Some of you may remember a while back how I bought an antique Dondorf Lenormand which it transpired was a variation #1 Lilac Dondorf. I didn’t invent the term Lilac Dondorf, I got the information from here, which dated the deck at around 1872 – though I have also seen it dated as early as 1865. A card from variation #1 can be seen on the left of the first illustration in the link. It has the cerise discs in the upper corners of the card, flanking the playing card insert, one on the left hand side with the number of the card and one top right with “Dondorf Francfort” (not Frankfurt). It is this that distinguishes it from later editions where the disc and Dondorf logo were in black and white. It is a beautiful deck and I have long pored over the delicate, fairytale details – Lenormand as a fine art – and I recently sent scans to master restorer Lauren (who has issued a number of historic Lenormands ) in order for her to work her magic. She has done, to date, the Game of Hope Lenormand, the Dutch Lenormand, the Purple Dragon Dondorf and most recently the Stralsunder which I reviewed last month and which I have fallen head over heels in love with. But there is nothing quite like the Dondorf. It is, for me, the definitive Lenormand. The Pam A of Lenormands. The deck to which – for me – all Lenormands seem to aspire. It is as if this is the deck that takes card reading from the thrilling, murky back rooms of yore and into genteel, upholstered parlours where nocturnes waft from the grand piano and agitated fans flutter at gloomy and capricious predictions alike. This is fortune telling at its most elegant, most refined.
So many of the historic Lenormands have the Marseilles factor – which of course we like – crooked faces and foxes that look like wombats but I feel that the Dondorf is a world apart. The quality of the engraving is far superior to the other Lenormands of around the same time. What Lauren has done (after I sent her scans) is clear up the damp (and other) stains to make this deck workable again, to make it a pleasure to use again. There were cases of feint imprints from other cards caused by prolonged periods of storage. Nothing extreme but it has been such a wonderful experience seeing these cards cleaned up and brought back to life. They are due to be printed in a limited print run of 50 on linen cardstock and in a tin with the Dondorf card back – a masterpiece of 19th Century trellis work and symmetry – on the lid.
There were a few surprises on the way, such as how difficult it was to distinguish actual stars on the Star card and also how the Moon card has such an ill-defined (rather daubed in fact) crescent moon. I always thought that it was simply half-hidden amongst wispy clouds but, like the stars, it is simply not very clearly depicted. The stars, moreover, needed a little bit of help to twinkle.
Looking at my deck – kept in a petit black beaded 1920s bag – it never seemed excessively dirty to me and I would get it out and play with it and use it, quite unfazed by the greyness. But now, looking at the scans as the project has developed – I am amazed at how almost a century and a half of grime has obscured details which only now am I able to see. I also hadn’t noticed that there isn’t a consistent cerise coloured discs in the corners. This issue came up when we had to ascertain the most representative shade but as I looked through the originals I realised that there isn’t an exact shade which persists across all cards, though it’s probable that there was when they were new. Some cards now have lighter tones, others have darker tones and it is hard to know which would have been the standard colour. All we can do is choose the one we think fits best, and yet it is this colour which defines the deck. It is also pleasing to see a few creased corners magically ironed out and to see the Lily dragged out of murkiness and reinstated into its former purity. It is surprising how many cards now actually have perceptible backdrops and clouds which, together with the accumulated dirt, became a sort of continuous smear. Now we can see where the clouds end and the whiteness of the card begins. This is noticable in the Tower and the Clover for example.
These historic Lenormands draw me in and in the case of the Dondorf, it is the simplicity of the symbolism mixed with the sensitivity of the engraver’s line which I love. So much detail can be packed in but it is never cluttered. It is a pattern that feels so timeless and it is quite moving now to see this deck in all its former glory. Although it is not strictly an academic reproduction, Lauren stuck to the original colours, brightening sensitively where possible or necessary. Only the Stars needed a bit of a nudge. Lauren has done a marvellous job and some time soon we will be able to hold it – as if new – in our hands and use it. This for me is going to be indescribably exciting.