On her death in 1895, Lady Charlotte Schreiber bequeathed her large collection of fans and playing cards to the British Museum. Included in this substantial collection was a set of cards named Das Spiel der Hoffnung (The Game of Hope). Das Spiel der Hoffnung was invented by the German brass-factory owner, Johann Kaspar Hechtel, as a parlour board-game. This board-game is the earliest surviving example of the deck of cards now called the Petit Lenormand.

Like its successor, the Das Spiel der Hoffnung was comprised of thirty-six cards. On each card was the main image such as a bouquet of flowers, a tower, a ring, and so on as well as playing cards. The instructions noted that in addition to the board-game owners could also play cards, or tell fortunes.

Schreiber’s copy is the only existing version of this game. It does not appear to have been particularly successful. No further editions or even adaptations appear to have been made.

However, in the middle of the 19th century, Das Spiel der Hoffnung was resurrected and transformed into the Petit Lenormand, re-titled after the famous French fortune-teller, Mademoiselle Le Normand, whose celebrity clients included Marié Josephe Rose de La Pagerie, later, more famously known as Empress Josephine, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Why this reinvention occurred, we do not know. The classic answer is that Le Normand’s celebrity status proved attractive to card manufacturers. This stand is supported by some examples that were published under the name of other so-called celebrity diviners. However, it does not explain why such an obscure game was selected and then become so widely disseminated.  

However, another theory states that the Petit Lenormand was based on a set of cards found in an inventory of Le Normand’s belongings after her death. It may be that Le Normand did own a copy of the Das Spiel der Hoffnung.  Sadly, we cannot prove such a legend.

From the mid-19th century, several versions of the Petit Lenormand were produced, primarily in Germany and Belgium. These were exported widely to both Scandinavian and Slavic countries. The popularity of particular designs saw them frequently copied, such as the Dondorf (produced by Dondorf Frankfurt).

While numerous designs were produced between 1860 and the 1920s, over 90% of decks utilise the same instructions. These instructions are currently best known as the ‘Philippe Lenormand’ sheet, owing to some editions being signed by this fictitious ‘heir’ to Mlle Le Normand. It was reproduced in German, French, Dutch and English and exported to Eastern Europe and Scandinavia as well as North and South America.

The Petit Lenormand © abCartomancy 2010 – 2020.

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