A forerunner of poker

Berni, Francesco (1497-1535).

Capitolo del gioco della primiera col comento di messer Pietropaulo da San Chirico. [after 27 August 1526].

Berni, Francesco (1497-1535) Capitolo del gioco della primiera col comento di messer Pietropaulo da San Chirico. [after 27 August 1526].

8° (137x91 mm). Collation: A-K4. [40] leaves. Roman and italic type. On fol. B1r woodcut initial with a small portrait. Eighteenth-century vellum, over pasteboards. Smooth spine, with inked title. Red edges. A good copy, the lower blank margin of the title-page trimmed, and slightly repaired. On the front pastedown the early shelfmark 'M.I.28'. On the lower blank margin of fol. A2r the note 'à Fiesole; cioè il Berni'. Seventeenth-century hand has added the note: “Proibito” ('Prohibited'), referring to the fact that Berni's entire works had been condemned by the Roman Church and included in 1559 in the Index librorum prohibitorum.

Provenance: 'Ex Bibliotheca Card. [?]' (early stamp on the title-page); Stuart R. Kaplan (ex-libris on the front pastedown).

Rare, undated edition of this poem by the Tuscan Francesco Berni about the card game primiera, a forerunner of poker. The work first appeared in Rome in 1526, from the press of Francesco Minizio Calvo. A second edition was published in Venice in 1534. This pirated edition was probably printed immediately after the first edition of 1526. As in the Roman edition, the author disguises himself under the pseudonym of Pietropaulo de San Chirico, and the volume opens with his dedicatory epistle to his friend Borgianni Baronci da Narni, written in Rome on 27 August 1526.

The Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera is part of a long literary tradition built around card games which also includes Matteo Boiardo's early Tarot poetry, the invective against tarot games by Alberto Lollio, and verses on cards by such authors as Federico Fregoso, Gasparo Pallavicino, and Pietro Aretino. Berni praises primiera and makes of it a metaphor for courtly life; in contrast, he ridicules the tarot player, whom he considers too distracted by the many pictures and cards at stake in that game.

From the library of Stuart R. Kaplan, the well-known author of the work Tarot: Cards for Fun and Fortune-Telling, and Encyclopaedia of Tarots, both published by the press founded by him in New York, the U.S. Game Systems. A reproduction of the present copy's title-page is published in the first volume of Kaplan's Encyclopaedia, alongside a short entry devoted to Berni: “Francesco Berni, writing in Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera, makes what appears to be the earliest printed reference to tarocchi [see no. 8]. The author styles himself 'Messer Pietropaulo de San Chirico' and in the course of his mock commentary he describes the game of primiera, its laws and mode of playing” (p. 28).

Melzi II, p. 343; S. R. Kaplan, Encyclopaedia of Tarots, New York 1978, I, pp. 28-29; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 77.

$ 3.000