by Franco Pratesi, 05.06.2012


a) Progress in our knowledge of the game
In my researches on card games, I have devoted some attention also to the game of Cucu.(1) That research is more difficult than average, because at the same time Cucu has the character of a local Italian game, traditionally played in a few places, and that of a game known in various countries, especially of North-Europe.
As for Italy, I could not provide personal experience of actual play, but did care to receive detailed information by experts both of the family game played in the Teramo province and of the trick-taking game played around Bergamo and Brescia.
Recently, a Japanese expert has summarized the situation of the history of the game,(2) bringing to the knowledge of card historians and collectors a contribution by Saverio Franchi, which had appeared among the publications of Italian scholars.(3) She writes that a whole group of writers, active within the IPCS, had previously dealt with the game, and that our contributions were consistent… but unaware of Franchi’s work. Seemingly, the most important suggestion has been that the game could have been played earlier than previously supposed.

b) Cucu and naibi scempi
My past two notes about the Cucu game have been inserted recently in the web pages of,(1) after Lothar Teikemeier had suggested it. It was not my intention to resume this study. However, in the past weeks two opportunities for discussion occurred, which have induced me to study again the relevant questions.
The first occurrence was a short discussion with Lothar Teikemeier himself.(4) He did not accept my foolish hypothesis of “naibi scempi” as the ordinary pack of 48 cards and “naibi doppi” as a pack of 96 cards (thus appearing a long time before the name of minchiate was used for it). He preferred to divide it by two: the single pack could be one of 20-24 cards, with naibi doppi corresponding to the ordinary pack of 40-48 cards. Later on, he even inserted the pack of Cucu into the discussion, considering that one could play reasonable card games even with a reduced pack of about 20 cards.(5) Now, I am already well accustomed to the many theories of his own invention, to the point that I forgot this discussion in a few days.
A second incitement however arrived a few weeks later on: I received a letter from Francesco Allegri,(6) containing a copy of an article by Romualdo Sassi,(7) sent with the view that it could be useful for my present research. The article reports some opinions taking me back to Teikemeier’s suggestion; it is an old article and, as it often occurs with texts by Italian literati, it had not been used by card historians until very recent times. (Conversely, it rarely happens that Italian literati pay a bit of attention to the contributions by card historians.)

c) The limits of this discussion
Cucu is one of the very few games that exists both in the form of a set of game rules and in the form of a special pack. What complicates greatly the situation is that on the one hand variants of the game can be played with an ordinary pack, and on the other hand various games – belonging to remarkably different families – can be played with the special pack. Moreover, a further game set has existed consisting in tokens or pawns with circular images pasted at their bottom.
Here I am not interested in any game of the Cucu family that can be played with the ordinary pack. It is precisely the special pack that I am interested in, and only in its Italian versions. In conclusion, three are the individual questions that are of interest for me here: 1) recent studies on the game, and especially new descriptions of its rules; 2) whether the special pack really could be very old, introduced together with playing cards or even earlier; 3) whether a half of this special pack (namely, without double cards) could be used for some games.

