Top 9 Tarot de Marseille decks

9 September 2016

Unlike RWS-readers, Tarot de Marseille lovers have a limited amount of decks to work with and aren’t treated to exciting deck reviews very often. All the more reason for The Queen’s Sword to ask TdM experts & professionals*: Which TdM decks that are already out there *should* you collect or read with. Here’s their Top 9 Tarot de Marseille decks:


#9 Pierre Madenie

madenietowermadeniechariotSeveral Tarot de Marseille (TdM) decks got the same number of votes but coming in on a joint last place (therefore 8&9) are the Pierre Madenie TdM (c1709) and Le Veritable Hadar TdM. These two decks reflect the differences between TdM decks; a facsimile copy of the original deck or a reproduced modernized version. The Madenie is one of the oldest TdM’s in existence and usually called ‘the most beautiful’. Sherryl Smith (from the multimedia tip) prefers the Paul Madenie TdM “because of the faces, because it’s a photo-repro and not restored and diddled with …” Yves Reynaud and Wilifried Houdouin made their reproduction based on copy in the Swiss National Museum.

The Reynaud/Houdouin Madenie will be available again in fall 2016. A redrawn version of the Madenie is also available from Mary Packard.


#8 Le Veritable Hadar

Hadar Tarot de MarseilleHadar 2 of coins Tarot de MarseilleAnd then the reproduced Le Veritable Hadar TdM (1996) by Kris Hadar. Based upon 20 years of research and pulling together images and symbols from several TdM decks this has a more modern, crisper feel to it. The lines are clearer, the colors more vibrant. You can see the details. However, this is exactly the criticism modern interpretations of TdM decks can get – that they lose the essence and feel of the originals and have interpretations of the ‘restorer’ imposed upon the deck. F.e. Hadar has golden light emanating from La Papesse and several court cards. That wasn’t there in the original TdM decks. Hadar himself believes that the TdM dates back to the 12th century: see 1181 in the 2 of Coins.

The Le Veritable Hadar is available at Amazon.


#7 Jacques Vieville

Tarot de Marseille VievillevievillehangmanFlornoy makes his first entry with the Jacques Vieville TdM (c.1650). This is a unique deck for many reasons. Flornoy argues that for economic reasons, instead of employing a new professional engraver (which was expensive), a copy was made from an old printed sheet – resulting in the cards coming out reversed. The placement of certain cards is also different: the Chariot is card 8 and Justice card 7. Strength is card 9 and the Hermit 11. Instead of a Tower you have a Tree and the Hanged Man does not hang and the Major cards have no names! Flornoy produces a restored Majors only deck with the original cards reversed but also includes mirror images (44 cards in total).

You can buy the original 78 unrestored cards or the Flornoy Majors with mirror images.


#6 Jodorowsky-Camoin

jodochariotjodotowerAnother modern interpretation is the Jodorowsky-Camoin deck. First published in 1997 it came just after the Hadar deck. Both Jodorowsky and Camoin claim that they have access to secrets of the true symbolism of the tarot which they have put in this deck – although they do not reveal where these secrets specifically come from. It is probably one of the most modern looking of the TdM’s. Those 10 extensive colors give it quite the vibrancy. This deck is controversial with some in the TdM community: an egg appears by the side of La Papesse, a doorway appears in the front of La Maison Diev. Jodorowsky’s accompanying book “The Way of Tarot” is seen as an essential guide to the TdM though – regardless of winking horses 😉

If you like colorful and aren’t afraid of some controversy, the Jodorowsky-Camoin is the one for you


#5 Pablo Robledo

robledoloverstarot de Marseille RobledoOne thing that stands out in the TdM deck industry is the number of independent publishers. This is also reflected by the Pablo Robledo TdM 2016, coming in at number 5. This is a very popular deck, first published in 2011 by the Argentinian master card maker. The 2016 edition is limited to 1,000 decks and represents a gradual development in this deck over the years with the colors being a little more pleasant and fainter than the previous editions. The deck is based on the smallest TdM (11.2 x 6.1cm) and is printed on black-core German paper. With 3 layers the quality of the stock is superb. Stefan Dollak sums this deck up nicely: “There are enough historically informed nuances (..) that make it distinctive and worthwhile. The card size, color and durability gives the whole deck a magnetic appeal.”

