Review Tarot de Marseille from Nicolas Conver

Name : Tarot de Marseille
Author : Nicolas Conver
Publisher : Editions Heron
Tradition : Tarot de Marseille type II
Packaging : Soft cardboard box / 11.5 x 6.5 x 2.8 cm
Deck : 78 cards / plasticized, satin cards / 11.2 cm x 6.1 cm
Size : Normale
Handbook : Leaflet of ? pages in B&W
Reverse side : Yes, the backs of the cards are reversible.
Switch of 8/11 : No
Universe : Medieval / Renaissance
Use : Prediction , Personal development

The equipment

The equipment

The cards are contained in a soft cardboard box. A small booklet is supposed to accompany the card game. But I bought this tarot used, and the booklet was not inside.

The cards are rather thin but still suitable, less thick I would have said a low quality. They have a standard size, so you can shuffle them and mix them as you want.

The history of the game

Nicolas Conver's Tarot de Marseille dated 1760 has become a reference. We can concede that Nicolas Conver is the heir of a tradition that has evolved over several centuries. And that the tarot model he proposes has been copied and recopied by the following generations of cardmakers. De facto, Nicolas Conver's tarot has become probably the best known representative of the canonical form of the Tarot de Marseille. However, Conver is probably not the author of his own tarot, so we can discuss the legitimacy of the Conver tarot as the standard of the Tarot de Marseille.

Indeed, Isabelle Nadolny in her book "Histoire du Tarot" brings interesting elements about the Conver family. The name Mathieu Conver (Nicolas Conver's father) is mentioned for the first time in the archives of the city of Marseille in 1783-1789. Nicolas Conver, was born himself in 1784 and worked as a master cardmaker from 1809 to 1833. He was therefore unable to engrave or publish a tarot in 1760 ! The explanation of the mystery fortunately remains very simple. It was widespread at the time that pearwood molds, used to print cards, were bought back from card maker to card maker, or even inherited from father to son. In fact, the black line was obtained by xylographic process from a pearwood mould, and this technique lasted until 1880. Nicolas Conver obtained his molds by this means, erased the name of the old cartier to put his own, but he left the date of engraving, probably to gain credibility or legitimacy. I am not talking about Conver as an impostor, but I am simply referring to a common practice among the cartiers, buying back or inheriting the molds.

However, the fact that Nicolas Conver is officiated in 1760 or from 1809 onwards does not change the facts or only slightly. He remains one of the last cardmakers of his generation to have printed Tarot de Marseille cards. Indeed, the popularity of the Tarot de Marseille was already declining in 1760, as the production of such tarot cards was concentrated in Marseille. Paris and Lyon no longer produced tarot cards because the stencil coloring had six shades (not counting the black line) and made the cards expensive. Moreover, the so-called French signs (Heart, Spades, Clubs, Diamonds) were already preferred by the French. The Conver model was then retained by publishers who continued to produce tarot cards. Thus, the Conver tarot became a reference.

But above all if the Conver has been so popular, it is because of the wide distribution of Paul Marteau's tarot published in 1930 by Grimaud, which is based on the Conver canon. For two generations, the Grimaud tarot called "L'Ancien (Old) Tarot de Marseille" was the only Tarot de Marseille published in France.

It is important to understand that the Conver tarot is the result of a long evolution. Indeed, the first Tarot de Marseille type II was created by Pierre Madenié from Dijon in 1709. Other Tarot cards such as Jean-Pierre Payen (Avignon, 1713), Francois heri (Solothurn/Switzerland, 1718), Jean-Pierre Laurent (Belfort, 1735), François Chosson (Marseille, 1736), Pierre Cheminade (Serravalle-Sesia/Italy, 1742), Claude Burdel (Fribourg, 1745), or Claude Rochias (St Sulpice/Switzerland, 1754) to name a few. Today we have a significant quantity of Tarot de Marseille cards of different authors and from different periods (preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, among others). This abundance of decks demonstrates the variety of graphics and colors that "suddenly" froze with the Conver model. Thanks to these tarot cards kept in libraries and museums, we understand better nowadays, that Nicolas Conver's tarot is not the first tarot of Marseille. It would be more the synthesis of the evolution of the tarot cards, the sum of the know-how of the French cartiers.

The Heron edition

Éditions Héron delivers here a reproduction of the Tarot Conver, that is to say a facsimile known as a "conform-copy" of the version kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.