Descriptions of the game rules

The Cucu pack has been used for a long time in Campli and Montorio al Vomano (both within about 20 km from Teramo, in opposite directions) for a game that only had minor differences between the two places. On the rules followed in Campli, I received from the author a jocose description by Marino Di Pancrazio, which I report below in the Appendix.(8) The main rules for playing in Montorio have been summarised by Franchi.(3) More recently, however, no less than two whole books have been devoted to Cucu of Teramo by Nicolino Farina.(9, 10)
It is an unbelievable progress to have about three hundred pages printed on Cucu, and by the same author. This is a work that deserves attention for several aspects. Of course, we find chapters that are not equally interesting for us: in writing a whole book on a game one needs to insert it in the context of other games and it cannot be surprising that we also find chapters devoted to basic historical subjects (better known to us), such as the introduction of playing cards, the development of card production, the appearance of new games, and so on.
On the other hand, the rules of the game played around Bergamo and Brescia are of interest too, also because they prove that trick-taking games - of course, more frequently played with the ordinary pack - can be played with the Cucu pack.
In Italy, some events have recently been dedicated to the Cucu game. Remarkable have been the meetings of 2008 at Carugate (Como): on Saturday 14 June they had a national meeting on Cucu in the morning,(11) and the yearly meeting of the Italian members of the IPCS in the afternoon, both events focused on Cucu.
This was a way for the publisher Nova Charta to celebrate the fact that one of their journals, Il Curioso, had reached its 50th issue. In addition to sponsoring the events mentioned, a special issue of Il Curioso, was also involved, with a 8-page article describing the game and its history.(12)
The authors of that article deal with all the aspects of the game and its history. Among other sources, both the first book by Farina and the mentioned article by Franchi are taken into account. In addition to a summary of the rules of the Teramo game, they also report those collected around the Iseo Lake by Virginio Ferrari, in the Seventies – we have in this case an example of the Brescia-Bergamo trick-taking game.

Cucu as an ancient game

I fear that the contribution by Saverio Franchi has not aided us to reach a correct interpretation of the early spread of Cucu. The author is a scholar, who seriously investigates his field of research. However, I think that the direct link suggested by him with the game of Gnaff mentioned in some statutes of Bologna of the 13th century is misleading, as misleading is on the other hand the extension downwards in time of the habit of playing Cucu with tokens or pawns.
It is certain that Cucu was also played with tokens, having an image pasted on their bases, but this does not at all mean that any game of the ancient civilisations played with pawns or tokens could be of this kind. There are many centuries in the interval requiring further findings, and confirmations.
As reminded by Kimihiko Kuromiya, already Giampaolo Dossena had written that Cucu “è considerato antichissimo, forse anteriore alla introduzione delle carte da gioco in Europa”. (13) I feel that this is a kind of rumour that now and then comes again to the light, recently with the erudite support of Saverio Franchi,(3) which was taken into account by the Italian experts who have written the mentioned articles and books on the game. It is thus essential to search for any old documentary basis.
In the mentioned article by Sassi,(7) I read the following text: «Il Leopardi crede che le carte di quattro colori simulassero una guerra e che le più antiche, dette del cucco, ne avessero due soltanto (spade e bastoni) cui si aggiungessero due colori ausiliari (denari,coppe). Di queste carte posteriori alle minchiate e ai tarocchi, che egli crede di invenzione italiana è verisimile l’origine spagnola, provata dall’uso comune della parola “ombra”, per giocatore, dallo spagnolo “hombre”, uomo.»
The author thinks that the first pack was used for a simulation of a battle and therefore (!) it only had sword and club suits - cups and coins were only added later on, because card games were too simple with only two suits.
These statements derived from a book(14) written by Count Monaldo Leopardi (1776-1847), the father of the renowned poet Giacomo (1798-1837). (Giacomo Leopardi probably was the greatest Italian poet of his time; Monaldo is also well known among Italian literati for his historical studies and his love for bibliography and documents.)
It was thus necessary for me to check the book by Leopardi father, and its sources. The quotation from the book discussed in the article is not fully correct, but more important is what I could verify: in Leopardi’s book there are… no good sources to support his opinions.
There is one further aspect of Leopardi’s theory that I wish to comment on. He writes that the earliest card pack could have been that known with the name of cucco, because it only had two suits. This directly involves the Cucu pack and game of interest here; apparently Leopardi considers that, thanks to its simple structure, this could even antedate “his” sword-club pack. Giampaolo Dossena had probably read some of these suggestions.
Now, the problem is whether Monaldo Leopardi could avail himself of documents that we do not know. This is a possible situation, at least in principle. However, I feel that any historian of nowadays knows much more ancient documents than any expert of the 18th or 19th could know at his time. Indeed, he provides no useful indication of reliable sources; to begin with, his quotation from the classical Tiraboschi work(15) appears rather unsound.
Differently from much other information in his works, these ancient packs apparently are a plain fruit of Leopardi’s imagination. Coming back to Teikemeier’s theory, we just find that another expert had similar ideas in the past, but this is far from a proof, for any theory.

