When I began collecting Lenormand decks I soon discovered that in the 19th and early 20th centuries they were far more common in the United States than I had imagined. It appears that German-American immigrant communities, centered mostly in New York and Chicago, published a continuous stream of decks, from different publishers, to meet local demand. The majority of these decks contained the original, 1846 “Philippe” instruction sheet, unchanged, in both German and in English-translation. This was of particular interest to me as my German-American great-grandmother was known to have the “sight” and read cards for visitors in her New Orleans kitchen. I like to think she would have known the Lenormand deck.
Since the 175-year-old German divination deck known as the Petit Lenormand burst onto the English-language scene about five years ago, nearly a hundred new, published decks have appeared and a half-a-dozen books and ebooks. Even though USGames has published a German “Blue Owl” Lenormand deck for nearly fifty years, Lenormand has remained an oddity, superseded by a similar, though more negative, “Gypsy Witch” deck, with 52 instead of 36 cards, that quickly came to dominate the American cartomancy scene.
We now know that this deck had nothing to do with the famous French fortune-teller, Mlle. Lenormand, merely co-opting her name, and the date of their inception has been pushed back to the late 18th century with the multi-purpose “Game of Hope” from Nuremburg and similar Coffee-Cards from Vienna.
Here is the little-known American branch of the family. Anyone with an early American edition not included here, please contact me with a photo and as much information as you have so we can add to the list.
L’Oracle de Bonaparte ou cartes de Mlle. Lenormand: pour dire la bonne aventure (Publices par C. Magnus, New York, circa 1855).
This is my earliest American deck. While the box cover is in French, the booklet is in German (my copy is without these), and it was published in New York, for the immigrant community. Charles Magnus (1826-1900) was a print publisher, map dealer, bookseller and stationer working in New York City from 1850 to 1899, having arrived from Germany around 1848. He is especially known for his maps of Civil War battlefields. The deck is on matt cardboard. It was printed in black or red (depending on the card suit) and then colored by stencil in red, blue and yellow with green being a combination of yellow and blue. The size is 1-5/8″ x 2-7/8″ (4.1 cm x 7.3 cm) – a little taller than today’s mini decks. (A much later German deck of the same style appears at the Lenormand Museum online.)
Madam Morrow’s Fortune-Telling Cards, 1867. New Illustrations, copyrighted 1886 by McLoughlin Bros., New York. [The cards here are from the 1894 printing.]
Madam Morrow cards first came out some time after the death of an infamous fortune-teller (arrested many times) who worked in New York and Philadelphia. She described herself thusly in an advertisement:
The first edition, mentioned in the Uniform Trade List of July 1867 as Madam Morrow’s Fortune Telling Cards, was an exact replica of the German Kunst-Comptoir, Berlin deck of 1854. (They were also published by McLoughlin as Madam Le Normand’s Mystic Cards of Fortune.) In 1886 a new edition was copyrighted – a beautifully etched masterpiece! Note that the Court Cards have been redone to match those found in contemporary playing card decks. An oddity of this deck, which influenced a few other decks, is that three of the Queens are switched from their normal Lenormand card placements. Crossroads should be the Queen of Diamonds (originally Bells) instead of Spades, while the Queen of Spades should be Bouquet and the Queen of Hearts, Stork. All the other cards are correct. The booklet is only in English, but it is an exact translation of the standard German instruction sheet. The illustrations on the boxes changed frequently. The deck is a standard poker size.
Mlle. Lenormand’s L’Oracle and Appendix: 36 Illuminated Cards with English and German Description for sale by Fitzgerald Publishing Corporation, 18 Vesey St., New York (circa 1916+).
My copy came without a box or book, so the closest I’ve come to identifying it is via a deck that sold from the Fitzgerald Publishing Corporation edition, which makes it 1916 or later. The Dick & Fitzgerald Publishing Co was originally founded in 1858 on Anne St. and they did publish playing card decks. Upon the death of the founder’s son in 1816, the Fitzgerald Publishing Corporation at 18 Vesey St. came into being, known mainly for editions of theatrical plays and music. Whether this deck was a carry-over from the earlier company or not will not be known until an earlier box is found. The style is a near exact replica of one of the earliest Lenormand decks: black & white cards from Kunst-Comptoir in Berlin, Germany in 1854 (see the early Madam Morrow deck). This particular deck is notable not only for the fine coloring of the scenes but also for the lovely pink and blue sky. The deck is a standard poker size.
Madame Le Normand’s Gipsy Fortune Telling Card Game, Wehman Bros., New York, no date, circa 1900.
