First edition. A remarkable book of firsts in card games and gambling. Francesco Berni, born in Tuscany in the village of Lamporecchio about 1497, was court secretary to Leo X and Clement VII, a world of "glittering literary productivity, where the lines between poet, cleric, and court official blurred into an army of lovelorn bureaucratic literati." (Tonozzi.) But much of Berni's work was left in manuscript until after his death in 1535, with the exception of two books, both published pseudonymously by Minucio Calvo in 1526. The first was a witty, 20-page dialogue on poets and poetry, and the second was his Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera, the first substantive printed work on card games, and the first to describe in detail the version of primiera—modern poker's great forerunner, and the card game of choice to Cardano, Rabelais, and Shakespeare—as it was played in early cinquecento Rome. It is well known that there are few if any known printed rulebooks to most early card games (especially before 1600), and so the play of many games has been reconstructed inferentially from multiple (sometimes contradictory) sources. But Berni's book goes into such detail on the play of primiera, that from this single source one can easily establish rules and customs, not only for the game as it was played in Rome, but variants popular in Florence, Milan, and elsewhere. Berni also discusses the games of bassetta, cricca, trionfi, trionfi-piccoli, il flusso, trentuno, noviera, sestiera, quintiera, ronfa, tarocchi, and notably, tarocco, a game played with Tarot cards, and an occupation pursued, according to Berni—-by minds steeply inferior to those that play the noble game of primiera:
"Tarocchi is an excellent game; and he seems to be in his glory, when he has in hand to the number of two hundred cards, which he can scarcely hold, and which, not to be overlooked, he shuffles as well as he can under the table. Let him look to it, who is pleased with the game of Tarocco, that the only signification of this word tarocco, is stupid, foolish, simple, fit only to be used by Bakers, Coblers, and the vulgar, to play at most for the fourth part of a carlino, at tarocchi, or at trionfo, or any sminchiate whatever: which in every way signifies only foolery and idleness, feasting the eye with the Sun, and the Moon, and the twelve signs as children do." (D1r-v, Singer tr.)
We notice with great interest that Berni begins his essay proper comparing primiera to chess, stating that the latter is an ingenious and noble game, compelling as an analogue for battle and statecraft, and even attributing its invention to Palamede (as was the custom in Italian culture at the time). But for all its beauty and novelty, Berni asserts, chess was still a pastime of artifice, and that primiera was the superior game; the choice for discriminating players—and gamblers. It is unknown where primiera originated (though probably Italy or Spain), though judging from Berni's tone, the game was clearly long established in the Italian city-states by 1526. It had expanded all through Western Europe by 1600, was a favorite in the Tudor courts, and mentioned at least three times by Shakespeare. It was, and remains, a gambling game, now played today as poker. Even the ranks of the hands in poker and primiera are related (though in 1526 a straight beat a flush—the science of probability would have to wait for Girolamo Cardano), and the game was played with a 52-card deck, then and now, though sevens, eights, and nines were often removed in Berni's time. Bluffing was standard, and according to Berni, expertise at the bluff—and successfully calling bluffs—was the sign of an elite player, something that could certainly be argued for modern poker. Berni published pseudonymously, but Melzi, in his bibliography of anonymous and pseudonymous authorship, states that there are enough textual clues to establish Berni's responsibility. Plus, anyone in the court of Pope Clement VII would have known who wrote the book. Some had probably even lost money to Berni in a game of primiera. All Berni's books were condemned by the church and placed on the Index in 1559, a circumstance likely accounting for their scarcity today. Two states of our book are known. Anne Reynolds discusses this in depth in her essay on Berni's book, but suffice to say the states differ chiefly in the name of signee of the epistle dedicatory on verso of title: state A bears the name L. Gelasino da Fiesoli; state B (our book) is signed Pietro Paulo. Reynolds conjectures that this change was made in-press at Berni's request; she suggests that the author wished for the letter to be signed in a fashion more consonant with the title page. (Berni and the printer, Minucio Calvo, surely knew one another, and it's not difficult to imagine young Berni hovering over the press in Calvo's Rome atelier, directing the compositor.) A second edition was published in 1534, and at some point after 1526, a counterfeit of 40 ff. appeared, known today in a single copy in an Italian municipal library. A signally important and original work in the history and historiography of games played with cards, and the prototype for poker as it is played today. Seven copies of both states of the first edition held in American libraries per OCLC.
Rome: Minucio Calvo, 1526.
Quarto, 196 x 140 x 8 mm (binding), 193 x 139 x 6 mm (text block). AA4, A-H4, I2 =  ff. Modern binding of old, recovered limp vellum, titled on spine in MS: Berni | Giuoco | della | Primier. Minor wear to extremities; soiling to covers; old wormhole to cover. Interior: Title woodcut trimmed close; margins a bit precious. A very crisp, clean copy.
Acquired by W. S. Cotter Rare Books from Libreria Chartaphilus (Giansandro Catteneo), Milan, February 2022. Valid export license on file.
Graesse p. 345 (attributing to Berni and to Pietro Paolo de San Chirico); Melzi II p. 343 (attributing to Berni) ; Brunet I col. 801 (attributing to Berni, "édition rare"); Gamba 1328 (attributing to Pietropaolo de San Chirico, "molto raro"); EDIT16 CNCE 5527; Vaccaro 105 (woodcut); Reynolds, Anne, "Francesco Berni's Second Published Work, Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera col Comento di messer Pietropaulo da San Chirico, Rome 1526," La Bibliofilía Vol. 98, No. 1 (Jan.-Apr., 1996), Florence: Leo Olshki, pp. 31-43; Singer, Samuel Weller Researches Into the History of Playing Cards, London: Triphook, 1816 pp. 27-30 ("extremely rare"); Tonozzi, Daniel, Laura Goes Burlesque: The Petrarchan Parodies of Francesco Berni, Italian Studies Colloquium, 31 March 2006, pp. 1-3 [accessed online]; Chiorboli, Ezio, "Franceson Berni, Poesie e prose," Bibliotheca dell'Archivum Romanicum, Geneva and Florence: Leo Olschki, 1934, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 203-264; Zdekauer, Ludovico, "Il Giuoco in Italia nei secoli XIII e XIV e specialmente in Firneze," Archivio Storico Italiano, 4th Series, No. 154, Florence: Leo Olschki, 1886, pp. 23-36; Kaplan, Stuart R. Encyclopedia of Tarot, New York: US Game Systems, 1985, Vol I, p. 28 (discussing the Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera as one of the earliest printed witness to Tarot).