Cucu played with reduced packs

We have seen that the suggestion of Cucu packs used in the middle ages, even in the form of half packs, has no sound basis. However, it may be of interest to ascertain whether any game has been played with Cucu half packs later on. The idea is simple, we just have to find games played with half of the Cucu pack, without any double card.
I have asked about this a lot of experts, both those with a deep knowledge of the individual traditions and those who have a wide knowledge of the general “history and geography” of card games. Indeed, several cases exist, or have existed, in which a Cucu pack was used in a somewhat different form, and I had information on games played with unexpected packs (for instance, a 40-card Cucu pack with four identical cards of the figures and no numeral card).
However, nobody among the experts who answered my question had ever heard, or read, of games played with half a pack, without any double cards.


I have indicated some progress in the description of the Cucu rules, especially as played in the province of Teramo: in particular, two books by Nicolino Farina are now a necessary basis for any further study.(9, 10)
Several recent descriptions of Cucu suggest a possible ancient origin of this special pack, in some cases extending its use even before the introduction of common playing-cards, either in the form of particular tokens, or identifying this special pack with the first playing cards actually used.
I could make no progress in the search of ancient documents on Cucu. The earliest known references deal with a game of the family that was known under a different name, Malcontento or similar, which was played with the ordinary pack. In my opinion, the relation of Cucu with the earlier card game of Malcontento can be considered as certain, but this relation had already been suggested by Thierry Depaulis, more than thirty years ago!(16)
If the special pack of Cucu cards could have existed earlier than the 17th century remains to be proved. In any case, the appearance in Italy of the special Cucu pack was not only later than the introduction of the ordinary cards, it was also certainly later than the wide diffusion of trionfi, which occurred in the middle of the 15th century.


  (1) Franco Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. XIX No. 2 (1990) 68-76. L’As de Trèfle, N° 54 (1995) 3-5. Franco Pratesi: "Cards and Men for Cucù" (1990) and "Les sources du cucù feuilles volantes et textes polycopiés" (1995)
  (2) Kimihiko Kuromiya, The Playing Card, Vol. 39 No. 4 (2011) 232-233.
  (3) Saverio Franchi, La valle dell’alto Vomano ed i Monti della Laga, Teramo, Carsa, 1991, I, 93-115.
  (4) Lothar Teikemeier, Personal Communication, 27.01.2012.
  (5) Comments at : Franco Pratesi: Naibi with Attributes (2012)
  (6) Francesco Allegri, Letter of 30.03.2012.
  (7) Romualdo Sassi, Atti e memorie della Deputazione di Storia Patria per le Marche, Serie VII, Vol. III (1948) 137-153.
  (8) Marino Di Pancrazio, Regia et Imperiale Regula de lo Dilettevole Joco de lo Cucù. Campli 1962.
  (9) Nicolino Farina, Cucu tra simbologia e storia : antico gioco di carte ancora in uso a Campli e Montorio. Associazione Gandhi, Teramo 1996.
(10) Nicolino Farina, Cucù antico gioco di carte : gnaf, bum e cacaccio nella tradizione di Campli e Montorio. CampliNostraNotizie, Campli 2010.
(11) “Primo convegno nazionale di studi sull’antico gioco del cucù.”
(12) Andrea Angiolino, Sergio Mastromarino, Il Curioso, N. 50 (2008) 36-43.
(13) Giampaolo Dossena, Giochi di carte italiani, Mondadori, Milano 1984, p.55.
(14) Monaldo Leopardi, Annali di Recanati con le leggi e i costumi degli antichi recanatesi. Tipografia Varese, Varese 1945.
(15) Girolamo Tiraboschi, Storia della letteratura italiana. Tomo VI, parte II, Roma 1782, p. 458.
(16) Thierry Depaulis, L’As de Trèfle 11 (1981) 23-24.

