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Smith-Waite Tarot Centennial Edition Deck - tarot decks

Playing Cards
Playing Cards -> Tarot decks

Price: US $14.43

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About this item
  • Also known as Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set

Name Smith-Waite Tarot Centennial Edition Deck
Alternate Names Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set
Creators Pamela Colman-Smith
Publisher US Games 2009
Deck Type Tarot Deck
Cards 78
Major Arcana 22
Minor Arcana 56
Deck Tradition Rider-Waite-Smith
Minor Arcana Style RWS-Based Scenes
Suits Cups, Swords, Wands, Pentacles
Court Cards King, Queen, Knight, Page
The Fool is 0
Strength is 8
Justice is 11
Card Language English
Card Back Works as though reversible
Back Design Pamela Colman Smith's signature and rose symbol on pale blue background.
Companion Material Two books, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Waite The Artwork and Times of Pamela Colman Smith by Kaplan.


Pamela Colman Smith – Pixie – the artist who drew the now famous tarot images, has been lesser well known than Waite, the member of the Golden Dawn who instructed her to provide illustrations to accompany tarot texts, and Rider, the publishers of the deck. US Games redresses the imbalance, naming the centennial deck after the artist and showcasing her life’s work – which was more than just tarot cards - in a comprehensive biography by Stuart Kaplan.

The Commemorative Set is a rather huge, heavy package that sits well on the bookshelf, sized at 14cm wide, 8cm deep and 19cm tall. It’s heavy for good reason – inside are two books, the 78 cards and assorted extras. It opens like a book, with two inner sections. Both have sturdy inner covers (made of the same thick cardboard as the outer box) that are easily opened with a small ribbon.

On the left, there is the biography by Kaplan, titled “The Artwork and Times of Pamela Colman Smith: Artist of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck”. It’s a smallish book in size, but has coffee-table type printing with thick glossy pages and plenty of full-colour pictures.

Underneath is a reprinting of A.E. Waite’s dry, seemingly arbitrary and sometimes incomprehensible companion book, “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot”. Then there are six postcards of Pamela’s art; an image of the Empress, portraits, and book illustrations, three 5” by 7” art prints in her trademark artistic style, and a photo of PCS herself, wearing beads and feathers, and appearing to be in animated conversation with the photographer. There’s still more – also included is a laminated spread fold-out, with three spreads printed on it, and an organza bag to hold the cards if they aren’t kept in the box.

On the right of the inner box, snugly tucked into a box insert, is the Smith-Waite Tarot Centennial Edition deck. It is a reprint of the original deck published in 1909. Compared with the most well-known edition of the ider-Waite, the cards have an aged, almost dirty look, and the colours are much more muted – the bright yellow background of the Magician or Strength has more of a grey tone to it. The images also seem ‘dottier’; the dot screening that creates blended colours is more obvious, particularly on the blues in the World and the Hermit, giving the cards the appearance of an old comic. The cards of the Smith-Waite are a good size at 7cm by 12cm, not too big too shuffle but big enough to see the details. The backs are almost but not quite reversible, in a medium blue-grey with a five-pointed rose in the centre and PCS' distinctive signature in two corners.

Kaplan’s book provides the most original and intriguing content of the set, which is really worth having simply for its information on PCS. Kaplan collected books, art, magazines, letters and ephemera that belonged to her, and has put together an illuminating picture of her life and how she came to create the most recognizable cards in the Western world.

He takes us through Pamela’s life and career in chronological detail, beginning at her birth in 1878, through her early career a children’s book illustrator and set designer, to her involvement in her twenties with Yeats and then Waite in the Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1909, she received the commission from Waite, who wanted PCS to create images to illustrate old tarot manuscripts he had found, and to “follow very carefully the astrological significance of each suit”.

The book shows many of her other illustrations and works, the style is familiar and the parallels between her tarot art and her other illustrations striking. The Four of Swords, for example, shows a man very similar to one in her earlier published periodicals. It’s an interesting journey through the life of a tarot artist whose work is the most well-known in the tarot world, yet whose life, up to now, is obscure to most.

Kaplan says in the biography, “Her writings indicate that, for her, ritual and symbolism derived their power to illuminate from the senses, emotion and the imagination, not from the mind.” Perhaps this is why her images have had such influence in the tarot world, and have brought so much to tarot readings the world over. Ironically, she called the tarot project “a big job for very little cash” – it seems very little has changed for artists in the tarot world since then!

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