A tiny jewel was delivered this week, sent as if first class from a 17th Century Parisian backstreet. Bertrand’s Triomphes de Paris is a Majors only deck of ochre-backed tarot cards made with linoleum engraving methods, printed by hand and glued by hand; an attempt to create a Ltd edition and numbered deck using only the 17th Century cardmaker’s technique; that is, everything by hand. As the creator himself said, the only use of modern technology during the whole process was internet research. It must have been a laborious and time-consuming process, as decks have been issued in tiny spurts, like golden eggs.
I received deck number X. To date, the highest number I know of is XIIII but as we speak he is probably painstakingly creating more (although he believes that the plates won’t last much beyond 100 copies, if that.) The deck draws on the imagery of the Jacques Vieville Tarot from the mid-17th Century, one of my favourite historical tarot decks and reproduces the famous, backward, mirror-image letters “S” and “N” as well as something of the exotic spirit of the deck. Yet it has a gloriously non-Marseilles voice of its own. I love all my decks but there is something about this deck which makes it uniquely magical. The cards measure 6 cm x 9 cm and have an inkiness that throbs with life and which depict witty details etched out with extraordinary sensitivity. The deck comes in a card wrapper such as was used in card manufacturing of the 17th Century and which can be seen at the top of this post, and the cards – although only numbering 22 (plus 2 extra title cards and a card with the deck number and a hand protruding from a cloud) – are as thick as a 78-card deck, such is the chunky cardstock, with a faint waxiness perhaps to seal the images.
I love the antiquated card titles, card number IV, the “Anpereur”, card number IX, “Vielart”, card number I, “Baga” – maybe these are archaic spellings, maybe playing up a kind of pseudo illiteracy. There have been decks that have impressed me with their sophisticated systems, their colourfulness, occult spookiness and sleek production, but this is a deck that has utterly charmed me with its roughness, the sense that one is in direct contact with a cardmaker’s smudged hands working into the small hours on a true labour of love. The Death card is, of course, unnumbered and I wonder whether it is only in my edition that it is the blackest, most funereal of all the cards. Here the ink is pitch black whereas on others it is often a lighter grey. The cards have slightly varying degrees of tonal graduations; Death is black, “Lune” is a lighter grey, as if bathed in moonbeams. The Sun has that anguished frown which the Sun in the Vieville has, leading one to think that perhaps – after all – this is a bad card, bringing much furrowing of the brow in future times. The figure in the centre of the World card, squats down as if the wreath isn’t quite big enough. This is probably the last deck I shall receive this year, a kind of impish revenge on all the mass produced decks that have tumbled out of factories in 2011. These Triomphes are a triumph with which to end the tarot year. I am utterly besotted.