Minchiate and Miniature Maps

A previous post described several miniature maps of Carolina, each measuring four inches or less. We have one more to add to the list. Are you familiar with Minchiate?

Are you familiar with Minchiate, an early 16th-century card game, originating in Florence, Italy, and played with a deck of 97 cards? I certainly wasn’t, at least not until I learned about a map of Carolina featured on one card. According to Wikipedia, educational Minchiate decks were produced in Florence in the 18th century: “Instead of the usual figures and pips, each card would have text explaining a certain topic. One history deck has each suit teaching the history of Assyria, Persia, Greece, or Rome with the trumps teaching myths and legends. Geography decks contained maps of the known world.”

image of geographic Minchiate deck courtesy of Minerva Auctions
Geographic-themed Minchiate deck. Image courtesy of Minerva Auctions.

The card below was engraved and published in 1779 by Aniello Lamberti. The card was published in two formats, as part of a Minchiate deck, as shown above, and in a miniature atlas (Nuovo Atlante Generale…). This tiny map shows Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Delaware is also shown, though without any reference to it in the text at the bottom of the card.

Carta V. dell’ America Colonie Inglesi (click on image for larger view)

The Newberry Library provides an excellent description of their copy of Nuovo Atlante Generale:

Italian pocket atlas, dated 1779 in Florence, containing maps of all the countries of the world prepared by Agostino da Rabatta and Giovanni de Baillou, and engraved by Aniello Lamberti. The atlas is presented as a deck of 97 playing cards of the type used to play the Italian card game of “minchiate.” (Cf. Regole generali del giuoco delle minchiate … 2a ed. Firenze: Stamperia del giglio, 1820.) There are 4 suits (swords, batons, cups, and coins) of 14 cards each, plus 40 tarot cards: 35 numbered I-XXXV, and 5 unnumbered cards containing maps of the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. The 97th card is the “fool” or “matto,” which lists the abbreviations used on the maps. Also included are 3 preliminary cards: illustration of Atlas, title card, and dedication card.

Map of the world bears engraved inscription along bottom margin: “D. Agostino da Rabatta. Barone Gio. de Baillou … Aniello Lamberti inc.”

Maps are colored in yellow, pink, and green, and include a key to numbered sites.

First card contains an illustration of Atlas supporting the world on his shoulders, with motto below “Nec pluribus impar;” dedication card illustrated with two small engraved medallions, one a profile portrait of Leopold II, the other a mythological scene; maps of the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, and America illustrated with scenes of mythological figures, animals, and ships.

Dedication to Petro Leopoldo (Leopoldo II) signed “D. August. da Rabatta, M.C. Baro. Ioannes de Baillou … Aniello Lamberti sc. e proprieto.”

Imperfect: first 3 cards containing engraved illustration of Atlas, t.p., and dedication wanting; photocopies of the missing cards supplied by the Società geografica italiana from their copy.

Franco Pratesi, an Italian game researcher, made the following observations from his research on this item:

The conclusions are that this minchiate-atlas was known to card collectors, that it has been kept in a very low number of copies, and that it was hardly used, at the time of its publication, either as a pack of cards, or as engravings to be hung on the walls. Aniello Lamberti engraved the cards and was the most active in advertising the publication enterprise.

In his essay, “Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Atlases”, Vladimiro Valerio wrote:

This atlas, due to its size [7 x 10 cm], might be of little interest if the authors had not paid attention to the “very recent exploration of Captain James Cook in the South Sea… as well as the explorations by the Russians and other explorers in the North and Northwest part of America.”

Perhaps we should pay it more attention!


  • Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minchiate
  • Geoffrey King, Miniature Maps: 1779 Aniello Lamberti
  • Newberry Library on line catalog entry for Call Number: VAULT Ayer G1015 .R33 1779
  • 1779 – ATLANTE TASCABILE E MINCHIATE by Franco Pratesi, available on line here.
  • Vladamiro Valerio, “Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Italian Atlases”, pdf available here for those who have signed up for academia.edu account. For those who do not wish to sign up for an academia.edu account, Valerio’s essay was also published in Images of the World: The Atlas Through History, ed. Wolter & Grim, 1997, p. 276.
  • Michael Laird Rare Books, Boston Book Fair 2015, available as pdf here (excellent information on Giovanni de Baillou, pp 30-31).

What's on your mind?