This deck is found fairly often on eBay. It is a simple red & black version of the Kunst-Comptoir, Berlin deck of 1854. Notice that the Ship is quite different, while the other cards are identical. There’s some indication that publishers would substitute their own country’s ships and flag. Although I can’t see enough detail on most of the flags, this one does appear to be an American flag. This edition is instantly recognizable because the black playing card suits have red pictures and the red suits have black pictures. The Queens are the only cards with no suit markers (due to the confusion that arose with the McLoughlin deck?). Several of the outer boxes have a blank space following the words “Published by” which suggests that Wehman Bros of New York may have merely been a distributor for decks printed elsewhere. The instructions are printed in both English and German. This small deck measures 2-1/8″ x 3″.
Gypsy Sabina Self-Explaining Fortune-Telling Cards, The American Illustrating Co., 64 Fulton Street, NY, 1904.
This deck was quite a find. It contains the same 36 figures that are found in a standard Lenormand deck but the Queens are switched around yet again! Snake is the Queen of Spades (rather than the Queen of Clubs). The drawings are original to this deck and include the unusual device of a curtain being pulled back by a winged child to reveal the pictorial scene. “Self-explaining” verses in furled banners in both German and English give the meanings on each card. The minimalistic instruction sheet is also in German and English, telling one to lay the cards in four rows of nine cards with the Significator always in the center of the top row. The card backs feature an advertisement for John Miles Wholesale Millinery Goods, which suggests that a printer offered them as promotional products to their business customers. The cards are a little taller than usual, measuring 2-3/8″ x 3-5/8″. The back of the box has this interesting explanation for the deck:
“These Cards have been used for years with unvarying success by Queen Sabina, one of the most foremost Queens of the Romany Rye. Venerated by her subjects for her good qualities, she is also regarded by them with a superstitious awe, and guarded with such a jealous care that no one outside the inner circle is allowed to see or hold converse with her, and she has taken this means of holding communication with the outside world, so that they may partake of her wondrous gift of lifting the curtain of the future for all who have faith.”
Dr. Jayne’s Egyptian Fortune Telling Cards, Dr. D. Jayne & Son, Inc., Philadelphia, no date.
While these cards look quite different than the Lenormand decks we are used to, they are actually exact matches to the standard deck. Dr. Jayne and Son was a patent medicine company that existed from 1843 to 1930. They used almanacs, trading cards, recipe books, a dream & fortune telling book, striking graphics and this deck to promote their medicines, primarily to families, many of whom were functionally illiterate. The vulture (Mice) card probably darkened from being exposed to the sun. The back of the cards and the box have the same design. There is an error in my deck where the Ship should have been the 10 of Spades, the card mistakenly shows the 8 of Clubs. Interestingly the Jack of Hearts card should have a red playing card and black emblem, but as the emblem is a heart the colors are reversed so the heart can be red. They are roughly poker size.
Box for unknown deck (picture on the left). Is this another Lenormand deck? It says the instructions are in German and English and there are 36 cards. It was published in New York. Does anyone have any further information?
All of these decks are on matt card-stock that’s easily torn or bent, rather than the glossy-finished flexible and quality stock found on many 19th century European decks. Compared to the fine artistry and the best in chromo-lithography of the European decks, these American decks seem like poor cousins, but I find them to be outstanding examples of a folk-tradition. They add much to an overlooked aspect of immigrant and everyday life here in America.
The Evening World’s Home Magazine (New York) reproduced the original “Philippe” (heirs of Mlle. Lenormand) Instruction Sheet in their October 19, 1903 issue. Included are the standard Kunst-Comptoir 1854 images that one is encouraged to cut out to make one’s own deck. Here is the article if you wish to print it out and do the same.
The Gypsy Witch deck
As early as 1894 Frederick J. Drake & Co. of Chicago, Illinois began publishing an expanded 52-card version of the Lenormand cards called Mlle. Le Normand’s Gypsy Witches Fortune Telling Cards. It was based on a 48-card deck from Danner G. Mühlhausen, Berlin that in 1875 had added twelve extra illustrations to the original deck (plus incorporated an alchemical-looking script in place of the playing card insets). The Gypsy Witches deck switched all the playing card associations around, increased the cards to 52 and included a Joker card. By 1903 it was being published by Home Game Co., and later by the United States Playing Card Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio. Today, as the Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards, it is available from USGames.
Old Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards, Whitman Publishing Co., 1940.
This 36-card deck is essentially a Lenormand with twelve cards that vary from the standard—some a mere substitution of a different image and others, entirely new but drawn out of the Mülhausen/Drake selection. It has more of an emphasis on love and marriage. There have been three different artistic renditions of this deck, all designed in the style of children’s book illustrations. There are no playing card associations.
Yet another variation on this theme is the 36-card Old Gypsy Cards Fortune Telling Game from Addison Products Co, Chicago (no-date), with instructions in English and Polish. Looking like the Gypsy Witch, and with elements from Whitman’s deck, it has its own unique assignation of playing cards that come the closest to an accord with the usual French & English playing card meanings. A few other American variations on the Lenormand deck began appearing in the late 20th century, but that’s for another post.