The article refers to the earlier Cucù articles of Franco Pratesi "Cards and Men for Cucù" (1990) and "Les sources du cucù feuilles volantes et textes polycopiés" (1995).
The Scempi - Doppi problem is generated by the recent researches of Franco Prateisi to early Playing Card trade in Florence, especially to the Puri-family ( report 1 / report 2 ) and the silkdealers ( report 3 / report 4 ), which used these words as playing card categories in their account books.

Scempi decks for the Silkdealers

The silk dealers had their playing card business as a byway to their general trade activities, which mainly had a focus on export to other traders and likely more customers from the upper class. The trading activity with cards endured a period of c. 30 years between 1431-1460.

In their aquirements list, which was parted by Franco Pratesi in 10 groups of purchasers, only Niccolò di Calvello and one of the minor producers from the "Various Supplier list" produce decks noted with "Scempi".
Niccolò di Calvello delivered the most decks of all purchasers (about 3500) and he had the cheapest prices, and his decks were sold in groups of 12 packs. The usual price seems to have been 25 Soldi for 2 dozen "Scempi" cards (1.04 Soldi for each single pack), and 40 Soldi for 2 dozen "Doppi" (1.67 Soldi for each single pack; the prices are "from purchaser to dealer", so not the prices of the user market).
"Scempi" was definitely the cheapest category and it was not often bought by the silk dealers, c. 300 of c. 3500 decks fall in this category, less than 10% of the decks delivered from only this purchaser, which means only a few percent of the decks in the whole business, and again less percent, if one considers the lower price of the Scempi decks in the calculation.

The last Scempi deal is from October 1452 and the second last from October 1448, it seems, that Scempi decks disappeared from the market in the 1450s, at least, as far the silk dealers are concerned.

Scempi decks from the Puri family

The Puri family (as far we know it) had only a short period of playing card trade between 1447-1449. Franco Pratesi has splitted decks of higher value (totally 49 decks) from Scempi and Doppi (totally 72x12 = 864) decks. 42 dozen of Doppi decks compare to 30 Scempi decks.
In this business with likely less noble and rich customers and likely less export the Scempi decks have a much greater part of the market. From totally 864+49 = 913 decks 30x12 = 360 are Scempi decks, that's about 39-40% of the "cheap" market (only considered for the number of decks).
In the market price the 49 high value decks get 417 Soldi, the Doppi 868 and the Scempi 400, totally 1685 Soldi, from which the high value decks and the Scempi have each a little less than 25% and the Doppi little more than 50% (51.51%).

That's all made by only a rough and provisional calculation and possibly with errors.

Doppi-Scempi list
of the Puri family 1447-1449.

The data to Niccolò de Cavello and the high value decks of Puri family are given in the mentioned articles.


- Regula by Marino De Pancrazio (1962)

Regia et Imperiale


de lo Dilettevole Joco de lo Cucù

como se joca ne la città di Campli
et suo contado

compilata su consultatione de li gentiliffimi fignori Joanni R. Sorgi G.M.C., Jufeppe F. Michilli A.G.L, Jufeppe Farina Q.B.C., Antonio Di Felice C.C., Luigi Barbalato G.A., Vincenzo G. Genovesi C.B. et multi altri

et difattefe le opinioni in contrario del gentiliffimo fignor Riccardo Valerii M.C.P.

per Marino Di Pancrazio Q.S.M.I.

a lo fcopo edificante di moftrare a li jovani et a 1'
imperiti come qualmente quefto joco non debbafi jocare
perocché prohibito

con licentia, pertanto, de li fignori fuperiori et particulariter del fignor Queftore di Teramo (quello oggi in Sardinias trasferito) cui lo joco steffo fue pe’
quafitombola gabellato


Impresssa ne la regia città di Campli per li tipi de la Lexicon 80
Cum Privilegio MCMLXII


