A set of 82 Tarot Cards, plus one painting for the proposed back of each card, executed in watercolour, with a few in gouache, on thick paper adhered to a card backing and with a window mat on each painting. Each window mat has also been hand-painted and decorated, using watercolour. These mats are stuck to each Tarot card all around the edges, using animal glue. Additionally, each card has a thick paper overlay to protect the window mat and image area from dust and dirt.


Detailed inspection of the 82 cards revealed that there was deterioration in the condition of the cards. On many of the cards, the watercolour paper on which the paintings were done, have tears and other small damage. After painting the cards were each adhered to a thick card backing. Unfortunately this backing card was made from acidic materials. Over the years the acids have discoloured the card to a dark brown and has started to migrate into the paper on which the cards were painted.

Each card also had window mats made for them, which also been hand-painted. (whether by the same artist as had painted the tarot cards is not clear). The window mats were of an acidic material which had become very brittle over time and they were beginning to crumble along their edges.

The thick paper overlays had also started to become discoloured and, upon testing, this paper was also found to contain acidic materials.

A decision was taken in 2006 to conserve the objects.


Each card consisted of four component part - the actual hand-painted tarot card, its backing card, its painted window mat and a protective paper overlay on the front of the card. The following conservation treatments were proposed:


Testing showed that the pigments used on the Tarot cards and the window mats were unstable in aqueous solutions, so that washing to remove soluble acids and discolouration would not be possible. Therefore the following treatment was undertaken.

The window mats and the cards were surface cleaned to the extent possible, using soft Japanese Hake brushes and grated vinyl erasers.

New, thick archival paper overlays were made for each card.

The window mats were removed from each card, the adhesive residues removed and the mats were lined with thin, museum quality, acid-free matboard, to provide a barrier between said window mat and the Tarot card itself. The edges of the mats were repaired and consolidated where necessary.

The acidic backing card was carefully pared off each Tarot card to the extent possible, bearing in mind that aqueous treatment was not an option. In a small number of cases this has meant leaving a very thin layer of the backing in situ, rather than risk any damage to the card itself.

The heavy accretions of hardened, discoloured animal glue around the margins of the image areas were removed using hot poultices to soften the glue and then a scalpel to scrape it off. Each Tarot card was then de-acidified on the back, using a pH adjusted solution of calcium hydroxide. This will neutralise any remaining acidity and leave an alkaline buffer in the watercolour paper. Each painting was then lined onto a support of archival Japanese tissue, with any necessary repairs being made at the same time.

(Note. When the backing was removed from the “Prince of Cups” in Box 6, it was discovered that there was an interesting preliminary sketch on the reverse. Therefore this card was left unlined.)

After pressing, each card was attached to a new Backboard of Museum quality, acid-free matboard, using Japanese tissue hinges at the top of each card. The lined window mats were then also attached to the cards, using gummed linen tape down the left side of the window mat and tarot.

Finally the overlays were attached to the front of each Tarot card.


Because of the extra protective material attached to each Tarot “package”, the cards were too fat to fit into their original boxes. Additionally, folders 1, 2 and 3 appear to have been the most heavily used in the past and have almost disintegrated. It was therefore agreed that new, custom made folders would be made for each set of cards, as similar in appearance to the originals as possible, but using archival, Museum quality materials, with gold lettering as on the originals.

The Tarot cards have now been re-housed in these new folders.

October 2011

Return to IHQ News