The Viéville majors are available at the boutique
Jacques Viéville is a
pseudonym. Do consult the page devoted
to this tradition of professional assumed
working with Viéville's deck, it was easy to
envision a worker who engraved a copy of an
existing printed sheet.
1661 a sort of war was raging between tax
collectors and card-makers. At that time,
taxes on cards represented a very high
percentage of state revenue, even more
than the "gabelle" being levied on salt.
Everyone, people of all classes, played
and bet on everything. Wagers of all
kinds had been the rage for centuries. In
the mid-17th century, Paris (composed of
what is today only 6 arrondissements) had
4,000 gaming rooms. Cards were fragile,
often discarded, and therefore
represented an important market. To keep a
better watch over them, card-makers were
confined to a certain area of each town.
They were under permanent surveillance by
the police and tax agents. Workers were
hand-picked and required to carry a
The sheets of
paper to be printed each day were counted by a
bailiff before he brought them to the workshop.
To prevent any smuggling of undeclared cards,
the authorities had all the old wooden printing
blocks erased. Armed with planes, the police
invaded all card-makers' ateliers on the same
day. Everything had to be done over. To locate
artisans capable of re-engraving ordinary
playing cards was not too difficult. Finding
expert engravers of tarot cards, however, was
no easy task. To get a new production of tarots
underway, it was necessary to improvise.
It seems likely that the engraver for
Viéville "copied" this tarot in reverse,
using the "right" side of an old printed sheet
as model. All specialists are aware that almost
all the Viéville images are "backwards".
Incredible amounts of speculation and theories
have been produced to explain the esoteric
meaning of these inversions. The probability is that
the harsh commercial reality for
Viéville made it necessary, if he wanted
to salvage a tarot production without an old
master-engraver at hand, to confer the project
of re-engraving on a worker with no particular
competence and no traditional knowledge of the
tarot. Once printed, his direct copy of a
"positive" sheet of course came out backwards!
This did not, however, particularly trouble or
disorient card players at that time.
For today's purists, however, it's another
story. Our edition of the Viéville majors presents them as they appear in the original deck and includes a mostly reversed option as well. The best of both worlds?
The original images from the French National Library can
be seen on the following page.