This week I finally received that tarot Holy Grail, the Dusserre Dodal. Even the name has a legendary, mythic ring to it. The alliteration makes it sound distinctly poetic. For those who don’t know it, this is a facsimilie publication of the Dodal deck (1701, Lyon) published by the Parisian publishing house Editions Dusserre in the mid-1980s (according to Jean-Claude Flornoy it was first listed as out of print in 1992). The edition reproduced – in all its stained and blotched glory -was from the Bibliotèque Nationale in Paris. The British Museum also has a complete copy but this copy has never been reproduced. The Dusserre reproduction is printed on slightly yellowed cardstock which reproduces the original colours perfectly and is from a time when cardstock really had a satisfying weight in the palm of your hand. What is so extraordinary about this deck is that it hardly ever comes up for sale. I see Pam Bs and Greenwoods come up much more frequently than the Dusserre Dodal. Up until quite recently it wasn’t a deck which I felt I desperately wanted. I certainly wasn’t going to pay the high prices which it was rumoured to go for (anything between $500-$600. Maybe more now).
I was more than happy with my Jacques Vieville Tarot (France Cartes) or my Lo Scarabeo reproduction of the 1760 Conver (“Ancient Tarot of Marseilles), despite the doctored 6 of Batons (which is the 7 of Batons with one erased.)
However, once I started studying Flornoy‘s exquisite restoration of the Dodal last year and comparing it with other decks, I changed my mind and yearned for a copy of a pre-restoration Dodal for comparison with the cleaned up version. Now I have one.
The Dusserre Dodal deck is beautiful. Nobody seems to know the precise date this reproduction was published and exactly how many copies were put into circulation. I discovered that apparently there are two types of boxes, one with CE on the bottom and one without. Mine is the former. On the box it has (as can be seen from the above image) The Lovers card, whilst on the reverse is the Knight of Coins /Chevalier de Denier. Written on the side of the box is the following text;
Gardien des Images, des Couleurs et de leurs Symboles à travers les siècles, ce TAROT DE MARSEILLES de Jean Dodal est le plus ancien Tarot complet (1701) conservé par le Bibliothèque nationale de Paris-France.
It comes with a grey covered booklet entirely in French and which has no date. I used to think that the Dodal wasn’t quite so refined as the other historical decks (I don’t like to call them all Marseilles, as we have decks like the Vieville from Paris and the Ignaz Krebz/Piatnik tarot from Breisgau) but I have developed a fondness for it which I think is helped by the large, clear images in Flornoy’s edition. It seems to be the historical deck which it is easiest to really get up close to. I used to dislike the wide, googly eyes in the Chariot driver, the Star and other cards, and the languid hooded eyes on Justice (the Reine de Baston also has them), giving the images a rather primitive, badly drawn feel. However, I now find its crudeness appealing and quietly expressive. I still don’t like the weirdly rotund body of “le Pandu” [sic] though, and the dangling fingers and floor-mop hair, but you learn to live with these imperfections. And what’s that strange, caressing, hand-like thing coming out of the Reine Despeies’s [sic] sword blade?
There are some fascinating curiosities in this deck; the titling of Trump II as La Pances rather than La Papesse and no end of mysterious iconographic details which I feel I shall spend the rest of my life unravelling and not get anywhere. I have been thinking of the other Dodal editions which I know of and, apart from the Dusserre edition and the Flornoy 78 card edition, there is also a hand printed Majors only edition, also by Flornoy. Carta Mundi also published a not-very-accurate reproduction of the Dodal in 1996, which was later distributed by U.S Games with English titles. However, the drawing is quite sloppy and many details have been omitted for some unknown reason. Also, in 2010, Pablo Robledo beautifully restored the Dodal in a limited edition. I have #8 of the first 10, seen below (it later went into 3 editions to my knowledge). His craftsmanship is exemplary, and with this deck he produced one of the best (so called) Marseilles of recent years. But there is nothing quite like the Dusserre Dodal, as elusive as a unicorn; a deck which – in the last few years – seems to have simply vanished from view. We console ourselves with the excellent, flawless restorations of Flornoy & Robledo, but I like to see the smudges, the filth, the beer stains and the ingrained sweat from eighteenth century shuffling. And to see the original details side by side with the restored details and to decide for myself whether I agree.