There are a small number of decks which many amongst us have longed to see re-printed or make it to publication. The Jean Payen Tarot is one of those, and that for a variety of reasons, not least of which it forms an important link in the lineage of tarot during one of its most important phases of standardisation.
It comes less than fifty years before the French Revolution, and from a city having had long associations with the Papacy: Avignon. Admittedly, though still officially a Papal State at the time of Payen’s residence, it had effectively been under the rulership of the French Crown for a number of generations.
Payen himself had moved to Avignon from Marseille, establishing himself as a Master Cardmaker. Together with his younger namesake Jean-Pierre Payen, whose decks are visually nearly indistinguishable apart from some slight details, a number of tarot were designed. In a much earlier Newsletter (#32), I also draw attention to the Jean Dodal (from Lyons) that may have arisen from the Payen workshop.
The map below, produced at the time of the Payen, shows the proximity of the above named places (highlighted in red): Paris at the top; moving down to Lyons (Dodal), then Avignon (Payen), situated ever so close to Marseille.
Highlighted sections refer to (in order): Paris; Lyons; Avignon; Marseille
Map presented to the Academies des Sciences (French equivalent to the Royal Society) in 1744 and 1752 by Phil. Buache ‘1st Geographer of the King’, and presented to the King on the 15th May 1757 (subsequently published in 1770). Source: www.davidrumsey.com
The Payen is what is often referred to as a ‘TdM-I’ type deck. In other words, the earlier (‘type-1’) of the two major kinds of decks in what has come to be called the ‘Marseille’ style. The ‘type-2’ exemplified by the more common Grimaud, itself based on the deck by N. Conver from circa 1760.
There are a number of cards which can quickly identify whether a deck is of type-1 or -2: amongst these the Lovers, Chariot, Moon, and World. I’ll omit the Chariot in what follows, as I’ll get back to the card a little later (for those interested, the Chariot’s distinguishing feature is how the canopy hangs).
The Lovers, in this and other type-1 decks, has the ‘cupid’ emerging from a stellated burst and is, importantly, blind-folded; the Moon faces us full-on; and the World card has a ‘masculine’-looking figure within the aureole, and is caped. By contrast, the type-2 decks have none of these details as described – but have of course different consistent alternatives.
I must admit (and those who know my tastes in tarot already know this) that the type-1 TdMs are amongst my favourite, so obtaining a copy of the Jean Payen was sure to be a delight.
Scott Marchus (aka thinbuddha) has produced a deck that is sometimes referred to as a ‘photographic’ reprint or clone of the original. He has decided, thankfully as far as I’m concerned, to allow the deck to maintain squared corners, though this will undoubtedly mean that some users round these off. It nonetheless gives the deck an ‘authentic’ feel that is further accentuated by the cards not all being precisely the same size: it seems that there are three minor (and they are very minor) sizes that have resulted within the deck, reminding me of the cut of some books from the 1930s, with the pages not all cut ‘en bloc’.
The sleeve (or ‘box’) for the deck – or at least for the Deluxe model – is similar to the design used for many of the Italian-based (and excellent) Il Meneghello decks, and also similar to the first edition Prague Deck. In this case, it is cloth covered and sturdy, and the deck is further encased within a folded cardboard ‘holder’, the lot held together by a black cloth-covered ‘hair’-elastic afixed to a metallic button.
If I have any minor criticism of the deck, it lies with the cardboard stock used. Not that it is inadequate: it isn’t! Rather, I personally would have preferred something that feels a little more durable – though it may mean that I am a little more careful in the manner in which I handle the cards. Still, as something that will be taken into consideration by those who obtain a copy of the deck as a ‘working horse’, it’s likely that a card or two will bend and crease earlier than one has come to anticipate in card stock.
For study purposes, it nonetheless remains an ideal addition.
There are a number of details about the deck that are worth considering, especially given that this is a deck that is likely to occasionally see the light of day as an original deck from the 18th century.
In the Encyclopedia of Tarot, S. Kaplan displays two decks by Jean Payen and one by Jean-Pierre Payen. It may be worth noting that one of the Jean Payen decks is therein incorrectly attributed to the younger Jean-Pierre: on page 321 of volume II is displayed the partially complete Jean Payen held in the Cary Collection of Playing Cards at Yale University. This is the one incorrectly titled as ‘Jean-Pierre Payen’, and furthermore likely also dated a little earlier than perhaps warranted, for it seems a cognate of the one produced by Scott Marchus, and earlier reproduced some ten years earlier in vol I of the Encyclopedia of Tarot – in that volume a copy of the deck held in the Fournier Museum in Vitoria, Spain.
One of the details I find particularly striking is the ‘missing’ shield that would normally show the engraver’s initials upon the Chariot. It’s as if this has been chipped out from the woodcut used for the examplar used by Scott Marchus and for the one in the Fournier Museum…
Even the Jean-Pierre Payen, also at Yale University, has at least the shield, even though it remains without initials. As this latter dates from 1713, it makes me wonder if the Jean Payen woodblock used for the deck at hand was in fact carved far earlier by someone no longer at the Payen workshop in 1743, and the two-coin ‘lemniscatory’ manufacturing detail was added to what otherwise was a far older printing block. If such is the case, the guesstimated date by Kaplan for the deck woodblock as circa 1735 may be more accurate than the two-coin information offers. Perhaps, indeed, even earlier than the 1730s.
Or even… do we have another case of a deck, like the Chosson’s use of the Sellon woodcut with its ‘corrected’ date, in this Payen deck having the ‘43’ newly carved onto glued wood that replaced the original, yet, in this case at least, remaining in the Payen workshop. If these meandering reflections are in any way accurate, it may show that in this case, the frequent State regulation for the destruction of woodblocks was not in all cases carried out!
But is the deck worth it!?
This is undoubtedly a question that many will want answered. I can, of course, only present my own personal view. At US$40 it’s a little expensive for a deckyet, given the care that went into it, its overall quality, its rank in the hall of importance, and its overall feel, I would without reservation have paid a little more (but not much more!).
Scott mentions, in the 2009 Tarot Lovers’ Calendar, that ‘every effort is being made to maintain the integrity of the woodblock lines and color choices found on the original cards without sacrificing the hand crafted appearance of the beautiful and significant deck’ – something I entirely support and which, in my opinion, he has managed to achieve.
[copies of the deck may be obtained by contacting Scott]