Tarot History Search started September 2004       

Abbe Rive(1730 - 1791)

Abbé Rive was librarian for M. le Duc de la Vallière, whose library is called "the most magnificent library of the eighteenth century" and the "collection was rich in incunabula, early manuscripts, and European literature". From this good position Rive wrote a short 48 pages treatise, which comes in the modern antiquariat to the astonishing price of 9500 dollars (source):

"Rive, Jean-Joseph, Abbé Éclaircissements historiques et critiques sur l'invention des cartes à jouer, Paris: Ambroise Didot, 1780 Inscribed on flyleaf by a previous owner: “ll n’y a eu que quatre exemplaires tirés sur vélin, l’un vendu à M. de Limare, le second au Baron D’Heiss, le troisième à M. Goutard et celui ci à moi. P.” In his Chronique littéraire (Aix : 1791), Rive also states that this vellum issue was limited to four copies, which agrees with the above note. Jean-Joseph Rive (1730-1791) will also be remembered as the author of La Chasse aux Bibliographes et Antiquaires Mal-Avisés (1788), as well as other controversial bibliographical and antiquarian works. This history of playing cards may very well be the least controversial of them; it first appeared as part of his Notices historiques & critiques de deux manuscrits de la bibliothèque de M. le Duc de La Vallière One of 4 (possibly 5) COPIES PRINTED ON VELLUM. 8vo (192 x 138 mm). A-C8. Contemporary full red morocco gilt, cover with four narrow roll-borders and gilt fillets, gilt turn-ins, flat spine gilt-tooled and lettered, turquoise silk liners, a.e.g., by DEROME LE JEUNE or his successor BRADEL (Pierre-Alexis Bradel took over the binding shop and tools from his uncle, Nicolas-Denis Derome, in 1788). Occasional slight discoloration to vellum, small circular stain on half-title, but overall a very beautiful copy, with the bookplates of the Comte Chandon de Briailles (Paris sale 15 February 1955, lot 121), and Major J.R. Abbey (Sotheby sale, Part III, London 1967, lot 2134). Van Praet V, p. 153, no. 177 9 (“Il n’a été tire que quatre exemplaires sur vélin”)

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Abbe Rive is called the inventer and first user of words like Bibliologie, Bibliognosie, Bibliognoste ... and he personally became victim of some mockery in an essay "La Chasse aux Bibliographes: perizia e paranoia nell'Abbé Rive", and he appears often enough in context with the word "bibliomania" in combination with "irascible". He was held as "a Bibliographer who was considered, in his life time, as the terror of his acquaintance, and the pride of his patron: and who seems to have never walked abroad, or sat at home, without a scourge in one hand, and a looking-glass in the other" in an online source with a 40 page 'Letter' about Abbe Rive and in this Letter the author Thomas Frognall Dibdin describes the situation of the nephew and heir of Rive, who wants to sell the possessions of his uncle:

M. Morenas has been indeed a great traveller. When I called, I found him living up two pair of stairs, preparing for another voyage to Senegal. He was surrounded by _trunks_ ... in which were deposited the literary remains of his uncle. In other words, these remains consisted of innumerable _cards_, closely packed, upon which the Abbe had written all his memoranda relating to ... I scarcely know what. But the whole, from the nephew's statement, seemed to be an encyclopaedia of knowledge. In one trunk, were about _six thousand_ notices of MSS. of all ages; and of editions in the fifteenth century. In another trunk, were wedged about _twelve thousand_ descriptions of books in all languages, except those of French and Italian, from the sixteenth century to his own period: these were professed to be accompanied with critical notes. In a third trunk was a bundle of papers relating to the _History of the Troubadours_; in a fourth, was a collection of memoranda and literary sketches, connected with the invention of Arts and Sciences, with Antiquities, Dictionaries, and pieces exclusively bibliographical. A fifth trunk contained between _two and three thousand_ cards, written upon on each side, respecting a collection of prints; describing the ranks, degrees, and dignities of all nations--of which eleven folio _cahiers_ were published, in 1779--without the letter-press-- but in a manner to make the Abbe extremely dissatisfied with the engraver. In a sixth trunk were contained his papers respecting earthquakes, volcanoes, and geographical subjects: so that, you see, the Abbe Rive at least fancied himself a man of tolerably universal attainments.

In 1780 this much interested man found some time to leave a few notes about playing cards and their history, and he suggested in France against the leading opinion in France, that playing cards were likely not invented in France, but in Spain.

