The first thing that struck me upon opening this box was the sheer size of the cards. The box is no deception; that's really the size of the cards. At first I was impressed, but then I started thinking about shuffling and laying out the cards for a reading, and I have to say I'm a little dubious that they would of very much utility for everyday use.
The Middle Ages
The cards produced for nobles were often hand-painted, extravagantly crafted works of art, while the cards used by common people were rough, quickly manufactured, and were produced by either stenciling or xylography. In fact, cards and pocket-sized devotional figures were the first printed objects we have found in Europe. In many cases, the people who created cards were also the ones who created figures of saints and other venerated individuals.
As with the Cary Yale deck, I have concerns about how usable the cards are just because of their sheer size, but again ? as a collector's piece it is exquisite. The images are very high resolution, better than anything you'll find anywhere on the internet. The backs are entirely plain, again. The Pierpont Morgan deck originally contained 78 cards, and of these 74 are remaining. US Games has recreated the other 4 cards in order to make a functional deck. These have not been executed with the same level of skill that was possessed by the master who originally painted the deck, but they are nonetheless beautiful in their own right. The documentation that comes with the set is extensive for such a small booklet; each card is pictured, described, and assigned a divinatory meaning.
660-670, China: First example of printing on paper. Early xylography was accomplished with hemp paper and woodblocks.
The game was often referred to as "gold speckled leaves", which does make it sound quite a lot like early gold-leaf Tarot cards. Many scholars will tell you that playing cards were invented in 827 because they have conflated these two games. If there is any relationship between these games, which I doubt, it is this:
On the twenty-third day of the sixth month in the thirty-first year of the zhiyuan period (17 July 1294), we caught Yan Sengzhu and Zheng Zhugou playing cards, and have also found wood blocks to print cards. Each person has admitted to the truth of the accusation. We have, according to the rules, passed judgement and punished correctly the organizer Lu Donger, accessory to gambling Zheng Zhugou, the owner of the premises Jiang Sier, and the block printer Ye Lin, and dispatched to the Ever-abundant Treasury for deposit the nine cards (zhipai) that were about to be destroyed, and...
1364, St. Gallen, Switzerland. A local ordinance forbids dice, allows board games, and leaves the subject of cards untouched. This is often cited as the date before which cards could not have been known in Europe.
1377, Basel, Switzerland. A Dominican friar by the name of John describes various types of playing cards in detail.
We know playing cards entered Europe in the 1370s because there are no references before this time, and suddenly they start appearing across the continent. In St. Gallen, an ordinance made in 1379 forbade the use of playing cards.
In 1372, the belfry was added to the already leaning tower of Pisa, completing the structure.