1JJ Swiss Tarot Cards - Review by Lee A. Bursten
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
This deck is published in Switzerland by AGMuller and distributed in the U.S. by U.S. Games Systems. It was first published in 1831 by a predecessor firm of AGMuller and has been somewhat modified over the years. It is of great historical interest, as it is the first Tarot deck that U.S. Games Systems sold, making it an important factor in the history of the Tarot renaissance currently being experienced in this country. Stuart Kaplan tells the story in his Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume I:
"In mid-February, 1968, I visited the annual Nuremberg Toy Fair in West Germany. On the last day of the fair, I wandered into a small booth displaying playing cards published by AGMuller & Cie...Edwin Nigg, export manager for AGMuller & Cie, showed me an intriguing set of seventy-eight colorful cards called the 1JJ Swiss Tarot deck. This was the first time I had seen a tarot pack and I found the imagery on the cards both compelling and puzzling.... At the close of the Nuremberg Toy Fair, I returned to New York, and the following week I showed the 1JJ Swiss Tarot deck to Henry Levy. Levy was then a buyer at Brentanos and placed a small trial order for tarot decks with the admonishment to be certain to include with each deck a booklet of instructions about the origin and use of the cards. Thus began my initial research into tarot; during the past nine years I have authored several books and booklets about the history and development of tarot cards and methods of divination."
The cards themselves are similar in concept to the Marseilles designs, although the drawings are much finer. They remind me of Tenniels illustrations for Alices Adventures in Wonderland, which was published about 30 years later. The pips are non-illustrated and follow the Marseilles patterns, although they are, again, much more finely drawn. The coloring also is similar to present-day Marseilles decks, using flat areas of blue, red, yellow, brown, green, and a flesh color, but the use of these colors is much more attractive than in the Marseilles decks, perhaps because of the better quality of the drawings.
The two Js in the title refer to Jupiter and Junon, the Roman equivalents for the Greek Zeus and Hera, who in this deck were substituted for the Pope and Popess so as not to offend the Catholic Church. The drawings for these two cards are not quite as fine as the rest of the trumps. Junon appears in a regal pose with her peacock, while Jupiter, in a rather strange pose, sits on a rock, leaning his cheek on his fist, looking somewhat bored, while an eagle at his feet flaps its wings, upstaging him. Readers familiar with the Mythic Tarot will be somewhat puzzled at the mythological attributions, but they seem appropriate if one thinks of them simply as the rulers of the spiritual realm, as opposed to the Empress and Emperor, who rule the temporal realm.
Other mythological references are provided in Strength, which, like the Mythic Tarot, shows Heracles (or Hercules) battling the Nemean lion; and the Wheel of Fortune, which, perhaps providing the inspiration for the Morgan-Greer card, shows Fortuna spinning a wheel on which a couple cavort, while a less fortunate person falls off the wheel and over a crevice. An interesting detail on this card is the base of the wheel, which grows roots which grip the rocky cliff.
In the Lovers we have the usual scene, but instead of the dark-haired woman we have a middle-aged man who grins somewhat fiercely at the couple. Is he an avuncular parent, wishing them well? Is he lusting after the girl (or the boy)? Is he like a wicked stepfather in a fairly tale, wishing them ill? The imagination can run rampant with this one.
Two of the Major cards are interesting from an artistic point of view, in that they take elements of the traditional Marseilles designs and deconstruct them so they appear almost abstract. Both of these cards are cut in half into an upper and a lower scene by a sort of ledge. In the Chariot, the chariot and its driver are separated by this ledge into two wholly separate pictures. In the Moon, the upper picture shows a young man serenading his lover, while the lower picture shows the customary crayfish, except that the two lower claws of the crayfish have actually separated from the body, so that a realistically drawn crayfish seems to be metamorphosing into an abstract design.
Another interesting card is the Devil. Unlike the traditional design, this card features a seated woman with her head in her hands, while a giant Devil, holding a pitchfork, stands looking down at her. Its an ambiguous picture, as the Devil, despite his taloned fingers and cruel-looking pitchfork, doesnt seem to be particularly threatening (in fact he looks rather attractive). The woman seems ashamed to have called him into existence, yet he doesnt seem particularly blameworthy.
Regrettably, the decks designers have chosen to color this Devil a dark brown, leading to some unfortunate racial implications. Because of this I cannot recommend this deck to read with, but from a collectors viewpoint I can certainly recommend it for its artistic virtues and historical significance.
Review Copyright 1999 Lee A. Bursten
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
Images Copyright US Games Systems