I’m a Fool for the Waite-Smith

First post on the new blog! I wanted to start out with something inspiring, momentous, important even, but we’ll have to go with what we’ve got.

Welcome, anyone who happens by. I thought perhaps a post about the first card in the Tarot would be a good way to kick things off here.

So, the other day I was looking at the various renditions I have acquired of the Rider-Waite (Waite-Smith) tarot deck, and there is more variation between the cards than I thought. I hauled this deck around the world with me while in the Navy, and as a result the box is hammered: all the flaps are gone off the top and the rest of it is in pretty bad shape, the LWB is gone, and the two blank cards are a little warpy as if they got mildly wet. Could have been just the humidity in some of the places I was stationed (Puerto Rico, Okinawa, Florida). Luckily, the rest of the deck is still in good shape. So let’s have a look at some Fool cards.

ย  This is the Fool from the 1971 Rider-Waite deck. This is the standard, this is my ‘mental deck’ for those times when I’m using a new deck that doesn’t quite resonate with me, or one of those decks with unillustrated pips. This is the deck that comes to mind to help me remember what the card is about. Many people have criticized the art in this deck as being flat, dull, uninteresting. And there was a time when I didn’t appreciate it. But now, I have come to love this deck almost beyond all others (with one or two notable exceptions). Pixie’s art and designs have been the basis for literally countless other decks. Seriously, I couldn’t count them all if I tried.

Then early last year, during the height of my collecting frenzy I managed to get my hands on a copy of this deck from the Rider Company in London. It came in the blue box with lift-off lid, rather than a tuck box. As you can see, it is nearly identical to the first one. The copyright date on it was 1972. The font style is the same (later and current editions look more typewritten), and there is no copyright mark on the bottom right corner. But compare the skin tones of the first and second. I believe this second one is what is known as a ‘blushing Fool.’ Somewhat sought after, as I understand.

Third up is probably the oldest deck I own. This is the Fool from the University Press printing, dating to sometime in the late 1950s. There is no book with it, and nothing on the box to indicate the year of printing.

University Press

You can see at once the colors are dramatically different. Bright, almost garish on some of the cards. The backs of this deck are pink with the ankh. This was another EBay find that I got for a very good price.

The earliest printings of the deck date back to the early part of the 20th century. I have no hope of ever picking up what are commonly called the Pam A, B, C, D & E decks as they are now in the thousands of dollars realm and in the hands of wealthier collectors than myself. They come up for auction on EBay once in awhile, but you need to be prepared to part with some serious coin to win it.

Universal Waite-Smith

The Universal Waite is also put out by US Games Systems, Inc. featuring recoloring by Mary Hanson-Roberts. Most of the cards are very attractively done, with greater depth to the colors than the standard deck. However, some of the faces are so colorless I think I may have gotten a bad copy. They’re kind of dead-looking, very whited out, and all evidence to the contrary, not really appealing to me. I’d still like to get a copy of the Radiant Rider Waite (again, US Games) as the coloring seems more to my taste.

I also have a copy of the pocket Rider-Waite, but it’s virtually identical in coloring to the 1971 printing I show above. However, note the typestyle of the title. Definitely more typewritten appearance.

Pocket edition

My last variant of this deck is the Centennial Waite-Smith, issued in 2009 on the 100th anniversary of the release of the first Rider Waite deck. The colors are all darker, more muted, giving the whole thing a built-in antique feel. It does appear to be closer to the original printings from the early years, and the sun card even has the extra squiggle that shows on the Pam A, C, D & E printings. (Ok, you really have to be a Waite-Smith geek to care about this, so I guess I am one).

Centennial Waite-Smith

The most comprehensive site out there devoted to the Rider-Waite (Rider was the original publisher, Arthur Edward Waite was the creator, and Pamela (Pixie) Colman Smith was the artist who executed the paintings) is Holly Voley’s site. Along with that, the online version of Manteia, a now-defunct Tarot magazine, has a good deal of information. Download it while you still can.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Monica says:

    Beautiful! Finally got a name, congratulations on a fine and original choice. Happy blogging ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Digital Dame says:

    Thanks, Monica! ๐Ÿ™‚ It feels good to have a separate home for my Tarot-related ramblings.

  3. maryjblog says:

    Your careful devotion to tiny differences and distinctions is fascinating to me! Do you get different vibes, better or different readings, from the various versions?

  4. Digital Dame says:

    hehehe, it’s that collector mentality. Tiny differences are everything to collectors. I’m sure it seems silly to some people. There are people who don’t read at all but still collect cards strictly for the art.

    I think all decks will give different readings. Different art styles and symbolism used will evoke different intuitive responses, and every reader will get a different reading, from the same cards laid out in the same way. ‘Better’ is hard to say, I guess that’s subjective, depending on what you want out of a reading. Some decks are more ‘hard-hitting’ than others, some are gentler in their art style and message. The designer’s intent can have a huge impact on how well a deck reads. Some are just silly and goofy and good for public readings, like at a party. Others I wouldn’t even show to most people, they would just freak them out ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s just endlessly fascinating to me.

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