This masterpiece reproduction of the Jean Dodal Tarot by Justin Michael and Shell David (of East Tarot) is everything to me right now. It’s a fixture on the corner of my personal reading desk and when I’m catching up with old friends via zoom video calls, I’ll reach for this particular deck, sling some cards while we virtual-klink wine glasses, and read about Life.
I wish I could tell you that they’re selling these and you can buy one for yourself, but I’m not sure. You’ll need to reach out to either Justin Michael or Shell David directly to find out. Whatever the cost, having just one of such decks is worth your investment.
It becomes that prized tool. You’re not paying for just another tarot deck for your collection. Something like this is special. It’s the artisan craftsmanship and the personal touch that you’re investing in, which I truly believe is converted into energy and gets infused throughout the deck.
Dating back to around 1701, the Jean Dodal deck, one of the early iterations of the Tarot de Marseille tradition of tarots, were printed from woodcut engravings and hand-colored by stencil, produced primarily for export. Shell David’s restoration project is top notch, and Justin Michael’s printing and production– just, wow.
You can view 18th century originals of the Dodal online: the 1701 – 1715 edition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the 1701 – 1732 edition at the British Museum. You’ll see how the descriptions for all of these historical decks in museum collections note that the cards are printed on pasteboard.
Likewise, Justin prints these cards on traditional pasteboard, so you’re truly getting this experience of being transported back in time.
Look at the painstaking clean-up work that went into the restoration project! The two Dodal card images along the outer edges above are from the 1701-1732 cards housed at the British Museum. The center two showcase Shell David’s restoration work.
Shell David has a walk-through of his Jean Dodal reproduction up on his YouTube channel, which is totally worth your watch.
And here’s Justin Michael talking about how he hand-made the 1701 Dodal:
Ooh! So it sounds like if you want a custom hand-made Dodal deck from Justin, message him on Facebook! Because of the intensity of the labor involved and just how time-consuming the craft is, I think Justin is playing it by ear… seeing how it goes.
So yeah. Reach out to him one on one if you’re interested, and I would also say be ready to invest, because you’re hiring the personal services of an artist and craftsman. You are going to get an entirely different experience from, say, ordering a $20 mass market version of a TdM deck.
Shell talked about the extra efforts he took to express that Old World stenciling effect in the coloring details. It’s here you see the personal touch of the artist’s hand. psst… he also has an Etsy Shop: Shell David’s Etsy Shop
To bring Shell’s hard work to life, Justin uses pigment-based ink (rather than dye-based ink) for the printing of these cards. Pigment based inks tend to be more opaque and vibrant than dye-based inks, and are acid-free and longer lasting. They also take a lot longer to dry fully, so as the craftsman, it’s harder on Justin to be using pigment-based inks.
In the Dodal deck, Key II, the High Priestess, is La Pances, rather than La Papesse. There’s been much theorizing by tarot historians way smarter than me on why that is. Personally, I have nothing of value to add to that discussion. =)
You might also hear the fun question of why does The Emperor card have an Arabic numeral “4” in addition to the Roman numeral IIII? Again, lots of fascinating speculations.
Knight cards are Chevalier, whereas if you’ve got a Conver tarot handy, you’ll notice how in that popular version of the TdM, it’s Cavalier. Don’t rely on my statement here, but I think Chevalier is more of a title, like Knight, while Cavalier is more of a descriptive, like a horse rider?
These cards shuffle beautifully, and while the overall finish is matte, there’s the slightest bit of coating over the colors that gives the cards an Old World sentiment. The color restoration work brings these cards to life, and convey a sense of dimension and depth when the cards are spread out across your table. A deck like this is well-suited for big spreads.
Working with a hand-crafted deck such as this just hits different, especially where the artisans are members of the tarot community– people who love the tarot as much as you do. It’s really quite incredible, with no other deck handling experience quite like it.
Since many know me to be an RWS reader, I often get asked how I decide when to reach for an RWS deck and when to read for a TdM (or Thoth). I don’t have any sort of set matrix of conditions or defined factors. I just follow my whim, and it varies from moment to moment.
Plus, tarot lovers often go through phases. It might surprise you to hear that I haven’t actually reached for a traditional RWS deck in ages. It’s been this Dodal deck from Justin Michael and Shell David, or it’s been my own Spirit Keeper’s Tarot. Or one of the Etteilla decks– I have all three categories of Etteilla decks out on display and within reach.
My favorite use for TdM decks is yes-no questions. I start by thinking of a random number 1 through 9 in my head. In the below example, the number I was thinking of was 5. I then present my question to the cards: Should James by Tesla stock? I begin turning each card over, one by one, looking for the first card with a value that theosophically reduces to the number 5.
You can kind of see how many cards I cycled through in that pile behind Temperance before I got to Key 14, which theosophically reduces to 5. Then the very next card following that card answers my question. I get Key 13, Death. Yes, I go off classical card meanings knowledge, but I also go off my gut emotional impression of the card. Here, my gut emotional impression is “no.” So the answer to my question is no.
Let’s showcase another question. I ask, “Should James and I go on a day trip to San Francisco this weekend?” That sounds like a silly question, but so many times listening to the tarot’s answer to whether I should go out or not has saved me from troubles. So it’s not as silly of a question as it may sound.
The number I thought of in my head was 8. So I begin turning the cards over one by one until I arrive at an 8.
I arrive at Key 8, Justice. The very next card I pull happens to be the Eight of Coins. Sure, some traditional (non-RWS) attributions to the Eight of Coins, thanks to Etteilla, are that of a lovely maiden or partial success with some troubles coming on at the exact moment you think it’s in the bag. Or…I hear that, intentionally set it off to one side in my mind, and listen to my gut emotional impression of the card. I say yay! The weekend day trip will be great! =)
This photo of a yes-no reading that appeared a few paragraphs above? This I’m not going to share what question I asked since it gets a little more personal and serious. The number I selected was 4. Just two cards in I pull Key 13, which theosophically reduces to 4. The answer to my question is the Queen of Coins. My gut emotional impression of the answer here was “yes.”
Are you a Marseille reader? What has your experience with TdM decks been? And what are your thoughts on investing in one of these artisanal hand-crafted decks?