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Master Ingold and his Guldin Spil (1432)

The following article was published first at 30th of June 2006 as the starting article to a series to the Master Ingold text in our Tarot News - June 2006, after Ross had told me about the Ingold text in internet at page of the Bibliotheca Augustiana at 16th of June, 14 days ago. It was in older German, not to hard to read for a German, but difficult for somebody with foreign mother language - but naturally some doubts about the meaning of some passages remained also to me.

We intend to publish a few more articles to the text, our first choice did meet the most interesting passage of the text: I think, that it contains a revolution to our earlier considerations to some aspects of the early origin of the Tarot cards. The Tarots way from normal playing cards via Imperatori and Karnöffel variants to Michelino deck and 5x14-deck type finally to "normal" Tarot deck with 4x14+22 structure looks rather natural now.

Funny enough, we had in our email-list just a debate about very early, antique Bacchantic influences on Tarot .... then a more real Bacchus from early 15th century appeared in the fom of the Ingold text and told hot stories about Toypel and Riffian and some other professions including a wine farmer ("pauman der den wein pauwen sol") - actually one of the many, "who invented Tarot". ... written in Cologne at the Rhine, once a vine trading center, likely also with some vine from Strassburg at the upper Rhine, possibly an early form of Edelzwicker.


Special Article - Research Progress

The Begin of the Trionfi decks is "Trumping"

"Meister Ingold: Guldin Spil" is a well known document of 15th century, which reports about playing card use in 15th century. In our work at we hadn't access to the text till recently, when we discovered an electronic version of the text in the web from the Bibliotheca Augustiana in Augsburg.
Careful reading of the text (written in some older German, which made a precise understanding at least of English speaking readers very troublesome in the past) revealed some insight, which we didn't found much about in other playing card literature (surely we haven't read all and everything, still alot of blind spots are there; in the web we found this page with a woodcut of Michael J. Hurst, citing Hargrave 1930, p. 88, with the following text: "In the 1430s a certain Meister Ingold of Alsace wrote a treatise called Das güldin spiel (The Golden Game). From this we learn that the 52 cards of the pack represent the 52 weeks of the year in which we fall into sin, the sins in question being symbolized by the four suits (roses, crowns, pennies, rings) and thirteen ranks depicted on the cards. We also learn that the ranks represent various medieval characters who ‘win’ one another in a given order of precedence, suggesting the mechanics of a trick-taking game—possibly Karnöffel." (In private communication Michael Hurst informed, that he got his Hargrave quote from a text of David Parlett.)
Catherine Perry Hargrave in A History of Playing Cards, who wrote 1930, had no great chance to know details about the Ferrarese note about the Imperatori deck in 1423 and the Michelino deck, both documents were described in recent texts, influenced mainly by the studies of Franco Pratesi in 1989 and early 90's.
But we had the chance to know them by our intensive work a and a short passage inside the text of Ingold caused a deep enlightning impact in our understanding of the early playing card development.

"Our" Meister Ingold revolution

In our opinion some short passages in Ingold's text contain informations, which are of high meaning for the evaluation of the Imperatori deck note of Ferrara in 1423 ("VIII Imperatori cards", an information, which is still a novelty of recent playing card research, not known to Dummett in 1980), the Franco Pratesi study in 1989 about the Michelino deck (which also belongs to "recent playing card research" and did lead to our article to the "oldest Tarot cards") and also to the text of Johannes of Rheinfelden (which still is a running translation project to the Latinist Arne Jönssen). The dangerous short passage of the much longer text of Ingold is:

"Nun sind auf dem kartenspil fier küng mit iren wauppen, und hat ieglicher under im XIII karten, das macht an ainer sum LII, und hat ieglichü das zaychen irs küngs. Etlich kartenspil hat dar zu fier küngin und fier junkfrawen, etlich haben den ackerman, den edelman, den wuchrer, den pfaffen, die toypel, den riffian, den wirt; und gewint ie ains dem andern ab: dem edelman der wuchrer, dem wuchrer der pfaff, dem pfaffen das täppelweib, dem täppelweib der riffian, dem riffian der wirt, dem wirt der weinman, dem weinman wider umb der pauman der den wein pauwen sol, der nimpt das gelt wider von dem wirt."

