choice to acquire his first Tarot de Marseille. Its colors make it unsightly (according to taste) but at the same time it is easy to learn. I did my first readings with him, before moving on to other historical tarots of Marseille.

The last point in favor of this tarot, however decried, is its edition in 2 formats: a standard size and a mini size. (available here). With Camoin-Jodorowsky's tarot in mini size (available here),that I also do the review, it is the only Tarot de Marseille published in a small format. This mini size makes it transportable with oneself on a daily basis, and allows an improvised reading anywhere, on a café terrace table, on a public bench, on the cement of a jetty on the sea. When one wishes to democratize the tarot, demystify it, give it back its letters of nobility, it is necessary to know how to adapt and make an initiation anywhere and anytime... The interest of the mini format is then undeniable.

Finally you may prefer a modernized version of Paul Marteau's version with Fournier's tarot (my review here) which uses the same colors but with modern graphics.

"The best known of Marseille" Tweet
  • Prediction
  • Personal development
  • Respect of the canonical form of Marseille, and without addition!
  • Easy to learn color coding
  • Awful colors, coarse lines, invasive copyright
of symbolism
of cards
of use
to children
in the study
3.3 / 5

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