History of Tarot

First Deck

Through many hours of reading I have as yet found a date for the first deck, I have found that as early as the 1380's there were cards in use.

First Used as...

These cards from the 1380's were used as playing cards. It wasn't til the 1420's that trumps (triumphs) were added by royalty and later still the major arcana came into play.

Thru the years

Over time the cards went from being playing cards to being tarot and used for divination. The late 1600's to early 1700's is when they are said to have changed.



The first paper mills were started in Italy, enabling the painting of cards. Prior to this they were hand-carved in wood or stone, at great expense, making nobility the only people that could afford them.


Petrarch writes the poem "I Trionfi", partly while at Visconti Court in Milan. The concept of a procession of cards (Page, Knight, Queen, King) “triumphing” (later becoming trump) or defeating the previous card was the basis of the game of Trionfi.

@ 1370

Block printing on paper begins in Germany and appears in Italy several decades later. Previously hand-carved in wood or stone, the block printing enabled cards to be produced quicker and easier at a much lower cost.


Mamluk style playing cards enter Italian and Spanish ports. Arabic design is Europeanized to become the suits of swords, batons, cups and coins (the Italian suits) and the court cards become king, queen, knight, valet.


Spain – First written reference to playing cards in Europe, referred to as naip.


Numerous written references to playing cards appear in Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium in city ordinances against gambling, account books of aristocrats, and inventories of merchants. They were initially referred to as Saracen or Moorish cards (naibi, nahipi, naips, naibbi), then later in Italy, tarot decks are called "carte da trionfi".


First reference to a card maker by name: Rodrigo Borges of Perpignan France, called a “naipero”.


A listing in the account book of Charles VI, King of France, refers to 3 packs of gilt and colored cards ordered from the painter Jacquemin Gringonneur. These regular playing cards were mistakenly associated with a tarot deck in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris that was actually created in Ferrara in the late 1400s. This deck is still erroneously referred to as the “Charles VI deck”.


Account books of the painter Sagramoro of Florence show him being commissioned to repair decks and to create luxury decks decorated with gold, lapiz lazuli, and brazilwood dye for the Marchesa Parisina of Ferrara. She was an enthusiastic purchaser of cards but had to go outside Ferrara for them for at least another decade. Sagramoro was still supplying the court of Ferrara with cards in 1456.


Marchesa Parisina orders two packs of inexpensive cards for her girls. This may be first evidence that cheap printed cards were being produced.


No later than this date Duke Filippo Maria Visconti of Milan commissioned an allegorical card game based on virtues and temptations. Each suit had four extra trump cards.


Written reference to a card press owned by Duke D’Este of Ferrara.


First written reference that cites tarot specifically in a diary entry mentioning a deck created in Florence.


Francesco Sforza, future Duke of Milan, marries Bianca Visconti in Milan. Possibly this was the occasion for commissioning the Cary-Yale tarot deck, as the deck has heraldic devices from both families. This deck and the Brera/Brambilla deck have coins minted by Bianca’s father, Filippo Maria Visconti, so both decks were done before he died in 1447. Milan’s records were destroyed in a fire in 1447 so we have no account books to show card-purchasing activity as we do in Ferrara.


The latest possible date for the invention of Tarot. It may have been as early as 1420.


Tarot appears in a Ferrara account book: “Ordered from Sagramoro – painted cups, coins, swords, batons, and the figures for four packs of trionfi.”


According to the account books of the Marchese of Ferrara, he purchased two packs of carte da trionfi for his younger brothers. He bought them from a merchant for a small amount of money, showing that tarot was a mass-produced, easily purchased commodity at this time.


Francesco Sforza is crowned Duke of Milan, the possible occasion of commissioning the Pierpont Morgan Bergamo deck, as it has Sforza and Visconti emblems. Replacement (or additional) cards were made in Ferrara about 1470.


Francesco Sforza writes a note requesting two decks of carte da trionfi (trumps), or if not available, carte da giocare (playing cards). He wants “the finest you can find” and needs them by Sunday. This shows there was a standard Trionfi deck that didn’t have to be described, and that was easily purchased.


Sigismondo Malatesta, lord of Rimini, asks Bianca Sforza to obtain a deck of triumph cards for him from one of the celebrated artists of Cremona. This may be evidence that the Sforza’s hand-painted deck is being copied by other artists.


Card playing is very popular in northern Italian courts. A large fresco of Tarocchi players is painted on a wall of the Borromeo Castle in Milan.