Regole Principali

Lu ttuffe si gioca con un mazzo di quaranta carte uguali a due a due (ogni mazzo, cioè, è composto di due serie uguali fra loro).
La denominazione delle carte, in ordine crescente di valore, è la seguente:
- Cacaccio (ebbene, sì, così nomasi la carta con l’effige del leone rampante)
- Mascherone – Manco di secchia
- Secchia – Meno di nulla
- Nulla
- I
- II
- IV
- V
- VI
- X
- Taverna – Fermatevi alquanto (XI)
- Gnaff o Gnao (XII)
- Salta o Cavallo (XIII)
- Ttuffe o Bum o Hai pigliato Bragon (XIIII)
- Cucù (XV)
- Matto (che non ha valore alcuno, a meno che non esca assieme all’altro matto, nel qual caso vale XIV e ½)

All’inizio del gioco ogni giocatore (pel numero dei giocatori non v’è limite, come per il 7 e ½) versa una posta fissa e viene dotato di tre gettoni (di solito s’usano a mò di gettoni delle carte italiane).
Vengono poi distribuite, coperte, le carte, una pro capite; provvede alla distribuzione uno dei giocatori, a turno, cominciando da quello sorteggiato con la conta e girando verso destra.
La regola basilare è questa: il giocatore cui sia capitata la carta di valore più basso deve pagare un gettone; ed il gioco continua con successive distribuzioni delle carte (ogni volta, ovviamente, vengono raccolte, mischiate le carte e tagliato il mazzo) e pagamento di un gettone da parte del giocatore meno favorito dalla sorte, fino a che non rimanga un solo giocatore con uno o più gettoni; questi ha vinto il piatto e cioè tutte le poste.

Il giocatore che nel corso del gioco sia rimasto senza gettoni, può “rientrare” pagando una nuova posta e prendendo di nuovo tre gettoni. La nuova posta, per il primo rientro, è pari alla posta iniziale; poi viene, di volta in volta, raddoppiata (cioè: prima posta = 1; primo rientro = 1; secondo rientro = 2; terzo rientro = 4; quarto rientro = 8; ecc.).
Il raddoppio della posta si ha ad ogni rientro, anche se non sia lo stesso giocatore a rientrare. E’ consentito rientrare solo fino a quando ci sia almeno un giocatore che abbia ancora i tre gettoni iniziali; si può anche convenire, all’inizio del gioco, che si possa rientrare anche quando i tre gettoni (in mano ad un solo giocatore od a più giocatori) non siano quelli iniziali (e siano stati cioè presi all’atto di un rientro).

Al momento della distribuzione delle carte, o meglio nel momento in cui riceve la carta, il giocatore ha diritto di “fare passo”, cioè di chiederne, se il valore di quella assegnatagli, gli sembra troppo basso, un’altra in sostituzione; in tal caso il cartaro darà prima la carta al giocatore che segue e questi sarà tenuto a passarla a quegli che ha fatto passo a meno che la carta toccatagli in sorte non superi il valore di X.
In tal caso [cioè se la sua carta è superiore a X] il giocatore richiesto del passo può rifiutarsi; scoprirà perciò la carta toccatagli.

Se questa è un XI (ovvero “Fermaevi alquanto” o “Taverna”), il giocatore che ha passato potrà rivolgergli la domanda “Pagherai se Nulla?” (cioè: se la carta che io voglio passare è una “Nulla”, pagherai tu, eventualmente, in mia vece?); ed il tenitore dell’XI potrà scegliere fera il non passare la sua carta, correndo il rischio di pagare in vece dell’altro se la carta di questi sarà verametne una “Nulla” e risulterà la più bassa, o il passarla. Da ciò appare ovvio che, secondo la regola generale dettata dal Chitarrella, chi passa deve tener coperta e calata la sua carta.

