Story of the Waite-Smith Tarot
The Story of the Waite-Smith Tarot
K. Frank Jensen
 Publication details
 date of publication
As Mr. Jensen notes, “Tarot did not come out of nothing and its history is important to get a full understanding of the phenomenon it is”. The phenomenon clearly has its shadow side, as Jensen’s book in part suggests.
Jensen’s historical overview includes a useful summary of already available information about the originators of the Waite-Smith tarot. The overview of Ms Colman-Smith’s life is particularly of interest as the information is little known and hard to access. A. E. Waite, as Jensen describes him, was an editor of trade publications, a would-be poet, a man with no formal education, and a prolific but mediocre writer. Pamela Colman-Smith, in contrast, was well educated, well-travelled, and a talented and unusual painter, storyteller and illustrator, particularly in the context of being an unmarried, independent female artist in Victorian England. The contrast between the fame and talents of the two protagonists of Mr. Jensen’s story is ironic. The tribute this book pays in many ways to the ignored and forgotten Colman-Smith is one of its most satisfying elements.
A highlight of the second part of the book is its overview of the incarnations and misadventures of the Waite-Smith deck itself over the last century. Jensen’s meticulous research uncovers multiple versions of the deck, not all of them well executed copies of the Colman-Smith original. A key riddle emerges about the fate of the original art work for the deck.
Mr. Jensen raises some challenging questions about the world of commercial tarot publishing, outlining the prolific exploitation of Ms. Colman-Smith’s designs since the 1970s and some uncertainties about copyright law as it has been applied in the publishing world.
Finally, the many questions indirectly raised by Mr. Jensen’s book serve us well by inviting further research and debate. Among these questions might be included: To what extent was Ms. Colman-Smith involved in the Golden Dawn and how far did this influence the design of the Waite-Smith deck? How exactly did Waite and Colman-Smith collaborate, if at all? How do the card designs, especially for the minor cards, compare to Colman-Smith’s visionary / intuitive painting or her work as a story teller and illustrator? How might we understand the Waite-Smith story, for example the absence of Colman-Smith’s name from the deck she designed, from the angle of gender politics? (Interestingly, Colman-Smith was involved with suffragette movement, as were other women involved with the Golden Dawn.) What did Colman-Smith get paid for her tarot deck designs, and was she or her estate further compensated for the ‘goldmine’ that the deck became for its publishers? What does the story of Waite and Colman-Smith reveal of the more shadowy world of commercial tarot publishing?
 Author's comments
To be added
 Author's website
To be added