Account books of Count Borso of Ferrara mention a pair of printing blocks for cards. Presses owned by the count were mass producing cheap playing cards.


Count Borso commissioned the artist da Vicenza to create two very luxurious packs of carte grande da trionfi with 70 cards. This was either a different trionfi game than tarot, or it shows that some tarot decks had only 14 trump cards. Da Vicenza produced several decks a year for the court of Ferrara through 1463.


Records show that Duke Borso loaned out blocks for printing trump cards.


First reference to tarot in Bologna.


Count Boiardo of Ferrara designed a tarot deck based on love with a poem for each card.


Oldest example of Italian playing cards. An uncut sheet found in the binding of books published in 1466 and 1469 has suits of coins and cups, and fragments of court cards.


Earliest possible date for the Steele Sermon, the "Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis", written by a priest preaching against dice and card playing. He listed the tarot trumps in essentially the same order we still use.


A lot of tarot creation activity in Ferrara: the hand-painted "d’Este" deck now in the Carey collection; the so-called "Charles VI/Gringonneur" deck which resides in Paris in the Bibliotheque Nationale; the replacement (or additional) cards for the 1450 "Pierpont Morgan Bergamo Visconti-Sforza" deck; and hand-painted and block print cards now part of the Rothschild collection in the Louvre.


First written references to the manufacture of playing cards and trionfi in Bologna.


French suit symbols appear and most card games convert to the suits of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades which are easier to stencil onto mass produced cards. Italy clings to older suits especially for the games of Trionfi and Minchiate.


First reference in France to “Triumphe” cards, but it’s not certain if they were standard tarot cards.


Ferrara- Creation of the copper engraved "Sola Busca" deck with its unique designs and illustrated pip (Ace through 10) cards.


Lot books (part of a game of chance using playing cards) become popular. Playing cards are used to pick a page at random and find an answer to a question.


Prohibitions against gaming in various cities exempt certain games favored by aristocrats like tarot, backgammon and chess, possibly because these are considered games of skill rather than chance, and because the Church didn’t want to alienate the ruling class.


Milan and parts of Italy are conquered by France shifting playing card manufacturing from Milan to France.


Earliest examples of printed wood block cards that survive. They were preserved as uncut sheets of cards used in book binding. Some were found in a well at Sforza Castle in Milan. Some cards have typical Tarot de Marseilles imagery.


The "Minchiate" deck is invented in Florence. This is an expanded tarot deck with additional trumps depicting the four elements and twelve zodiac signs and the Knights become Centaurs.


First references to the word Tarocchi in Ferrara and Avignon and the old name trionfi shifts to another game played with a regular pack of cards.


First written reference to card manufacture in France (Lyons).


Germany- Tarot images appear in a nativity calendar, showing that these images are part of popular culture.


Venice- Teofilo Folengo (pen name Merlin Cocai) wrote four sonnets based on tarot trumps that describe the poet being led into a room where four people have drawn cards related to their fate then ask for poems about them.


"Tarocchi Appropriati" is a popular parlor game where humorous poems based on a tarot card are invented on the spot to describe the person holding the card.


Book "Tarocchi Appropriati" by Troilo Pomeran da Cittadela contains sonnets based on the trumps that praise the ladies of Venice.


Rabelais’ "Five Books of Gargantua and Pantagruel" lists over 200 games including “Tarau”. He also lists numerous divinatory methods, but "Tarot" is not included.


"The Cards Speak" by Pietro Aretino, a pornographic book that gives information on the names and order of the trumps during the course of a dialog, is published in Venice.


Flavio Alberti Lillio wrote "Invettiva contra il Giuoco del Taroco", a verse diatribe against tarot.


Giulio Bertoni wrote an essay “Tarocchi Versificati” which describes ladies of the court of Ferrara and includes information on the names and the order of the trumps.


Lyons- The Catelin Geoffroy deck is created. This is the first block printed deck still in existence.


Pavia- Giambattista Susio wrote appropriati poems associating the trumps with ladies of the court. He gave the names and the Lombardy order of the trumps, which is almost the same as the Vieville deck created in Paris a century later.


Venice- Giriolamo Bargagli describes how he saw each participant in a tarocchi game being given a card and being told why he was associated with that card.


Venice- First printed account of a game of tarot.


France- Poems written in a series of stories called "Facetious Nights", where in each stanza a trump figure who is playing a game of tarot loses the trick to a suit card that kills him. At the end, all the slain trumps are resurrected by shuffling the deck.


