I’m a big believer in synchronicity: that confluence of energy and time, suddenly bursting into the present, demanding attention.

So a while back, when I ran across Annie Kaye’s blog post on the Stockholm Octavo on the very day that I unearthed my copy of the deck featured in the novel, my ears pricked up. This was the first non-tarot deck that caught me eye–not much chance I could resist a whole suit of books!–and I have loved it dearly since. 3-10.jpgBut I never had much information about it (okay, perhaps I was languid about looking for any).

Annie’s post alerted me to the Stockholm Octavo and the companion Octavo Handbook. Gratefully, I plunged into these new treasures.

Then, in the last few days, more interest in these cards has come to the fore. Annie just posted more on her delicious vintage deck of color cards, which I reblog here. I have little to add to her generous post, but can’t resist the chance to profile the black and white version of this deck.

Il Meneghello published Le carte da Gioco di Jost Amman del 1588 in 1985, in a limited numbered edition of 2000 decks. The cards are black ink on good quality, cream colored, matte cardstock, 68 x 108 mm (about 2.5 x 4.25 inches) in size. They catch a bit on shuffling, but I have not found that troublesome.

The card backs are unprinted. Included is a brief leaflet with deck number, publication information, and basics on Jost Amman and the deck. Housed in one of Osvaldo Menegazzi’s book-shaped folders with a ribbon closure and Music card on the cover, it makes for a charming presentation, well suited to the deck content.

JostAmman1588_0001JostAmman1588_0002The deck consists of 52 cards,  with numbers from 1 to 9 similar to playing cards. The tens are lavishly dressed ladies, stand-ins for the otherwise missing Queens. The honors consist of Unter, Ober, and Kings. The Kings are all on horseback, and are easy enough to identify. It took me some time to distinguish the Unter and Ober of one suit at a glance. The placement of the suit symbol is the key–the Unters are depicted with the suit symbol on the ground. For the Obers, the symbol is held or floats above.

Juxtaposed with Annie’s drool-worthy deck printed in the sixties, the black and white version might look almost frumpy. I’m a big fan of black and white though, and often find that I can detect details better without coloring. Happily, the Octavo Handbook comes with either monochrome or color images, so I can have the best of both worlds. Here are some of the images used in the color editions:


As for the suits, I had translated Il Meneghello’s leaflet description of 4 semi di fantasia: libri, tampon da stampa, boccali e vasi as “four whimsical suits of books, ink stamps, tankards, and cups,” and have thought of them as such since. The books and cups are straightforward, but it turns out that my “ink stamps” are also termed printing pads, or ink pads. My “tankards” are a quizzical lot, as Annie points out, and are given various names–cabbage stalks, wine vessels, and wine jugs, for example.

The description Annie shares from Erwin Kohlmann’s introduction to the vintage deck emboldens me on these “boccali.” They do seem like some kind of beer mug to me (despite any visible handles or lids), and evoke a tavern feel in line with the more ribald tone of the suit (left below), compared to the more refined, even courtly, cups (right). Whatever the name, they are earthy indeed.

Those accustomed to reading Marseille and historic tarots from visual cues rather than canned interpretations should not have much trouble adapting to this deck for divination. The Octavo Handbook is helpful in this process, highlighting details in the cards. It also suggests a correspondence with our modern playing card suits: cups = hearts; wine vessels = diamonds; printers pads = clubs; books = spades.

All said, this is a lively and entertaining deck that rewards use for divination as well.

More resources

Annie Kaye Blog, Between Jost Amman and Me

Annie Kaye Blog, Of Printing Pads and Cabbage Stalks

Historic Games, 16th Century German Cards
Yet another color version, different from the vintage and Octavo decks. Nice video, too.

Karen Engelmann, Stockholm Octavo and Octavo Handbook

Il Meneghello, Carte Tedesche XVI Secolo

Queen of Tarot, Books and Beer Deck

Virtue Centered Tarot, Jost Amman Created Illustrated Playing Cards circa 1588



Pictures and text © Yeshe Francisco 2017, unless otherwise stated.