Italian renaissance woodcut playing cards

The backs of the cards

Several of the sheet fragments contains unintended ink stains from contact with other sheets before these were fully dried. Had this been the case for just a single sheet, it could have been an accident – the very reason that this particular sheet had not been used to produce actual cards, but instead recycled for other purposes. As this occurs very often, however, a much more probable reason is that these sheets were discarded due to other defects, and immediately consigned to the recycling bin before drying, and thus staining the sheet below.

There are two recognisable classes of such stains. One is mainly from the red areas coloured in with stencils. This is the case for several sheets from block C2 of the crude deck. However, on one of these sheets the black lines from the woodcut and one other colour besides red is also present in a small area. This forms a mirror image “contact copy” of the upper left corner of the queen of swords from block T1 of the tarot deck, overlying the intended design, and where it is strongest it is equally sharp and distinct as that.

The other is mainly found on sheets from blocks T1, T2 and T3 from the tarot deck, and thus probably most closely associated with this deck, but also on two sheets from block C1 from the “crude” deck. It is a checkerboard pattern, rotated 45 degrees and elongated so that the spots are lozenge-shaped. This can hardly be anything other than the cardback design. The proportions are such that there are approximately 13 black lozenges both on the width and the length of the cards.

Further, it must be assumed that in the finished cards, the patterned cardbacks were folded around the edges of the card, so that a narrow strip containing more of the same pattern formed a frame covering the blank borders of each card. A single row of lozenges on one of the C1 fragments strongly supports this.