Venice- Records of the Inquisition show the Devil card being used as a focus of veneration and prayer. It’s notable that Tarot itself is not considered evil by association.


The "Parisian" deck, the first complete block printed deck to survive shows a blend of several regional influences.


France-The first surviving printed rules of the game of Tarot are published in a pamphlet.


The Belgian pattern appears in the "De Hautot" deck published in Rouen and the "Vieville" deck made in Paris.


Paris- Jean Noblet published the first deck we know of that closely conforms to the Tarot de Marseille pattern.


Tarocchi and Minchiate are introduced in Sicily. Sicilian decks are very different, with Portuguese suits, fewer cards, and some unique trump imagery.


"Mitelli Tarot", a special commission done in copper engraving is the earliest deck we have in the Bolognese pattern.


Johann Mayer of Switzerland publishes the first known example of the Besancon pattern with Jupiter and Juno instead of the Papesse and Pope.


Chosson style decks are being produced by Madenie of Dijon, Payen of Avignon, Heri of Switzerland and others.


Lyon- Dodal deck published, a transition deck between the Noblet and the standard Tarot de Marseilles.


Bologna- The Empress, Emperor, Pope and Papesse are replaced by the four Moors in regional decks by order of the Vatican.


Height of popularity of the Tarot game. The rules and decks are standardized.


Chosson of Marseille prints a deck that becomes the template for the mainstream Tarot de Marseilles decks.


Serravalle, Italy- First "Tarocco Piemontese" deck printed by Giuseppe Ottone. It’s now in the Museo de Naipes Fournier.


Bologna- A one-page manuscript discovered in the 20th century by Pratesi, in the University Library gives divinatory meanings of 35 of the Tarocco Bolognese cards. It says to separate the cards into 5 piles of 7 cards each, but doesn’t say what to do with them next.


The 78-card Lombardy style emerges in Milan. It’s published with Italian titles and is eventually superseded by the Piemontese pattern for card playing.


Tarock deck invented with French suits and decorative, double-headed trumps. It is still the standard deck for game playing.


Bologna- First rules for Tarocchi Bolognese published in a card game book.


Vienna- The earliest rules for the game in German. It’s the style of game played in Lombardy which was ruled by Austria at the time.


The first known professional tarot reader, Etteilla (1738-1791) is taught card reading by a man from Piedmont.


Marseilles- The "Conver" deck, a very close copy of Chosson’s 1736 deck, becomes the standard Tarot de Marseilles and the basis for contemporary decks by Fournier, Grimaud and others.


Paris- Etteilla writes the first book of cartomancy, "How to Entertain Oneself with a Pack of Cards" using a Piquet deck but mentions Tarot for fortune telling. This is the first manual of card reading and the first explicit written reference to divination with Tarot.


Flemish-style decks with Spanish Captain and Bacchus instead of Papesse & Pope are printed in Belgium.


Bologna- The Tarocco Bolognese became double-headed. However double-headed decks didn’t appear in France and England until the 1800s.


Antoine Court de Gebelin publishes Volume VIII of "Monde Primitif" containing essays on Tarot that link it with the Hebrew alphabet and ancient Egypt for first time in print.


Etteilla publishes "How to Entertain Oneself with a Pack of Cards called Tarot", the first how-to-read-tarot manual, containing an elaborate story of Tarot’s ancient Egyptian origins.


Etteilla produces the first occult deck illustrating Hermetic teachings, currently in print as "Le Grand Etteilla" by Grimaud.

Late 1700's

The Grandpretre deck is engraved in copper plate and hand-colored and the Pope and Papesse are called the High Priestess and High Priest, for first time in a deck, while the Hanged Man is upright and called Prudence, as in de Gebelin.


D’Odoucet, a follower of Etteilla, publishes a book on card meanings based on Etteilla’s teachings, which is the basis for about half the meanings of the Minor Arcana cards in the Rider-Waite Smith deck.


A deck of double-headed Bolognese cards is labeled on the top and bottom with divinatory meanings.


Carlo Della Rocca engraves the Milanese-style soprafino deck and is still printed by Lo Scarabeo and Il Meneghello.


Paris- Eliphas Levi published "Dogma" and "Ritual of Transcendental Magic", a grand synthesis of the western magical tradition that gives Tarot an important place.


English occultist Kenneth Mackenzie visits Eliphas Levi in Paris and is inspired to create the "Cypher Manuscript" and "Book T" which become the basis for the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the bedrock of Anglo-American Tarot.


