Copper: The Hidden Ingredient in Lenormand

What was Hechtel’s life like in the late eighteenth century in Germany?

He was the owner of a brass factory. What does that mean?

Well, it means he would have been terribly affected by the ban on all secular printing that occurred just prior to him creating the Game of Hope. Why?

Brass is a blend of copper and zinc. ALL major printing presses used copper plates or wood blocks in the 1700’s in Hechtel’s lifetime. Copper was extraordinarily valuable in the dissemination of information in the 1700’s, as well as for many years prior. The comparable modern day equivalent would be today’s use of silicon and the microchip. Copper has particular properties that makes it very amenable to the manipulation by the artist or craftsman creating a printing plate. It is soft and can be manipulated with patina for particular effects in the artistic process, unlike other metals. Brass factories, then, would not only be involved in manufacturing door knobs and thimbles, but also directly involved in all the print making processes in their local areas. They would have had to have created the plates made of copper used in nearly all the printing processes of the day. This is what sets Hechtel apart and makes the Game of Hope even more enigmatic.

In my article some months ago entitled, “The Mysterious Bear in Lenormand: Reconstructing Hechtel’s Enlightenment,” I postured that him replacing the Lion symbol from the Viennese Coffee Deck could very well be a personal, idiosyncratic choice. I stand by that simply because there is, as of yet, no evidence to prove it was not an idiosyncratic choice. I will believe otherwise if there is a deck that precedes the VCD discovered that has the Bear in place of the Lion, but as of the writing of this article now, there is not.

People are not machines and they rarely tell the entire truth of their lives. We as Lenormand readers know this is so from the many clients who come to us with questions, yet fail to reveal the entire story until we throw a spread. I doubt heavily Hechtel was any different. Thus a brass factory owner whose livelihood would have been adversely affected by the ban on secular printing in Nuremberg for the nine or so years prior to the creation of the GOH, might have been a little pissed off and could have chosen to express his opinion via a simple little change on a card deck. There’s no proof this is so, yet there are card decks that clearly use political and royal figures in funny and clever ways.

As I’ve said before, it would be a big mistake for any historian to discount the importance of art in the age prior to the invention of the camera. It was the only source of visual documentation available. Professional artists made a decent living back then, being employed by print factories, publishers, local government, and royalty to produce prints, paintings, and drawings documenting the events of the day. They were commissioned to design and depict the everyday articles that we take for granted as being mass produced today, and therefore fail to appreciate how they affected daily life in the time before photography. Today, we think art is the realm of the privileged and is unimportant to our daily life. Not so back in 1799.

Hechtel’s deck is the work of an untrained hand. As a trained artist, it lacks proficiency in its use of perspective and in the depiction of the human figure. The human figure is the test of all artistic training as it is the most difficult subject to master. We’ve all seen sitcoms spoof nude drawing classes on television, yet the skill it takes to render the human form is something that takes time and intense instruction. One look at the court card insets tell us that the wonky little doll-like drawings were done by someone with no formal training. Compare the low quality of the GOH to the higher quality drawings on the Viennese Coffee Cards and we have a new dimension to the GOH mystery: who drew the deck?

This is only a guess, as is all my suppositions about this, yet they are grounded in some solid knowledge of what the artistic processes were in the day. In my estimation, it was either Hechtel himself or someone close to him, like his wife, who made the drawings of the GOH. The printing of the cards is also of low quality, especially if we consider  Hechtel would have been involved in the printing process itself. I suggest that the ban on secular printing affected him financially, and that he could not afford to hire a professionally trained artist for the deck, nor could he afford to use his best printing skills and labor for the job. The GOH was an attempt to make money from a popular trend of the day…but that’s a different story for another day.

As I’ve said time and time again, I’m no cartomantic historian. I can only speak of the images themselves and of how they were made. I can speak of the time they were made and the processes in use at the time.  For a cartomantic history, I recommend Andy Boroveshengra’s blog, Stella Waldvogel (Fennario), Helen Riding, and Huck. They know more than me on this subject. Until then, I will continue to look at my images and ponder what it was like to be in Nuremberg in 1799.

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