Ingold tells in the passage about 2 different card decks, both with 4 kings and both containing 13 cards per suit, that is totally 52 cards (in the Johannes of Rheinfelden document presented as the most common deck structure of the year 1377). The both card decks seem to variate only in the positions of the 2 "marshalls" (the term of Johannes) or Ober und Unter in general older German decks:

  • Deck 1 ("fier küngin and fier junfrawen") has at Ober-Unter positions female figures (Queens and maids; these figures are already part of the 60 cards deck described by Johannes in 1377) - this is a relatively common court card configuration, and doesn't contain too much interesting information.

  • Deck 2 presents totally 8 figures with "professions" (professions appear as card motifs already in the Johannes deck with 60 cards and they reappear later in the socalled Hofämterspiel as playing card motifs, but in both examples they are connected to number cards, not to the courts). The passage is a little troublesome, as Ingold (or the transfered text, which not necessarily must be identical to Ingold's original; acually the text seems to have some corruptions) writes careless: One of the 2 above presented rows presents 7 figures only and the repeatment has 8 and both are not totally identical in expressions and row:

    Row 1 (7 figures):
    • ackerman
    • edelman
    • wuchrer
    • pfaffen
    • toypel (female)
    • riffian
    • wirt

    Row 2 (8 figures, the missing weinman is added)
    • edelman
    • wuchrer
    • pfaff
    • täppelweib (female)
    • riffian
    • wirt
    • weinman
    • pauman der den wein pauwen soll

    It must be necessarily identifed, that "toypel" and "täppelweib" mean the same object, and also the "ackerman" and the "pauman der den wein pauwen soll" are refering to the same card.

    English Translation of the figure names:
    • edelman = noble man
    • wuchrer = man who lends money
    • Pfaff = name for a priest with a "negative touch" in German language
    • "toypel" and "täppelweib" = likely a woman who sells sex for money
    • riffian = the male protector of the Toypel, who takes money from her
    • wirt = innhouse-keeper
    • weinman = man, who sells vine
    • "ackerman" = farmer
    • identical to "pauman der den wein pauwen soll" = "Bauer = farmer", who shall plant the vine

    In the text Ingold seems to imply a hierarchical row (common in playing card decks) between the 8 court card figures ("und gewint ie ains dem andern ab" - "and wins one against the other", the precise meaning stays vague), in which the noble man is the lowest figure and the farmer is the highest. However, the row seems to be not simply hierarchical (as usual for the 1-10 number cards for instance): Wuchrer wins gainst edelman
    Pfaff wins against wuchrer
    Toypel wins against pfaff
    Riffian wins against Toypel
    Wirt wins against Riffian
    Weinman wins agains Wirt
    Ackerman wins against Weinman
    Ackermann wins against Wirt ("... der nimpt das gelt wider von dem wirt." = "... who takes the money from the wirt.")
    (an additional rule, which excludes, that Ingold means "simple hierarchy as usual")

    Ingold seems to indicate, that his passage is a playing card rule about 8 unusually specified court cards at the Ober and Unter position, and that in this rule the ackerman, although "highest card", wouldn't win against the noble man, wuchrer, pfaff, toypel and riffian, but only against wirt and weinman. But the wuchrer would win against the noble man.

    The hierarchical difference between the 8 cards would say, that 5 of them (Wuchrer, Pfaff, Toypel, Riffian, Weinman) have each 1 chance to lose and 1 chance to win, so are balanced. Exceptions are the other 3: The noble man has no chance to win, but 1 chance to lose (against the wuchrer), so it is the "lowest card". The wirt has 1 chance to win (against the riffian), but 2 chances to lose (against weinman and ackerbaur), so it is the "second lowest card". The "highest card" is the ackerman with 2 winning chances and no chance to be captured in the game.

    One should note, that the mentioned game functions reappear in the later Tarot game with "highest trump" (= 21 World), "lowest trump" (= 1 Magician) and "card, which cannot trump" (0 = Fool). Ingold's text is from 1432, the first note about Trionfi decks appears 10 years later in February 1442 in Ferrara - Ingold writes more or less contemporary to the running Trionfi card development.

    Perhaps the reader doesn't decipher, that the whole arrangement described by Ingold in 1432 is a funny senseful subversive joke, in which "noble man" and Pfaffen and other socially high ranked persons are ironically attacked and degraded, involving themes like "drugs" (vine) and "sex-business" (Toypel, riffian) - the positive winner of the scheme is the vine-farmer, the "man from below". It's useful to know, that Ingold lived in Strassburg, a region, which produced and produces good vine and proved later as a prefered region for early farmer revolutions (the "Buntschuh"-movement, mentioned as revolutionary activity 1493 in a chronicle of Strassburg, long before the great farmer revolution ["Bauernaufstand"] in Germany in the time of the early reformation took place).