Sempre in caso di passo, se il giocatore richiesto di dare la sua carta ha un XII (ovvero “Gnaff” o “Gnao”), oltre a negare il passo, darà la “gnaffata”: chi ha fatto passo, per ciò solo, dovrà pagare un gettone (salvo a dover pagare ancora alla fine della distribuzione se la sua carta, quella che non ha potuto passare, sarà la più bassa). Inoltre, se c’era stata una precedente serie di passi, vigerà la regola “Gnaff, carte arrete”: tutti quelli che avevano fatto passo e cambiato la carta dovranno riprendere la loro carta.

Se il giocatore richiesto del passo ha un XIII (ovvero “Cavallo” o “Salta”), scoprirà, come nei due casi precedenti la sua carta ed il richiedente si rivolgerà al giocatore successivo. Non è consentito ritirare il passo.

Se ha un XIIII (ovvero “Ttuffe”, “Bum”, o “Hai preso Bragon”), darà la “bummita”, oltre, come nei tre casi precedenti, a negare il passo: chi ha fatto passo, per ciò solo, dovrà pagare un gettone (senza pregiudizio per quello che dovrà eventualmente pagare per avere la carta più bassa, come nel caso della “gnaffata”).

Se ha un XV (ovvero “Cucù”), si limiterà signorilmente a scoprire la carta ed a negare il passo.

Regole secondarie, casi particolari ed eccezionali ed utili ripetizioni

Può avvenire che, alla fine della distribuzione, chi ha la carta più bassa non possa pagare per non avere più gettoni (ad es. perché ha pagato per una “bummita” l’ultimo che gli rimaneva); in tal caso pagherà il gettone il giocatore che ha la carta immediatamente più alta (ad es., se non può pagare chi ha il cacaccio, paga chi ha il mascherone).

Se vengono distribuiti due cacacci (o due mascheroni o due I ecc.) pagano il gettone tutti e due.

Il matto “paga e fa pagare”; quindi, quando ne esce uno solo, perdono un gettone ciascuno chi ha avuto il matto e chi ha avuto la carta più bassa. Quando invece escono tutt’e due i matti, che valgono, come già detto, XIIII e ½, si salvano entrambi; paga il gettone chi ha avuto la carta più bassa.
Caso limite: se sono in gioco ancora tre giocatori e vengono distribuiti due matti ed un ttuffe, paga quest’ultimo perché vale XIIII mentre i matti valgono XIIII e ½.

Se alla fine del gioco rimangono due giocatori con un solo gettone ciascuno e ad uno di questi rimane un matto, poiché “Il matto paga e fa pagare”, poiché, quindi, non c’è un vincitore, il gioco ricomincia da capo: rientrano tutti i giocatori, senza pagare nulla, si ridistribuiscono tre gettoni ecc. Se però rimangono in ultimo, nelle dette condizioni un matto ed un cucù, quest’ultimo vince.
Lo stesso caso si ha quando ai due giocatori (cui sia rimasta, ripetesi, una sola carta) rimangano carte di uguale valore (ad es. due secchie, due VIII, ecc.). Due cucù, però, vincono entrambi e dividono il piatto.

Ovviamente possono fare passo più giocatori, teoricamente tutti quanti (allo stesso modo che nel 7 e ½ tutti possono chiedere carta invece di “stare”).
E’ appena il caso di notare che chi riceve una richiesta di passo ed aderendo alla richiesta stessa, dà la sua carta inferiore a quella passata, starà con questa e non farà a sua volta passo (ad es. chi dà un mascherone in cambio di una nulla non passa).

Non tentate di insegnare questo gioco a chi non ne abbia appreso i rudimenti fin dalla più tenera età: probabilmente, dopo un’ora di inutili sforzi diverreste triviali anche in presenza di signore. Se v’incontrate con vecchi amici d’infanzia che già conoscono il gioco, non gioca te con loro a ttuffe. Od almeno mettetevi con loro prima d’accordo sul modo di giocarlo: passerà una giornata intera ed insieme la voglia di giocare.
Con tutto ciò lu ttuffe è un gran bel gioco.

Side bar pictures and text added by Lothar Teikemeier

Franco Pratesi (Nov. 2011 - Oct. 2012)
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