I have been silent here of late. I would like to say that I have been speechless, in a swoon, stretched out on my chaise longue unable to deal with daily life, struck down with the beauty of my latest acquisition. However, the truth is rather more banal; work, a busy social life, visitors, dinners, concerts and, at the end of it all, sheer tiredness. A rich life is better than a regular blog. Surely we would all agree on that, but a couple of weeks ago I received a deck that literally made me stop in my tracks and really has fast-tracked to the top of my select core of favourites. I bought an antique (not merely vintage) Lenormand deck. I bid on it at auction and – weirdly – didn’t lose sleep over whether I desperately wanted it or not. I saw it, thought “how nice. I’d love one of those” and then on the very day the auction ended, I remembered, tossed in a bid, slurped my morning tea and dashed out to work. It was only later in the day that I saw the confirmation email and permitted myself to get very excited indeed.
The deck ticks all the right boxes; published by Dondorf (my favourite version of the Lenormand), complete (it helps), playing card inserts (much more desirable than verses), no creases, no tears, what they call a variation #1, the first of its type. Research tells me that it seems to date from 1870-80. I couldn’t believe my luck. When the deck arrived, I was not disappointed and held it close to me for days on end, shuffling it and looking over the sharp and richly coloured mezzotint images, the sharpness of the engraving (each rope, each part of the rigging in The Ship card meticulously etched) all the details which, on the reproductions available, come across as pointillist blurs. The real thing up close is very sharp and delicate, the colouring very distinct and, without a specialist camera, it is imposible to capture it. I am very disappointed with the photographs I have posted here but it’s the best I can do. It is what they call one of the lilac editions because the back of the cards has a sort of lilac wash colour, particularly visible in the lighter borders. What is very odd – and something I had never seen before – was the presence of cerise numbers in the left-hand corner of the cards and the cerise “Dondorf”, “Francfort” [sic] stamp in the top right hand corner. A few years ago, I came across an original Dondorf Lenormand in an antique shop in Barcelona. The price was so extortionate that I couldn’t even muster up energy to get excited about it. I simply put it back down again as something unaffordable. I never thought I would own one. In fact, I never even went searching for one. This one just popped up one day.
I knew nothing whatsoever about it; the seller said that they had bought a farmhouse in France and there was a lot of leftover clutter from the previous owners. She said that the previous owner had read cards and that there were also a number of tarot decks left behind at the house. Over in the Lenormand Forum on facebook, I posted a Grand Tableau spread (after shuffling the deck asking “tell us your secrets from across the years”) and – curiously – the “Fate” cards (the four bottom cards in an 8 X 4 + 4 Grand Tableau) were Letter + Lord + Lady + Clouds, which Mary Greer interpreted as the deck belonging to a man who had given them to a woman who had been unsure and unclear as to what to do with them. Then they came to me, fell into my loving lap. I have unconsciously taken on board the idea that these belonged to man, even though the common current seems to be that “silly” fortune telling was usually done by women, but we know the truth is never that simple. The story also merges illogically with something from my own childhood; how when I was a child we used to spend summers at a small country chateau in the Ardêche region of France. It was a ramshackle stone country house with a turret, covered in ivy and we were very happy there and whenever I think of the deck coming from its French country source, the image of this chateau, where we had such wonderful family holiday, comes to mind. In fact, the arrival of this deck made me search out pictures of this place on the internet and I see that the building has now been spruced up, stripped of its ivy, sandblasted, made chic, stripped of all atmosphere. It’s irrational I know but I associate this deck with happy childhood holidays, playing in the garden there, swimming in the nearby river with not a care in the world. And then I started thinking about the layers we put onto decks, the associations we put onto the images (just writing that previous sentence, “with not a care in the world” I see the Dondorf Child card in my mind”s eye).
And I think of all the previous owners of this deck and the associations they had. Over 130 years of associations and readings, lives laid out, frustrations, that predicted love not coming to pass. How many times were the cards right? How many times were the cards wrong? I wonder which way the balance tips? How many times, over 130 years, could a card have been mislaid, almost lost, and made the deck impossible to read with? The fact that it is complete and in reasonably good condition, means I have the luxury of reading with it and not worrying about damaging it. The cardstock is stiff, strong and there is not a single bent corner that might fall off. All that fascinates me about Lenormands is here, the twee, slightly dreamy Victorian imagery, the unthreatening depictions (not unthreatening in an empty “angels oracle” way, but unthreatening in that gentility will couch the darkness that may loom, not dramatise it, make you feel that hundreds before have felt it too). As it is original it has connotations of a fly in resin to me, an original relic that miraculously survived. It is, in short, from the same century as she was. All that fascinates me about Lenormands is here and I can touch it and feel it across the years and feel, quite wrongly of course, that I have a grasp on it.