    Ingold is a preacher against playing cards; his choice of just this two card deck types seems to be directed by the wish to give examples for "bad morality" inside the playing card world. A king with 2 women around him (the queen and a maitresse) presents "bad morality" (one has also to consider, that this court card construction possibly contains the joke "only women are the trumps" and that Ingold lived in a time, when the not far France had seen just recently Isabella of Bavaria, Valentina Visconti, Christine de Pizan and Jeanne d'Arc - all female persons connected to the idea of "women liberation") and the above in detail presented court card joke with "drugs + sex" content, too. So, although Ingold only describes these both decks, one cannot conclude, that these both are the only decks known to him. On the other side Ingold uses the word "etlich" (which has in German an implied meaning of "many") for both types of decks, so one also cannot expect, that these were only seldom produced decks, definitely they belong in the opinion of Ingold to the category mass-market-deck and "farspread".

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Ingold's text as "missing link"

The great worth of the Ingold text lies in the comparition with other early documents of playing card research.
  • Johannes of Rheinfelden 1377 and the Mamluk cards

    It's an old riddle of playing card research, when "trumping" as game function entered the rules of some of the card games. Occasionally the opinion had been, that Tarot was the oldest trumping game.
    Now the strange trumping rules given by Ingold 1432 lead in an unclear manner to the natural conclusion, that the 8 funny cards on the position of Ober and Unter should have had generally trumping power, so actually Ingold should have said for instance "the wuchrer wins against the noble man and against all other cards, which are not trump, when its owner is not urged to follow suit" (as it is common in most trick-taking games). Ingold didn't give this information explicitely, possibly thinking, that this part of the game rules naturally was evident to all his living readers - but naturally he leaves some doubts in the understanding of us readers nearly 600 years after him, what the real conditions had been.
    Assuming this background for Ingold's statements (Ober and Unter are the predefined places for the trumping cards) leads to a comparition with the "most common game structure", described by Johannes in the year 1377. Johannes knows a king and 2 marshalls (figures of military) as court cards (and we know that this is identical to the court card structure in the Mamluk decks, which are suspected to have been the copied original for the oldest European playing cards). In the description of Johannes' favoured 60 card deck he relates the number cards to the militarically not active people, to normal professions - but the function of "trumping" implies in its idea "strong forceful action", naturally comparable to "military action".
    So it might be concluded by iconographical interpretation: Already Johannes of Rheinfelden and the Mamluk cards used the Ober and Unter positions for the trumps and Ingold's deck at least partly is based on circumstances and rules at least 55 years old - but likely older, for instance in the Mamluk decks.

  • Ferrara 1423 (and 1422)

    A single sentence in a Ferrarese account book:

    "1423, on the day 9 October Giovanni Bianchini to have for one pack of cards of VIII Emperors gilded, which was brought from Florence for Milady Marchesana" (Parisina d'Este)", which Zoesi" (name of the servant) "servant of said Lady had; priced 7 florins, new, and for expenses" (of the transport) "from Florence to Ferrara 6 Bolognese soldi; in all valued ….. L. XIIII.VI. Bolognese"

    caused some much discussed riddles in playing card research after its detection.
    (see article with Imperatori notes in Ferrara). What are the Imperatori cards? What was their function? Why are there VIII (eigth) cards only? Was there a relation to the game Karnöffel first mentioned 1426 and rather contemporary to the first note of the Imperatori decks, cause the game Karnöffel later was called "Keyserspiel (which is just a translation of "Imperatori")? Were the Imperatori cards a forerunner or he Tarot cards?. (See our complex collection to the theme, written before we got knowledge of the Meister Ingold text).
    Ingold's text, which indicates 8 trumps on the court card positions Ober and Unter offers an explanation to the riddle. These "VIII" cards were simply trumps and possibly at the same Ober+Unter position or, second possibility, simply additional court cards with trump function.