Paris- Paul Christian publishes "Red Man of the Tuileries", a novel that describes Egyptian Tarot cards which uses the term Arcana for the first time.


Robert Chambers writes the "Book of Days" which gives card-reading techniques used by British soldier’s wives. A. E. Waite used some of these card meanings for his minor arcana.


Paris- Edmond Billaudot, professional card reader, creates Tarot Belline from Christian’s descriptions in Red Man. The first deck to have Hebrew letters on the cards. It’s currently published as the Grand Tarot Belline.


Paris- Paul Christian publishes "Histoire de la Magie" using all the tarot material in "Red Man of Tuileries". In "la Magie" he describes an ancient Egyptian initiation chamber and expands on Tarot as an ancient mystery teaching.


London- William Westcott and S. L. Mathers launch the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn after obtaining MacKenzie’s papers (Cypher Manuscript and Book T).


London- S. L. Mathers publishes "The Tarot: Its Occult Signification", "Use in Fortune Telling", and "Method of Play".


France- Ely Star publishes an astrology book using Paul Christian’s teachings on Tarot and his card names, which influenced Egyptian decks. His use of the term Major and Minor Arcana was adopted by Papus.


Paris- Oswald Wirth publishes his deck, designed with the help of Stanislaus De Guaita using Levi’s descriptions.


Papus publishes "Tarot of Bohemians" which codifies Levis teachings on Tarot and is illustrated by the Tarot de Marseilles and Wirth decks.


The Falconnier-Wegener cards are published. They are the first truly Egyptian deck based on Paul Christian’s descriptions of 1870.


A. E. Waite publishes the Rider Waite deck and the accompanying book the "Pictorial Key to Tarot", making them the bedrock of Anglo-American tarot.


Aleister Crowley publishes "Liber 777" which divulges all the Golden Dawn’s rituals and teachings, demystifying secret societies and democratizing esoteric teachings.


"Tarot of the Bohemians" by Papus (1889) is translated into English and is one of the most important books on French esoteric Tarot. It is still in print today.


Aleister Crowley publishes the Golden Dawn’s "Book T" which contains their Tarot teachings in his magazine "The Equinox".


Hariette & F. Homer Curtiss publish the first american tarot book, "The Key to the Universe or a Spiritual Interpretation of Numbers and Symbols", on esoteric tarot illustrated with using Rider-Waite Smith, Egyptian, Tarot de Marseilles and Wirth decks.


USA- DeLaurence Company pirates the Rider Waite deck and Waite’s book "The Pictorial Key to Tarot".


USA- C.Z. Zain publishes instructional courses for his Church of Light which contain the first English translations of Paul Christian’s teachings while using the Falconnier-Wegener Egyptian card designs for his deck.


USA- Paul Foster Case founds B.O.T.A. whose teachings draw heavily on the Golden Dawn.


Paris- Oswald Wirth’s book "Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen Age" is republished.


London- Dion Fortune establishes the Society of Inner Light and begins her teaching and writing career.


USA- J. Augustus Knapp and Manly Palmer Hall create what came to be known as the" Knapp-Hall Tarot" published in 1978 which combines Wirth and Egyptian imagery.


Paris- Paul Marteau, owner of Grimaud publishing house, produces a re-colored Conver Tarot de Marseilles which is currently the standard divination deck in France.


USA- The Church of Light founded by C. Z. Zain produces its Egyptian deck based on the Falconnier-Wegener designs.


USA- Israel Regardie begins publishing all of the Golden Dawn’s teachings and rituals.


London- Frieda Harris creates the original oil paintings for Aleister Crowley’s "Thoth" deck.


London- Original paintings by Frieda Harris for Crowley’s "Thoth" deck are exhibited in a gallery.


Limited edition of Crowley’s deck published.


Paul Foster Case publishes a synthesis of his teachings in "The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages", with line drawings of his deck by Jessie Burns Parke.


The book "Le Tarot de Marseille" by Paul Marteau teaches reading the Tarot de Marseilles by paying close attention to the imagery, colors, and number, rather than using esoteric attributions.


Britain- The Witchcraft Act is repealed allowing Tarot decks to be printed and sold freely.


USA- University Books begins printing the Rider Waite Smith deck and the "Pictorial Key to Tarot" giving it widespread distribution.


Eden Gray publishes her first book on how to read tarot, "The Tarot Revealed", making Tarot user-friendly and more accessible to the general public, laying the groundwork for Tarot’s popularity in the late 20th century.


