(note : this was written back in 2011 but was left unpublished in drafts) Some copies of the quite late (1839) “de Marseille” tarot pack by Bernardin Suzanne have regularly been seen on auctions for a few years.
A peculiar gender ambiguity has been spread about this tarot cardmaker…
A rapid Google investigation shows that several “tarot experts” websites (“le guide du tarot” http://www.leguidedutarot.com/tarot-ancien/6/ [ http://archive.wikiwix.com/cache/?url=http://www.leguidedutarot.com/tarot-ancien/6/ ], Marseille modern cardmaker Philippe Camoin along with Alejandro Jodorowsky on http://www.camoin.com/tarot/-Tarots-de-Marseille-.html, “tarot de marseille gratuit” http://archive.wikiwix.com/cache/?url=http://www.tarotdemarseillegratuit.fr/autres-tarots/ or this ebay auction: http://archive.wikiwix.com/cache/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fcgi.ebay.fr%2Fws%2FeBayISAPI.dll%3FViewItem%26item%3D300552334365 ) all call this deck as “Suzanne Bernardin” tarot and not “Bernardin Suzanne”, all of them being quite affirmative about the cardmaker gender : if Suzanne is not the patronym, then it’s a woman’s name.
Some women actually were in charge of cardmakers business, this wouldn’t be a unique occurrence, as cardmakers widows or heirs were allowed to rule their late husband or father workshop – a pretty famous example was documented by Gérard Van Rijnberk in his book about Tarot : “Veuve Toulon” à Marseille (which Rijnberk presents – probably erroneouosly – as an explanation for the V.T initials on Conver’s tarot Chariot(**)).
So are our “experts” right ?
Other clues let think otherwise when we consider experts (without quotation marks) works.
For instance, the catalogue “Cartes à jouer et Tarots de Marseille, la donation Camoin” – probably (?) known from the current owner of the modern Camoin factory – lists at entries #203, #210 & #211 the cardmaker “Bernardin Suzanne” (in the order given name, family name).
Second and even more convincing evidence : chronologically further away from us but much closer to the source, Romain Merlin’s paper about playing cards origin in the Revue Archéologique, sixteenth tome, volume II wrote at page 759 “tarot de Bernardin Suzanne” in the normal order given name-family name ; in 1859 he also gives the 1839 date. It would be extremely unlikely that the very accurate Romain Merlin would not point the case of a female cardmaker … if this were the case.
Hence we can assume Bernardin Suzanne had Suzanne for family name, and was a male, although now that a doubt has been spread we have to wait for some diligent scholar to investigate in Marseille registries just to be certain.
This should be a lesson to us tarot amateurs, to double check our facts and avoid creating rumours because they are legions those who will exploit any “unusual detail” and use it to acertain their personal theories, which can do nothing but mislead honnest seekers.
* : probably errouneously sinc initials on the Chariot card are supposed to be the engraver initials, not the cardmakers unless it is the same individual, and it would be no less surprising regarding the period ideology that a cardmaker widow had any formation and expertise in carving cards molds.