Unlocking Our Collections: Minchiate

The name of the card game Minchiate first appears in Italian sources dated to the late fifteenth century and seems to spread over Italy and France, to quickly decline in the early twentieth century. The word Minchiate comes from a dialect word meaning nonsense, which to a modern reader trying to interpret its endless rules and instructions seems like a perfect description for the game.

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The set of cards and instruction book shown to the left are an early Florentine example (LDSAL 137). It was presented to the society in 1803 by Robert Smith who was elected as a fellow in 1787. His account of the game has been printed in the Society minutes and Archaeologia.[1] This set is one of the earliest and most complete in existence today.

The Minchiate pack consists of 97 cards of which 56 are called Cartiglia, 40 Tarocchi, and the last Matto. The Cartiglia contains four suits and is similar to a pack of modern cards. The modern suit of diamonds is depicted with money, clubs depicted by batons, hearts depicted with chalices and spades with swords. Each suit has ten numbers, a Nave, Horse, Queen and King. In batons and swords the value goes up from one (ace) to ten and this is reversed in money and chalices, perhaps being the inception of the idea that in modern day black jack an ace can be used as either one or eleven. The suits are shown in the picture below on the bottom column.

The Tarrochi are numbered with Roman capitals and depict historical characters, animals, the signs of the zodiac, the four elements and tarot cards such as death, justice and judgement. Death, Fire and Judgement are shown in the first row of the picture below. The remaining card ‘Matto’ is the Fool or Joker which is fairly unique in that it is useless for most of the game and could be the geneses of the Joker in a modern set of cards. The aim of the game is to collect ‘Verzicolor’ this being sets of three specific cards. In this regard the game could be compared to our modern game of ‘Go Fish’ and might have been the origin; however there are hundreds of combinations of ‘Verzicolor’ making the game infinitely more complex.

featured objectThe intricacy of the game undoubtedly puts modern games to shame with Smith declaring to the Society that, “There is no game of cards, of which I have any knowledge that requires closer attention, a more ready talent for figures or greater exercise of the memory.”[2]

Charlotte Lawrence, July 2013

Charlotte Lawrence was one of two museum interns the Society sponsored during the summer (2013). She and Charlotte Mills, the other intern, were both from the University of Sussex and helped organise and photograph the artefacts held in the third-floor Museum Room at the Society's apartments in Burlington House. Click here to learn more about internships and placements at the Society.

[1] Archaeologia Vol XV p140

[2] Archaeologia Vol XV p140

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