I was searching Bing images on line one day, using the terms ‘Tarot’ or ‘fortune telling cards’ when pages containing these cards popped up. Though the pages didn’t appear on the results together, they looked like they were all part of the same set of cards. Intrigued, I downloaded them to my computer, printed them, cut them out, and started working with them.
At first, I simply called them ‘The Eighteenth Century Cards’ because their design clearly shouts the latter-half of that century as their point of origin. Given the apparent age of this deck, (based on the clothing styles the figures on the cards are wearing) it appears to pre-date both the Lenormand deck and the Game of Hope deck on which the Lenormand deck was based. Whether Madame Lenormand ever knew about or used this deck is an open question.
Their origin was a mystery to me, until an alert reader pointed me to Robertmplacetarot.com, where Mr. Place had covered this deck in his entry, ‘a history of oracle cards.’ It turns out this deck was published August 2, 1775 as ‘S. Hooper’s Conversation Cards.’ As with The Game of Hope cards which inspired what later became the Lenormand deck, this deck was originally intended to be a game-playing deck!
It appears this game was played along much the same line as the Surrealist game, ‘The Exquisite Corpse.’ After Hooper’s deck was shuffled and placed face-down on the table, the first player would draw a card and start telling a story, based on the image. Each succeeding player would draw a card from the deck and embellish the already-existing story-line, inspired by the theme of whatever card they drew. Given the presence of at least four cards in this deck which could serve as ‘Significator’ cards-the Gentleman, the Lady, the Old Batchelor and the Old Maid-it seems likely the first player was given the option of choosing one of these four cards to start the story with, and the other three were stuck randomly back in the pile. The story the first player told about the Significator may or may not have been autobiographical, but that seems not to be the point, since the remaining players in the game were free to invent any details they liked, so long as it was based on the card they chose from the pile. This doesn’t appear to be a game with any winners or losers, it was just a way of exercising peoples’ imaginations and passing the time in an entertaining way.