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November 15, 2015 in Lenormand, Playing Card Divination, Story in a Picture, Tarot History & Research | Tags: Cartomancy, Charles Dawson, divination, gypsy, Morton Neumann, Old Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards | by mkg | 7 comments
Old Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards from United Novelty, Mfc Company, Chicago, circa 1920-30 are a 36-card deck with playing cards inset and meanings given on each card. The instructions are in Polish and English and the Lady (significator) is clearly dressed as a 1920s flapper. At least 22 of the 36 cards are close cognates with the Lenormand cards. A few of the other card images are found on other cartomancy decks of the period. See this post in which Camelia Elias demonstrates using the deck.
They were printed by the Valmor Company of Chicago (also doing business as King Novelty; United Novelty appear to be distributors) and so are sometimes called the Valmor Fortune-Telling Cards. This hints at an interesting crossover between the immigrant community of Jewish founder Morton and Rose Neumann (the Polish connection?) and the African-American hoodoo tradition.
A surprisingly large number of hoodoo mail-order companies were founded by Jewish chemists who perceived a need for affordable beauty products and who then expanded into incense, candles and hoodoo potions. Two years after Morton Neumann started Valmor he married Rose and then the whole approach to Valmor advertising changed radically. The company became known for its illustrations featuring fair-skinned, black-haired beauties in seductive, sexy scenes. The original advertisment illustrator was African-American artist, Charles Dawson. Could he have been the artist of this deck?
It’s interesting that Morton and Rose Neumann, by the mid-20th century, began investing their wealth in 19th century European art and later in American art, amassing what is considered today to be the foremost and most valuable private family art collection in America. They tried to keep it intact until the death of Rose and son, Hubert, when an inheritance tax of $50 million forced the sale of several works.
The Old Gypsy Cards Fortune Telling Game from Addison Products Co, Chicago (no-date – 1940s?) is an identical deck, also with instructions in English and Polish. Looking similar to the Gypsy Witch, and with elements appearing in Whitman’s “Old Gypsy” deck, this deck has its own assignation of playing cards such that the suits & numbers appear in sequence according to the numbering of the cards, and they accord most closely with the usual French and English playing card meanings. While most of the deck includes Lenormand-like cards there are also unique ones like 23-A Beautiful Lady, 27-The Bacchanalian, 29-The Loving Couple, 31-The Fairy, 32-The Shepherd, 11-The Dancing Persons. Cards like 20-the Horseshoe, 30-The Eye and 35-The Duel are found in other “gypsy” decks that I talk about here. In 1948 this same deck was published by Wehman Bros. but without the text.
I was unable to find this particular deck in a King Novelty (Valmor) catalog but I did come across their 1944 catalog ad for a nearly identical deck called Madame Sigma Fortune Telling Cards. You could purchase both the deck and book together for $1.35!
Here’s a interesting comparison of the three Whitman “Old Gypsy” deck editions (top), while (below) is the Horseshoe/Trefoil from the Old Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards (which, along with the Key, Gentleman & Lady cards, have no playing cards printed on them), and two from the Gypsy Dream deck – Horn of Plenty and Horseshoe.
See also my post on 19th Century American Lenormand decks.