I set out to create the Antiquarian Lenormand because I wanted to have a personal reading deck of my own design that had a hand-made antiqued aesthetic. My focus at first was the late 19th & early 20th centuries but I strayed from this at times. All of the key images were gathered from various places and are in the public domain.
I began by looking for an antique playing card deck that I could use as the playing card inserts you see in historic Lenormand decks. I was searching specifically for a deck from the late 1800s or early 1900s. My search ended with a late 19th century Les Modes Godey Nasco Playing Card Co deck that I found at a flea market for $5.00!
Each of the original cards are handmade 8.5” X 12” collages upon which I applied various techniques to create its distressed appearance. Some of the elements didn't need to be aged, like the letter from the schoolgirl in the Letter card & the circa 1890's playing card inserts themselves! It took seven months to assemble the 36 cards, plus the extra Fox card. I love both & so included both in the pack. Pick the Fox you prefer to use in your readings & leave the other out.
I found a book that describes in a couple chapters Josephine Beauharnais' very first visit with Marie Anne LeNormand: The Romance of Alexandre Dumas from the D'artagnan Edition, Little Brown and Co, 1894. The Les Blancs et Les Bleus (The Whites and the Blues) Volume 2, written by Alexandre Dumas in 1867-1868. Chapter 28, The Sibyl and Chapter 29, Fortune-Telling.
The chapters recount the social call that Josephine and her Spanish companion, Therese Cabarus (Madame Tallien, the daughter of a famous Spanish banker), make to the famous sibyl of Paris, Mademoiselle Marie-Ann Lenormand.
The excerpt below is from Chapter 28, The Sibyl, pages 28-31:
"Which of you desires to come in first, Mesdames?" She asked.
"Can we not go in together?" asked Madame de Beauharnais, quickly.
"Impossible, Madame," replied the Sibyl. "I have sworn never to read the cards for one person in the presence of another."
"May we ask why?" asked Madame Tallien, with her usual impulsiveness, we might almost say her usual indiscretion.
"Because in a portrait which I had the misfortune to draw too true to life, one of the two persons whom I was receiving recognized her husband."
"Go in, go in, Therese." said Madame de Beauharnais, urging her friend.
"So I am always to be the one to sacrifice myself," said the latter. And then looking smilingly at her friend she said: "Well, so be it, I will risk it." And she entered.
Mademoiselle Lenormand was at the time a woman from twenty-four to twenty-nine years of age, short and stout in figure, vainly attempting to disguise the fact that one shoulder was higher than the other; she wore a turban adorned with a bird of paradise.
Her hair fell in long curls around her face. She wore two skirts, one above the other: one was short, scarcely falling below the knees, and pearl-gray in color; the other was longer, falling in a short train behind her, and was cherry colored.
Beside her, on a cushion, was her favorite greyhound, named Aza.
The table upon which she made her experiments was nothing but a common round table covered with a green cloth, with drawers in front, in which the sibyl put her different materials. The cabinet was of the same length as the salon, but narrower. On each side of the door was an oak bookcase filled with books. Facing her seat was an arm-chair for the person who was consulting her...
...when Madame Tallien came out. "Ah, my dear," she said, going straight to her friend, without seeing the Incroyable, who was seated in the shadow, "ah, my dear, go in quickly. Mademoiselle Lenormand is a charming woman! Only guess what she predicted for me!"
"Why my dear," replied Madame de Beauharnais, "That you will be loved, that you will be beautiful until fifty years old, that you will have love affairs all your life-."...
..."I shall have all of that, my dear, and, furthermore, if I am to believe our sibyl, I shall be a princess!"
"I congratulate you, my beautiful princess," replied Josephine, "but I do not see that there is anything more that I can ask for; and I should probably never be a princess, and as my pride already suffers at being less beautiful than you, I will not give it this other subject for envy, which might make us quarrel."
"Are you in earnest, dear Josephine?"
"No, but I will not expose myself to the inferiority which threatens me on all sides. I leave you your principality; let us run away!"
She made a movement as if to go, and to take Madame Tallien with her; but just then a hand was placed lightly upon her arm, and a voice said,-
"Remain, Madame; and perhaps, when you have heard me, you will find that you have no occasion to envy your friend."
Josephine greatly desired to know what could be in store for her so great that she need not envy a princess; she therefore yielded, and in her turn entered Mademoiselle Lenormand's cabinet.
The snippet below is from Chapter 29, Fortune-Telling, page 32
Mademoiselle Lenormand made a sign to Josephine to sit down in the chair which Madame Tallien had just vacated, and then she drew a fresh pack of cards from her drawer, - probably so that the destinies of one should not influence those of the other. Then she looked fixedly at Madame de Beauharnais.
"You sought to deceive me," she said, "by coming to consult me in vulgar attire. I am a somnambulist, and I saw you leave a hotel in the centre of Paris. I saw your hesitation about entering my house; I saw you finally in the ante-room, when your place was in the salon, and I went to look for you. Do not deceive me; reply frankly to my questions, and since you come in search of truth, tell the truth." Madame de Beauharnais bowed. "If you care to question me, I am ready to answer."...
Apparently Josephine and Therese showed up disguised as femmes-de-chambre, chambermaids. :)
In summary of the rest of Chapter 29, Dumas describes the reading in some length detailing out the meaning of the cards the Mlle pulled. In a nutshell, the sibyl says to Josephine, "It would be impossible to find a more fortunate throw of the cards, " She tells Josephine that she shall have two children (a son and a daughter); that she shall have "the respect and the affection of the whole world."; that she will be the wife of "this Hercules stifling the lion of the Nemean forest" (Napoleon Bonaparte) and that she will be Empress! Of course, Josephine believes none of it. After the session ends, she tells Therese as they are leaving the parlor, "that woman is crazy!" Obviously she has a change of heart as she would consult the sibyl again in the future.
Interesting to note is when Dumas wrote his book, it was a few years after LeNormand's death but he said that this account was indeed true as he received the story directly from Mlle LeNormand's friend & student, Madame Moreau.