Monday, 16 October 2017

Extra Large, cheap, Conver Tarot de Marseille tarot cards by Bounty Books

I have been studying RWS type decks for several years and had started to become less and less attracted to the rather negative pictures in cards like the 5 of Swords, 5 of Pentacles, 3 of Swords, 5 of Cups, 9 of Swords, 10 of Swords etc etc. I like the daily card tarot draw, but used to dread it when I saw these particular images and their negative connotations. I had also, more interestingly, started to wonder if 3's and 5's were inherently negative after all. I have a little knowledge of numerology and what I had didn't tie in with the tarot 3's and 5's. In short, I had begun to question the validity of RWS type decks. And then I came across a book by Carl Sargeant about the tarot and personality in which he argued the case for going back to older style Tarot de Marseille styled decks.

My first TdM deck was an expensive one from Yves Renauld - a Madenie from 1709. The engravings are beautiful, really very artistic. But the deck is small and far too nice to take away on holidays. And so I began to look for a travel deck. It had to be cheap in case it got stolen or lost or damaged. But I wanted it to still look like the old woodblock and stencil images from the 18th century. And I wanted a sturdy box if it was to get bashed around in my luggage.

I settled for The Tarot Deck, published by Bounty Books in 2015 (a division of Octopus Publishing). I bought it new, online, for under £7.00 including postage. And it has been the best tarot purchase I have ever made.

The two of coins follows:

It shows that it is a Nicholas Conver tarot from 1760. I have no idea what type of Conver it is. The Valet de Deniers is written without an "s" on the word denier. And he is different from the Valet in the Heron printing: his features are harder, the eyes less round, and the hair is slightly different as well. The whole topic of TdM versions is hugely complex and I am no specialist.

Another thing I must say is that the Heron is a photo reproduction of the Conver. It is beautiful and the light blue paintwork is exquisite. But as the cards are photographs of the museum originals, they reflect the aging of the cards, and so the black paintwork of the swords is extremely faded. I have a similar problem with the Pierre Madenie facsimile: the ageing paintwork does nothing to enhance the beauty of the deck. However, at the other extreme, a lot of modern renditions of the TdM tidy up these imperfection too perfectly, and they look crisp and modern and somehow false as well. This Bounty  Books printing strikes a nice balance: there is no fading or aging paintwork, and yet you can still admire the historic production method of wood-block and stencilling. The colouring looks a little hurried, but all in all and especially given its terrific price and wonderful jumbo size, I think it is an exceptionally good buy, and the more I use these cards, the more I admire and appreciate them.

This is the Bounty Books version of The Hermit. I am guessing that the software has changed the skin tones in places, as The Hermit has a large, rather ungainly red patch of sunburn! Too many solitary hours spent up on those mountain-tops I guess! One or two other figures have darker areas of flesh in places, but these are mostly quite natural-looking, nothing too much to worry about. The Hermit is the most extreme example of this colour variation.

With these colouring anomalies, I am half-inclined to wonder if perhaps they have been re-drawn and then coloured by software, a bit like the Mary Packard Madenie Tarot de Marseille, but I may be quite wrong about the re-drawing.

I love this deck and am using it in preference to my Madenie version as I like the large card size so much more and feel it adds to the tarot experience. Up until now I hadn't been a fan of large cards. I thought they were showey and pretentious and having small hands I preferred smaller cards. But having now had these larger cards for several weeks I am a convert. By the way, the Bounty Books cards measure 146mm x 81mm.

My only issue with them was that they would not shuffle well. Which leads me to the cardstock: the cardstock is quite thin, but I personally prefer it to the cardboard feel of the Madenie facsimile that has always felt a bit unnatural to me. But it isn't the cardstock that makes them hard to shuffle. It is the waxey characteristic of the cardstock. I believe the Thunder Bay Press version, which is considerably more expensive, is laminated, and videos at Tarot Zam on YouTube give the impression they will shuffle quite smoothly as a result. But I didn't want to spend that much, didn't like the Thunder Bay Press box, and didn't particularly want laminated cards as I felt they were less authentic (would cards in 1760 have been laminated!). But I came across a tip on the internet that card magicians use to enable their decks to fan and shuffle beautifully and they now shuffle like a dream. In fact, they shuffle better than any other cards I have ever owned. The tip is to write a large letter "X" on the back of each card with Dove soap, and to shuffle them like crazy. I also found I had to rub each card quite hard against the one behind it to get the soap nicely across as much of the card surface as possible.

I understand it has to be Dove soap and that other varieties will make things worse!

Shuffling larger cards took me a bit of getting used to. I can't shuffle them lengthways like most other tarot decks. I've tried riffle shuffling but it's early days & I'm not getting too far. I have settled mostly on a widthways shuffle, either in my lap (awkward) or more successfully by holding 2/3 of the deck in my left hand, the other 1/3 in my right hand, and then slowly shuffling them into the left hand, a few at a time, in a similar way as you would if you were lengthways shuffling. The potential "problem" of shuffling larger cards has prevented me from buying larger decks for years. But the experience of a larger card is so much more enjoyable for me, and you can see so much more detail in a larger image, that I feel sure any difficulties you may encounter in learning new shuffling techniques will be far outweighed by the pleasure of the bigger, clearer images.

One last thing: the reverse sides of the cards:

I think they are very attractive. The example I have shown has a small triangle which shows you the correct way up the card should go. This arrow/triangle only appears on minor, numbered cards and only where there is some confusion which way is up! I do not read reversals and find this really useful. But I think if you read reversals it might hinder your readings. It only adds to my enjoyment of the cards, but I mention it here in case it might be an issue for you.

I hope you have enjoyed this little review and feel free to leave any comments. I always enjoy reading them. Adam