Gertrude Moakely publishes "The Tarot Cards Painted by Bembo", which shows the relationship between 15th century trump cards, Petrarch and Renaissance triumphal parades.


House of Camoin produces its first reproduction of Conver’s 1760 Tarot de Marseilles.


Albano Waite deck, a re-colored Rider-Waite Smith deck, may be the first Rider-Waite Smith spin-off.


"The New Tarot for the Aquarian Age" by John Starr Cooke and Rosalind Sharpe is channeled via a Ouija board. Making it he first “New Age” post-modern deck.


Stuart Kaplan buys the Swiss 1JJ (Jupiter & Juno) deck at a trade fair, launching U.S. Games Systems into Tarot deck publishing.


Grimaud begins publishing its TdM with an accompanying booklet in English.


Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck, created in early 1940s, is published as a poor quality photo reproduction.


Crowley’s Thoth deck published based on photos of the original paintings.


Eden Gray’s book "Complete Guide to the Tarot" describes the “Fool’s Journey” for the first time.


David Palladini’s "Aquarian Tarot" is one of the first of a landslide of RWS spin-off decks.


Paul Huson’s "The Devil’s Picture Book" is one of several books published in the late 60s and early 70s to put tarot in a Wiccan or pagan context.


Richard Roberts’ book "Tarot and You" contains transcripts of readings using a psychological free-association method which influenced Mary Greer.


"Tarot of Bohemians" by Papus is re-published in English for the first time since 1910 becoming one of the most influential tarot books of all time.


U.S. Games, Inc. acquires rights to the Rider Waite Smith deck.


Buenos Aires- Egipcios Kier deck is published and is an important esoteric tarot in Spanish speaking countries.


"New Tarot" by Hurley & Horler is one of the first radically redesigned decks that breaks with Rider Waite imagery. They worked on it from 1961-67 while living part time at Esalen in Big Sur, California.


"Mountain Dream Tarot" by Bea Nettles is the first deck based on photographs.


Joseph Maxwell’s book "The Tarot" becomes one of the few French tarot books translated into English.


"Xultun Tarot" by Peter Balin is the first deck based on a non-western culture.


Penny Slinger’s "The Secret Daikini Oracle" is the first collaged deck.


Tarot responds to the feminist movement with Womanspirit Circle in Santa Cruz, CA, the birth place of several feminist decks which appear in the late 1970's. ("A New Woman’s Tarot" and "Amazon Tarot").


Stuart Kaplan publishes the first of four Encyclopedias, making thousands of decks available for everyone to study.


A.G. Muller prints Falconnier-Wegener’s Egyptian deck as the "Egyptian Tarot".


Michael Dummett publishes "The Game of Tarot", the definitive work on the Tarot deck and game.


"Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom" by Rachel Pollack becomes one of most influential books on card meanings.


"Motherpeace" a deck by Vicki Noble & Karen Vogel is the first round deck, also the first feminist and Goddess-oriented deck to enjoy wide distribution.


Fiona Morgan and 14 others publish "Daughters of the Moon", a round deck conceived in the Santa Cruz Womanspirit Circle in the late 1970s.


Mary Greer publishes "Tarot for Yourself", a workbook that guides the reader through forming personal meanings for the cards rather than memorizing received card meanings. Golden Dawn astrological and elemental attributions are disseminated.


Golden age of small, individually-owned tarot magazines such as Tracy Hoover’s "Winged Chariot", Crystal Sage’s "Tapestry", and Geraldine Amaral’s "Celebrating the Tarot".


Several artists and publishers update the Tarot de Marseilles: Fournier, Major Tom, Rodes & Sanchez, and Hadar.


Llewellyn, founded in 1901 as an astrological publishing house, becomes a major tarot deck publisher, and in 2000 forms a partnership with Lo Scarabeo, a major Italian tarot deck publisher.


The first BATS (Bay Area Tarot Symposium) organized in San Francisco by Thalassa.

Mid 1990's

The Tarot community goes global thanks to the internet. Alt_Tarot and Tarot_L (Yahoo) are pioneering discussion lists


The books "A Wicked Pack of Cards" followed by "The History of Occult Tarot" in 2002, as well as research into tarot history by Michael Dummett and independent researchers who share their findings online, debunk occultist theories of Tarot’s ancient origins.


First World Tarot Congress in Chicago organized by Janet Berres.


First Reader’s Studio organized in New York by Ruth and Wald Amberstone.