    Considering, that the servant Zoesi imported only these 8 cards without a connected normal deck, offers an explanation, how these "special cards" possibly were handled during the game: They possibly were dealt in a second action, in a 4-players-game each player got 2 of them, which guaranteed some fairness in the dealing process. Considering the complexity of Ingold's trumping rules, this explanation makes sense. If one negates this possibility, then the logic of the Ferrara-Florence action in 1423 demands, that Parisina ordered a second "normal" deck with the same size and the same backs and such an assumed activity looks a little complicated to arrange - she better had bought a complete deck in Florence (well, but it is possible, that she acted "complicated"; in noble circles of the time one was keen to possess playing cards with own heraldic devices, perhaps this was the reason for the otherwise too complicated process).

    There is a second doubtful document in Ferrara in the year 1422, in the time very near to the other. document:

    1422, adi XXIII de marco,
    Maistro Iacomo depictore de havere per factura de tredexe cartexelle da zugare che luy fe de novo a tute sue spexe, tra le qualle ge ne fo cinque figure, o per recuncare, zoe retinte la cuverta de rosso de quattre para de carte, computantdo una para de quelle che gie refe le cuverte nove de carte extimade per li factura L. VI.
    Factures solvi faciant dictam pecuniam L. VI.
    Iacobus Zilfredus scripsit XI aprilis 1422

    Gerardo Ortalli in his "The Prince and the Playing Cards" identifies it as a "repairing action", I personally have my doubts about it. 13 cards are involved, 5 of them have figures ("5 figures" could mean 3 court cards, a figure at the ace and the banner for the 10). It might be cards, which artificially added a 5th trump suit to an already existing normal deck with normal 4x13-structure (see article).

    Although this document has insecurities in its evaluation, it might be the first example of a Trionfi deck structure (5 suits inclusive a predefined trump suit).

  • Karnöffel, first mentioned 1426, rules from later time

    Karnöffel (see our collection of the early notes) was mentioned for the first time 1426 in Nördlingen (southern Germany). Later it was often enough noted as Keyserspiel (German translation of Imperatori game) or Ludus Caesarum (similar meaning) ad even on opportunity is known from Germany, when it was called Imperatori. From rudimentary rules descriptions of the later time, which led to reconstructions of the game with some plausibility, it is assumed, that it had 7 trumps (Karnöffel, Pope, Devil, 4 "Farbenstecher").
    The names of the trump figures (which are in the decks which are described to us as used for Karnöffel are only defined ideas connected to normal number or court cards) definitely are not the names of Ingold's figures (which is not a deciding difference; the figures of 15th century Trioni figures and the figures of later Tarot are also not always the same; Sola Busca Tarocchi, the Boiardo Tarocchi poem and "normal Tarot" are also rather contradicting, and for instance the Animal Tarock is iconographically totaly different). 7 trumps in the Karnöffel game are different to the 8 trumps in the Ingold deck. However, we've to consider the Ingold deck trump structure: There is one trump, which cannot trump any of the other trumps, and that's the noble man. A comparison to the later Tarot leads to the idea, that the worthless noble man in the Ingold deck might be the predevelopment or an ironical parallel development to the later Fool in Tarot, recognized as a "worthless" trump.
    In the context of the "poor and worthless noble man" in the Ingold deck of 1432 one has to reflect the social reality of the year 1432 in Germany. German knights and lower nobility started to suffer already in 14th century and the phenomenon did lead to the existence of the German Raubritter, who took the money for their life expenses by robbery, opposed to the cities with increasing wealth.

    Reflecting the Ingold game as an early variant of the Karnöffel game (as it was done already by Hargrave 1930) with 8 trumps (= 7 real trumps + one worthless trump) doesn't run in contradictions. Rules descriptions of a game called Karnöffel around 1500 must not necessarily be identical to rules in a game also called Karnöffel played in 1432 - not considering regional differences, which would make it possible, that a game with the same name at one location might be played with totally other rules as at another.