It is assumed, that he was in contact to Court de Gebelin, and he is identified (by Jean-Marie Lhote) as the man, who explained the rules of the Tarot game to him, about which Court de Gebelin wrote in his article in the year 1781. In his article he refers again at p. 391 to Abbe Rive (Tyson's translation):

We were here when one spoke to us about a work of the Abbot Rive, which discusses the same subject: afterwards having sought it in vain at the greater number of our booksellers, M. de S. Paterne lent it to us.

This work is entitled: Historical and critical notes of two Manuscripts of the Library of the Duke of Valliere, of which one has for its title Le Roman d'Artus, Comte de Bretaigne, and the other, Le Romant de Pertenay or de Lusignen by M. l'Abbe Rive, etc. at Paris, 1779, in 4o. 36 pages.

On page 7, where the author starts to discuss the origin of the French cards; we saw with pleasure that it supports, (1) that these cards are older than Charles VI; (2) that they are an imitation of Spanish cards: now let us give a brief summary of his evidence.

"Cards, he states, date from at least the year 1330; and it is neither in France, nor in Italy, nor in Germany that they appeared for the first time. One sees them in Spain around this year, and it is a long time before one finds the least trace in any other nation. They were invented there, according to the Castillan Dictionary of 1734, by one named Nicolao Pepin ... One finds them in Italy towards the end of this same century, under the name of Naibi, in the Chronicle of Giovan Morelli, which is of the year 1393."

From this learned abbot we discover at the same time that the first Spanish work which attests the existence of cards is from approximately the year 1332.

"They are the Statutes of an order of knighthood established around this period in Spain, and founded by Alphonse XI, King de Castille. Those who were admitted swore an oath not to play cards. One then sees them in France under the reign of Charles V. Little Jean de Saintré was not honored with the favors of Charles V because he played neither with dice nor with cards, and this king proscribed them along with several others games, in his Edict of 1369. One sees them in various provinces of France; one gave to some of the figures on the cards names made to inspire horror. In Provence, one of the Knaves is named the Tuchim. The name signifies a race of robbers who, in 1361, caused in this country and that of Venaissin, a devastation so horrible, that the popes were obliged to preach a crusade to exterminate them. Cards were not introduced into the Court of France because under the successor of Charles V one feared even by their introduction, to wound the standard of morality, and consequently a pretext was conceived: it was said to be done to calm the melancholy of Charles VI. Under Charles VII the game of Piquet was invented. This game was the reason that cards spread, from France, into several other parts of Europe."

These details are very interesting; their consequences are still more so. These cards that were condemned in the XIVth century, and proscribed by the orders of knighthood, are necessarily very old: they have been regarded as only shameful remainders of paganism: they thus must have been the cards of the Tarot; their strange figures, their odd names, such as House of God, the Devil, Popess, etc., their high antiquity which is lost in the night of time, their use in fortune telling, etc. all serve to make them look like a diabolic recreation, a work of the blackest magic, of a sorcery condemnable. However the agony of not gaming! Thus were invented more human games, more purified, free from figures that were only good to frighten: the result, Spanish cards and French cards which were never prohibited like these bad cards that came out of Egypt, but which however lent themselves perfectly to these clever games. Especially the game of Piquet, where two opponents play, where one draws aside, where one has sequences, where one goes in a hundred: where one counts the cards in hand, and the pickups, and where one finds a number of other correspondences too striking.

Note: The title mentioned in this passage as Abbe Rive's card playing book is another than the above mentioned by the bookseller (which explains the specialities of the text and the relations between the different titles).

1779: Historical and critical notes of two Manuscripts of the Library of the Duke of Valliere, of which one has for its title Le Roman d'Artus, Comte de Bretaigne, and the other, Le Romant de Pertenay or de Lusignen" (original title as given by Gebelin: "Notices historiques & critiques de deux Manscrits de la Bibliotheque d M. le Duc de LA VALLIERE, dont l'un a pout titre le Roman d'Artus, Comte de Bretaigne; % l'autre, le omant de Perrenay ou de Lusignen, par M. l'Abbe RIVE, &c. a Paris, 1779, in 4°, 36 pages.,"

1780: Éclaircissements historiques et critiques sur l'invention des cartes à jouer


  • Abbé Rive: Rive, Jean-Joseph, 1730-1791 : Eclaircissements historiques et critiques sur l'invention des cartes a jouer / A Paris : De l'Imprimerie de Fr. Ambr. Didot, 1780., 48 p.

Foreign Links

Recommended Literature

  • Dummett, Decker and Depaulis: A Wicked Pack of Cards, New York 1996 (p. 62 for the Gebelin/Riva exchange)       Content of       Google       Yahoo
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