Recently, a 1900s Dondorf Lenormand deck came into my possession. I knew from the description that it was incomplete but I have bought incomplete decks in the past, convincing myself that – as part of my historical curiosity – I really only need one card to get a feel for what the cardstock is like anyway. Idle curiosity, nothing more. I love my Lenormands and have been wondering for a while what a 19th Century or early 20th Century deck (especially of the Dondorf pattern) would feel like in my hands. I also bought a 1930s Thomson-Leng deck a while ago which was incomplete though I have subsequently bought another incomplete one and been able to merge the two and form a complete one. Yet at the time I found myself thinking “it will be interesting to see what the cardstock and colouring is like close up.” However, when I received the Dondorf Lenormand and opened it up I was thrown into a romantic reverie, reflecting on how the deck ended up like this, wondering whether the missing the cards have survived somewhere and – if so – where they are; pressed between pages of a book, perhaps? Forgotten at the back of a sideboard drawer? Or maybe they were deliberately destroyed, torn up in anger or tossed into the fire after an unfavourable reading?
How do cards get separated? I can think of a 101 ways in which a deck can be irreparably left incomplete. I remember as a child I was given a small deck of patience cards, (Piatnik, Vienna) in a beautiful little box. I adored this deck with its chinoiserie backs and rouged courts. I kept it in my desk drawer and then as the drawer got fuller, the lid slipped off, the cards spilled out and everytime I opened the drawer I kept thinking “I must gather all the cards together and put the lid back on”. The drawer got fuller, more papers, more stuff, years passed, teenage years came and went and I had more pressing matters to attend to, and still the cards spilled out and got pushed further and further to the back of the drawer. Then years later, back at my parents, clearing out the desk, I found the deck again and, with a twinge of guilt at how neglectful I had been, gathered up the cards and noticed that there were now a few missing. I find that, as an adult back in love with cards, I love the deck again as much as I did as a child. It feels as if it has an added quality now; it being incomplete affirms its status as a remnant, something washed up from my past, something which survived by chance; this was the sensation which I had anew when I received the Dondorf Lenormand – ten cards missing – and the two decks became inextricably linked. Funny, in my mind’s eye I imagine this deck too spread out in a drawer, subject to the endless onslaught of stuff and chaos; slumbering through two world wars, mixed up with telegrams, letters, maybe a will or two, growing mustier and more forlorn. It is as if the day my Dondorf Lenormand ceased to be complete, its heartbeat stopped. It can never again be used to divine with.
There is always the chance with vintage decks that they will be warmed up again by loving hands, like the rubbing of the magic lamp, release their life force and go back to doing what we want them to do, foretelling the fortune from one generation to the next. But with an incomplete deck like this, all hope is lost. I find something indescribably beautiful and sad about this, and yet morbidly intriguing; like a valued fob-watch with the essential component missing, it will never tick again, never pulsate again and is doomed to be nothing more than a collectible, when what we want for a deck like this is for it to be shuffled, respond to the warmth of human hands and live again.
Who owned this deck? What fortunes were told with it? I think of all the major historical events of the 20th century, the fallout, the domino effect of significant upheavals on what would seem to be insignificant lives. The romantic in me imagines a deck as a ruin, a fragment, the cartomantic equivalent of driftwood cast ashore, resting awhile, then – after me – taken elsewhere, perhaps to less appreciative shores. Maybe more cards will be lost. How evocative an incomplete deck is for me. I have no shortage of complete decks but there is something about a fragmented deck which I find endlessly fascinating, especially knowing that it will never ever be complete again (unlike buildings that get adapted and live on). We can scan modern replacements, trim to size, but why bother? I can easily find one of a few different historic reproductions which are not dissimilar to the Dondorf pattern, with French verses like this one, but I prefer it in this state. What if I did a reading with it? It would be like a Victorian tricycle with one wheel missing. Of the significator cards, only the male significator remains; he may want to rest his gaze on his female counterpart but she is no longer there. Despite all this, I love the deck, I’m so glad I bought it and it serves no purpose whatosever except as a focus for me to reflect on how life ravages everything, how everything fades, everything ultimately is left broken and incomplete. We too lose our memories and references and many of the things that make up the sum of our parts. We too gaze in certain directions and find that the object of our gaze is no longer there. It may not be any use for laying out and reading with, but for contemplation it still has much to teach. Much more than simply what 100 year old cardstock feels like.