  • Michelino deck, the "oldest Tarot cards", ca. 1424/25 (or at least 1418 - 1425)

    The Michelino deck is known as an object by 3 different documents, not by still extant Trionfi cards (compare our complex article). The documents are Martiano da Tortona's description from 1424/25 or at least 1418 - 1425, the letter of Iacopo Antonio Marcello in November 1449.
    The description of the deck by Marziano da Tortona (translation by Ross Caldwell) contains the following passage:

    "Consider therefore this game, most illustrious Duke, following a fourfold order, by which you may give attention to serious and important things, if you play at it. Sometimes it is pleasing to be thus diverted, and you will be delighted therein. And it is more pleasing, since through the keeness of your own acumen you dedicated several to be noted and celebrated Heroes, renowned models of virtue, whom mighty greatness made gods, as well as to ensure their remembrance by posterity. Thus by observation of them, be ready to be aroused to virtue.
    Indeed the first order, of virtues, is certain: Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury and Hercules. The second of riches, Juno, Neptune, Mars and Aeolus. The third of virginity or continence: from Pallas, Diana, Vesta and Daphne. The fourth however is of pleasure: Venus, Bacchus, Ceres and Cupid. And subordinated to these are four kinds of birds, being suited by similarity. Thus to the rank of virtues, the Eagle; of riches, the Phoenix; of continence, the Turtledove; of pleasure, the Dove. And each one obeys its own king. However, the order of these Birds is, although none of their type has right over another, yet this arrangement they have alternately – Eagles and Turtledoves lead from many to few: that is to say it goes better for us when many cultivate virtue and continence; but for Phoenices and Doves, the few rule over the many, which is to say that, the more the followers of riches and pleasure are visible, the more they lead to the deterioration of our station. Every one of the gods, however, is above all the orders of birds and the ranks of kings."

    A crucial point in the interpretation lies in the last sentence: "Every one of the gods, however, is above all the orders of birds and the ranks of kings." The gods are trumps, logically, the birds present the usual number cards and then there are only kings, other court cards are not mentioned.
    Already Franco Pratesi, who in 1989 detected the document by just revisiting it in the Bibliotheque National in Paris and surprized the world of playing card research with its details, was puzzled about the "missing other court cards". Did Martiano da Tortona simply forget to mention them? Or was the hidden reality, that these cards really didn't exist in the Michelino deck? The question couldn't be solved, although most researchers (including Franco Pratesi and us) concluded: Marziano did not mention them, so they didn't exist.

    Backed up now by the Ingold text, which more or less clearly identifies "court cards beside the kings" as trumps, the "4 kings only"-description of the Michelino deck isn't surprizing anymore. The Michelino deck uses "16 court cards beside the kings" as trumps and as iconographical content for them "Greek Gods" implying an interest in common Renaissance ideas, the deck described by Ingold uses "8 court cards beside the kings" as trumps and uses as iconographical content "funny professions" implied with some social mockery "from below".
    The numbers (8 and 16) are a little different (but already Johannes of Rheinfelden in 1377 knows decks with 52 cards and 3 court cards per suit [so totally 8 + 4 kings] and a deck with 60 cards and 5 court cards per suit [so totally 16 + 4 kings]) - and that's all. Iconographical content was always only a matter of taste - Sola Busca Tarocchi, Boiardo poem and normal Tarot were all called Trionfi or Tarot, but iconographical very different.

When we agree to call the Michelino deck the oldest Tarot cards - the description of Martiano da Tortona points in the direction of the later Tarot and Filippo Maria Visconti as commissioner of the Michelino deck and more decks with a character similar to Tarot (Cary-Yale Tarocchi, Brera-Brambilla deck) give more strength to this idea -, then the close relationship between Michelino deck and the deck described by Ingold leads to the statement, that the Ingold deck also was an early Tarot. However, if one goes so far, then the obvious nearness between Ingold's deck and the common 4x13-deck structure would give the same right to be called Tarot to the most common playing cards of all - finally there would be no great difference between all these productions. Tarot with its full developed structure 4x14+22, as it is well known nowadays, developed from the common structure in small steps to its - surely different - existence and outfit.

Michelino deck, Ingold's deck and others are creative steps on this way, forming models with their own right. The later step to the 5x14-deck (we formulate it as the base for the 70 Bembo cards inside the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi), once looking as a farfetched hypothesis and very strange explanation to some researchers, now looks very logical, commmon and normal inside the assumed scenario of Tarot development - and this deck struture was iconographical and from it's basic structure very near to Tarot, as it is generally known.

Ingold's text is mainly focussed on the chess game and his chapter about playing cards has the character of an appendix article - not too long, but naturally having much more content than the short selected passage cited at the begin of the article. will present in near future some more to the theme "Ingold and the Guldin Spil".

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Woodcut Scene from Urs Graf,
might be interpreted as
Old man with Toypel and Riffian
(the woman takes the money
of the old man and
gives it to the young man)