First, it appears that the size of the cards does not exactly match the original size. But I own the deck and I can say that the cards are big enough. Although it is true that they are slightly smaller than the standard size, 11.2x6.1 cm vs. 12x6 cm.

It should be noted that the editor has chosen to retouch the cards, more precisely to color the faces in pink, because on the initial version, the faces of the characters are not painted. We can imagine that the editor's choice was to produce a tarot in accordance with today's tastes, with "fresh" pink faces rather than "macabre" white faces. I do not know if this choice is really relevant, because the practitioner who decides to buy a Conver tarot is looking for authenticity. So coloring the faces goes against this approach. As for the connoisseur looking for a modern and fun divinatory tool, his choice will certainly not stop with a facsimile but rather with a creation from scratch, such as the Camoin-Jodorowsky, Fournier or Bruno de Nys tarot cards.

The leaflet

The leaflet
The leaflet

I bought this deck second hand. When it was delivered to me, there was no booklet inside, so I can't talk about it in detail. If you have this game with its booklet, don't hesitate to comment on it.

Update May 13, 2024 : Thanks to Patricia, who owns a copy of the game along with its manual. I was able to obtain the photos below from her, along with the following information: The booklet contains 32 pages and is organized into 2 sections: 1. General interpretation, 2. Meaning of the cards (major arcana + minor arcana), all preceded by a Foreword.

The evolution of the canonical form

To help the reader find his way around the canonical form of the Tarot de Marseille, and to better understand what has been the object of evolutions for several decades, I have listed below the differences between :

  • The first Tarot of Marseille type II : Pierre madeiné, 1709
  • The said reference of the Tarot of marseille type II : Nicolas Conver, 1760

Arcana Madenié 1709 Conver 1760
I BATELEUR The character holds an acorn between his fingers The character holds a penny between his fingers
VI L'AMOUREUX The character has the bottom of his dress with a zigzag pattern The character has the bottom of his dress without motive
VII LE CHARIOT The coat of arms bears the letters PM (probably for Pierre Madenié). The coat of arms bears the letters VT (probably the initials of the previous owner of the moulds).
IX L'ERMITE The card is called L'ERMITE The card is called L'HERMITE (with a H)
XV LE DIABLE The character on the left has a normal chest The character on the left has 3 points instead of a breast
XXI LE MONDE The character has a second wand in hand, a bull is at the bottom left. The figure has a vial in hand, a horse has replaced the bull.
LE MAT There is a bell on the floor There are no bells on the ground.
10 DE COUPES A flower is in the 10th cup The 10th cut is identical to the others
VALET DE COUPES The character wears a headband with a diadem. The figure is wearing a wreath of flowers
REINE DE COUPES The character carries a scepter The character rather holds a long stick

From the outset we can notice that the two tarot cards are practically identical, and differ only on slight details. These modifications have nevertheless a real symbolic significance. I do not list the color variations in the table above. As for the graphics, they only concern details. I have not listed them, because these variations seem to me much less significant than the graphic variations. Naturally, any scrupulous and serious student will want to check and see for himself these variations by getting both games.

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My opinion on Tarot de Marseille

The publisher Heron offers a facsimile of average quality. We can regret the thin cards and faces colored in pink.

However, for students who are looking for authentic historical games, the Heron version seems to be a good choice, to have a solid reference on the Marseille standard. For the study, the game will be little manipulated and the fineness of the cards will not be a problem. Then the researcher will simply have to disregard the color of the faces.

For the beginner practitioner who wants to buy a Tarot de Marseille, the Heron version is not necessarily relevant. The images are flat, because with time, the colors have faded or degraded and the lines have altered. In addition, there are even the imperfections of the fabrication and first of all the smudges of the stencil painting. The images thus lack freshness and sharpness for a tarot for divinatory use. With the fineness of the cards, the deck can quickly deteriorate with intensive use. But if the student wants a facsimile at all costs, the Heron tarot certainly offers a very good value for money at around twenty euros. There are indeed restorations of the Tarot de Conver, in every way magnificent, but at much higher prices, such as the reconstructed Conver by www.tarot-artisanal.fr or a better quality facsimile by www.tarot-de-marseille-heritage.com.

"The Marseille standard" Tweet
  • Prediction
  • Personal development
  • Respect for the canonical form of the Tarot de Marseille
  • Facsimile, may not be suitable for those looking for clean, crisp images
of symbolism
of cards
of use
to children
in the study
2.9 / 5

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