You can snatch your Robledo copy here.


#4 B.P. Grimaud

grimaudswordsknightgrimaudtowerThe well-known B.P. Grimaud TdM (Ancient Tarot de Marseille) makes an appearance higher up as expected. The deck, first published in 1930 by Paul Marteau, has been has been associated with the TdM style for years, due its popularity and several, continuous reprints. There is quite a history to this TdM as Thierry Depaulis shows (The Playing Card, Vol 42 No.1). Grimaud took over a Paris card making company called Lequarte in 1891 and based his deck on the Lequarte – which itself was based upon the Nicolas Conver deck of 1760! Guillame Postel supported the Grimaud deck with his vote: “although it changed the color scheme and has been widely criticized, with this deck Tarot tradition has been preserved for years.”

The Grimaud TdM is hard to find, but check TarotBG or eBay on a regular basis.


#3 Jean Dodal

dodalfooldodal9swordsYet again another Flornoy deck in the Top 9. This time the Jean Dodal TdM (c.1701). Jean-Claude Flornoy used the two original surviving decks in the French National Library and the British Museum to base it on. Flornoy claims that the master engraver of the original deck was Jacques Merme; ‘the last true representative instructed on the inner meanings of the tarot’. Flornoy stays true to the original images, which reflects a type of restoration that tries to preserve the intentions of the c.1701 deck. That’s why many TdM users love this deck. One of the voters, Ryan Edwards, mentions “The facial expressions are unparalleled”. The cards are larger than usual and also available as a Majors only deck.

The Jean Dodal is still up for grabs.


#2 Jean Noblet

nobletfoolnobletdeathOne would almost think this is the Flornoy top 9… Anyway, on 2 – with 21% of the votes – is his Jean Noblet TdM (c.1650), editions 2007 and 2014. The only surviving original deck is in the National Library in Paris, but still misses 5 Sword-suit cards. Flornoy recreated them. Many see the original Noblet as the first TdM. The cards are smaller than most TdM cards and the Death card is actually named in this deck as LAMORT (literally The Death). Usually Death isn’t named and referred to as ‘The Nameless Arcana’. Michael M. Hughes (currently working on his Reading Ancient Decks book) neatly describes this deck as “singularly weird. The Fool’s twig and berries hanging out, the Magician’s phallic finger … It’s an odd but extremely charming deck.”

Get your original Noblet Tarot de Marseille.


#1 Conver-Ben-Dov (CBD)

convermagicianconverknightswordsWith nearly one-third of the total vote the Conver Ben-Dov is the undisputed number one! The deck is a restoration of the 1760 Conver TdM by Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov. It was self-published in 2011 and has a separate book you can buy called The Open Reading. Brian Bailey voted the CBD his nr 1: “It is thoroughly researched (..) and remains true to its roots despite being a restoration.” The deck took over 3 years to restore with all the lines originally re-drawn by hand using ink nib. Even the card frames remain true and unique. The coloring scheme follows exactly that of the earliest available Conver deck in the National Library in Paris. The complete CBD can be downloaded for free from the website for non-commercial distribution and use.

If you want a physical CBD to do readings with, that’s also possible.

Guest editor: Bry Grayson
Bry is a professional tarot reader. After reading with Waite-Smith + esoteric decks for years, he truly ‘discovered’ the TdM. Revealing himself as an enthusiastic researcher & student in a specialized TdM group he was the best choice explore & write this Top 9.

So, that was our Top 9 Tarot de Marseille decks, obviously based on the traditional works. But The Queen’s Sword is also keeping an eye out for modern takes on the deck and hopes to review a few in the new year (2017). Stay tuned for new designs to come. Who knows, in a few years time, we might have a Top Modern TdM Decks to show you.

*NB. The poll was placed in two large tarot groups, together counting approximately 23.000 members. One online group caters to professional tarot readers, the other is specifically geared towards Tarot de Marseille users. The quotes were also taken from there and all commenters have given their permission for this article. Percentage votes: Conver Ben-Dov 30%, Noblet Flornoy 21%,Dodal Flornoy 10%, Grimaud 9%, Robledo 7%, Jodo-Camoin 5%, Vieville 4%, Pierre Madeine and Hadar 2% each. There are numerous other Tarot de Marseille decks, including their Italian cousins,  to be explored though. You might be one of the 1% ;-).