Plenty of blog and youtube reviews of the new edition have already cropped up, and I expect more will appear shortly.The folks over at Wandering Oracle created something of a wave of interest among cartomancy aficionados this spring, when they announced a sell-off of their popular Marshmallow Marseille and Lenormand decks, and promised new doings on the horizon. Whispers of “Marshmallow is coming” appeared not long afterwards, and trickled on into summer, rousing more curiosity.
I did not buy the first edition Marshmallow Marseille, despite my avid interest in contemporary renditions of the Tarot de Marseille. I feared the art was too saccharine for my tastes. Still, I own Wandering Oracle’s Starduster and Wanderwust Lenormand decks, and enjoy them both immensely. Small wonder, then, that I jumped at Wandering Oracle’s offer of a complimentary deck to review. Here’s my snapshot of the Marshmallow Marseille, after a few days of play.
The second edition of Marshmallow Marseille comes in a sturdy box with a nifty flap and magnetic closure. The backs are light blue and silver with rainbow glimmers when they catch the light. In fact, before receiving my deck, I read comments about actual glitter coming off the cards, but I found (to my delight) that it was more fairy dust than kindergarten project. Rather fun, for me, and didn’t last long enough to be annoying.
The art for the deck is hand-drawn, and charming. Its starting point is an approximately eighteenth-century Lombardy tarot from the workshop of Angelo Valla in Trieste, Italy. Reproductions of the Trieste deck are quite popular among Marseille and historic tarot collectors, in no small part due to its quirkiness. It is also a history darling, as it includes elements of both early and late French packs (often called TdM-I and TdM-II nowadays).
While the influence of the Trieste deck is evident throughout, the Marshmallow is not a mere remake of the Trieste, drizzled in fondant icing. Instead, the art is a whimsical and fresh take on the Trieste, at times diverging in significant ways. For example, liberties taken with the 4 and 9 of Disks extend the aesthetic of the original to lovely effect. Generally, colors are more vivid and card images are less dense. The Moon, brimming over with lush, evocative tones, adds dramatic depth to the original image.
Overall, the Marshmallow respects its Trieste roots, largely retaining stylistic elements, directionality of posture and gaze, and even a good number of the quizzical dots sprinkled across the original. Nevertheless, the deck revels in its distinct identity. Lines are sharper. Colors often map directly to the original card, but with added vivacity. The borderless art opens up the images of the original onto a more spacious frame. And the luminescent card backs are unabashedly modern.
The cards are playing card size, roughly 2.5 x 3.5 inches, with sturdy, lightly coated, matte card stock and white background. They have pleasant slip, shuffle well, and feel good in my hands. From some angles the back design impression comes through to the front. They are printed in China. The palette is what I would call a bold pastel (if there can be such a thing). Not sickly sweet after all, yet certainly more playful in feel than traditional decks. Yellow, green, purple, and red hues dominate, amidst splashes of blue.
The Major Arcana and Courts incorporate a few departures from the Trieste. (Thankfully, Justice and Force have not swapped places.) Titles are in French, but in anagram-like handwriting within the illustration canvas, rather than in a cartouche. Card XIII is named. The borderless art and white backdrop give figures more free rein. Unlike the Trieste, the minor arcana cards, when numbered, bear unidirectional, vertical Roman numerals in subtractive notation.
The number cards (or “pips”) are in large part true to the original and are, like other Marseille and historic tarots, illuminated. Yes, illuminated. I refuse to call the pips of Marseille-style and earlier decks “unillustrated,” merely because they do not contain representational scenes made popular long after their heyday. Marseille and historic tarots were artisan decks. Pips were ornamental, sometimes richly so. Unillustrated? Hardly. Indeed, tarot deck pips were illuminated, in the vein of the Books of Hours that were their contemporaries. (OK, rant over. Moving on.)
Lest you are, as I was, inclined to dismiss the deck as a pastel pastiche to pass up, pause. Look at the faces. Look into the faces. They were the key to my getting past the bubble-gum veneer of the deck. Expressions are beguiling rather than sugary, running a subtle range from plaintive to wistful to charming and beyond, again true to the Trieste deck. Contemplating the faces, I tapped into an underlying poignancy that belies the deck’s chipper glaze. I admit that I find the combination bewitching, much to my surprise.
So how does the Marshmallow Marseille read? Frankly, it always takes me a while to answer this question fully. At first blush, though, I found the deck puzzling. Out of the box, readings were firm and no-nonsense, clashing with my treacly presumptions about the deck. (Ah, I do appreciate having my biases exposed with panache.) I learned from experience that, despite its cotton candy mien, the Marshmallow is no mere confection. If anything, for me, it speaks in an enigmatic deadpan. Expecting Pollyanna, I got Mona Lisa instead. Fascinating!
More generally, readers steeped in Marseille and historic tarot will hit the ground running. Readers accustomed only to scenic pip decks will have the usual learning curve, but may find the fresh artwork more approachable than traditional Marseille and historic decks. Still, a draw is worth a thousand words: so Marshmallow, strut your stuff. How would you characterize yourself as a reading deck?
Well put, sweetie.
I recommend the Marshmallow Marseille to collectors interested in modern renditions of historic decks; those new to Marseille and historic tarot who prefer a lighter visual vibe; and anyone drawn to the art, particularly seasoned Marseille readers. The smaller size and sturdy box make it a great pick for travel, too.
Querents, I suspect, will respond well to the Marshmallow. Its out-of-the-mouth-of-babes quality would be especially spot on in readings for kids. All in all, it is a welcome addition to my collection, and one I look forward to getting to know better.
Value: The art is delightful. Quality of the cards, printing, and packaging is quite good. Still, the price seems a tad high to me alongside comparable decks.
Cards pictured: Der Lombardische Tarot (Falken Tascenbuch, 1997); Marshmallow Marseille (Wandering Oracle, 2018).
The second edition of the Marshmallow Marseille is available at Wandering Oracle for $40 plus $6 standard shipping in the US. A video preview is available on the home page.
Several videos showing a flip-through of the first edition Marshmallow Marseille are available on youtube–here’s one from Tom Benjamin’s channel.
Plenty of blog and youtube reviews of the new edition have already cropped up, and I expect more will appear shortly.
Tarot by Angelo Valla of Trieste, Italy
Images of the Trieste deck are available here.
Paul Huson describes Lombardy tarot decks succinctly, as follows:
“[P]laying-card historians generally reserve the name “Lombardy” tarocchi for the pattern closely related to the Marseille pattern that appeared during the eighteenth century in Lombardy and used French titles, even though the decks were made by Italian card makers. Aside from their French titles, you can recognize Lombardy-pattern decks from several characteristic features: the Devil generally wears a pair of furry pants, the Moon is depicted full face, Justice is winged, the Ace of Cups is depicted as a Gothic font, and the King and Queen of Coins wear unmistakable and idiosyncratic crowns. Examples of decks using this pattern were produced by card makers in Bologna, Modena, Padua, and Trieste, among other places.” Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage, Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition, Locations 5108-5111.
For an accessible introduction to the differences between TdM-I and TdM-II tarot (and much more), see historian Sherryl Smith’s Tarot Heritage blog.
Pictures and text © Yeshe Francisco 2018, unless otherwise stated.
Disclosure: The above reflects my genuine and unbiased opinion of this deck, a free copy of which I received from the deck creator for ease of review.