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I have spent the past two years obsessed with the Petit Lenormand cards, a deck of 36 fortune-telling cards created in Germany in 1846, based on an earlier multi-purpose game called the “Die Spiel der Hoffnüng” created by Johann Kaspar Hechtel in Nuremburg in 1799. The Petit Lenormand appropriated the name of the Parisian Mlle Lenormand, the most famous fortune-teller of her age, who died in 1843, shortly before the newly incarnated deck appeared. I’ll write more about these cards later.

I am announcing here for the first time that I have found an earlier set of 32 fortune-telling cards that are the undoubtable forerunner of both the “Spiel der Hoffnüng” game and the Lenormand cards. My source is a 1796 book in English in the British Museum entitled: “Les Amusements des Allemands, or The Diversions of the Court of Vienna, in which the Mystery of Fortune-Telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup is unravelled, and Three pleasant Games, viz.: 1. Fortune-telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup. 2. Fortune-telling by laying out the cards. 3. The new Imperial Game of numbers are invented.

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The work is based on an Austro-German set of cards from 1794. An introduction to the book states:

“These entertaining games first made their appearance at Vienna, in 1794, where they still are the favorite amusement of the Empress of Germany, and the Imperial Court. They have since been diffused through all the fashionable circles in that country. The Editor, therefore, has to hope that, in a country where the liberality and curious discernment of its inhabitants is so conspicuous as that of Britain, they will not be held in less estimation.”

While there are only 32 cards, most of them are exact forerunners to Lenormand cards. The few variations, like Lion, have close replacements as their Coffee-ground meanings indicate. For instance, “Lion, or a ferocious beast” has the same meaning as the Lenormand Bear.

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It’s been thought for several years that the Lenormand images were derived from Coffee-ground fortune-telling or Tasseomancy. This work is the missing link that proves this theory. It has been curious that several of the Lenormand images were not found in the old lists of coffee-ground emblems, but now we know that several cards were added to the original set. The reason for the expansion of the deck to 36 cards probably came about when Hechtel decided to combine “Les Amusements des Allemands” with the German 36-piece playing card deck, which was then more popular than either the 32-card Piquet deck or the 52-card deck.

The Empress, for whom these were a ‘favorite amusement’, was probably Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (1772–1807), the last Holy Roman Empress, first Empress of Austria and mother of nine. She was described as:

so jealous that she does not allow him [the Emperor] to take part in social life or meet other women. Vicious tongues accuse her of being so passionate that she exhausts her consort and never leaves him alone even for a moment. Although the people of Vienna cannot deny that she is gifted, charitable and carries herself beautifully, she is disliked for her intolerance and for forcing the Emperor to live isolated from everyone. She is also accused of interesting herself in unimportant matters and socializing exclusively with her lady-companions. With them she spends her evenings singing, acting out comedies and being applauded.

Could the “unimportant matters” mentioned above include her use of fortune-telling cards?

Here is the full British Museum description of the book:

A sequence of 32 playing-cards bound (at the British Museum) as a small book, having on them emblematic designs of various character, and below moral apophthegms to which the designs have reference. Each piece has a number at the upper left-hand corner answering to certain explanatory and descriptive tables given in a book of directions which accompanies the cards. The title page of this book of 31 pages bears the following lettered inscription: “Les Amusements des Allemands, or The Diversions of the Court of Vienna, in which the Mystery of Fortune-Telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup is unravelled, and Three pleasant Games, viz.: 1. Fortune-telling from the Grounds of the Coffee-Cup. 2. Fortune-telling by laying out the cards. 3. The new Imperial Game of numbers are invented”, and “London: Printed for Champante and Whitrow, Jewry-Street, Aldgate, and may be had at every Booksellers and Toy Shop in the Kingdom, 1796.” Engraving and letterpress Backs plain (according to Willshire) 1796.

Bent Sorensen has offered this list of the 32 Emblematic Fortune-Telling Cards, according to the numbers found on the cards:

1. Crossroads/Fingerpost
2. Ring
3. Clover
4. Anchor
5. Snake
6. Letter
7. Coffin
8. Star
9. Dog 
10. Lily
11. Cross
12. Clouds
13. Sun
14. Moon
15. Mountain
16. Tree I – Labor, Pains, Long Effort
17. Child
18. Woman
19. Man
20. Rider
21. Mouse
22. Birchrod/Whip
23. Flower
24. Heart
25. Garden
26. Bird/Turtledove
27. Fish
28. Lion
29. Tree II – Money (the result of one’s labor)
30. Worms or Vipers (“Bugs”)
31. House
32. Scythe

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