The PAMELA COLMAN SMITH COMMEMORATIVE SET celebrating the 2009 centennial left me conflicted but I decided to give this set a five star rating. The deck is a faithful reproduction of the original RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT deck published in 1909 and it is clear a lot of effort went into the creation of this set but it has an unnecessary flaw: it includes THE PICTORIAL KEY TO THE TAROT by Arthur Edward Waite which was the booklet that, in 1910, joined the deck.
The images of the RIDER WAITE SMITH TAROT have been the face of tarot in books and movies and, though deceptively simple, offer a wealth of symbolism; its 1909 creation represented a shift from most of the tarot decks of the time because all the cards are illustrated; it was not the first to do so (as many believe) but it has been much imitated.
As it is currently the most popular tarot deck in the English-speaking world, it would have been nice to to have this set be a perfect product.
The presentation of the set is gorgeous. The beautifully boxed set opens like a book with sturdy inner covers and consists of the deck, postcards and 2 books - postcards and books on the left and cards in pretty, light-blue sheer bag with ribbon-tie fitted snugly into its own well on the right. The book bindings could be more durable and the stiff cardboard book covers might crease easily ... but how often will you be reading them??
I really like this edition of the RWS deck which has been renamed the SMITH-WAITE TAROT CENTENNIAL EDITION DECK and is more warm-toned in color with a softer feel than we usually see. My guess is that they may have been created using photos of the surviving originals. The coloring is similar to that of the RWS in THE ORIGINAL RIDER WAITE TAROT PACK which, also, has a warmer coloring but this is slightly darker, richer and has a different back. The backs here show the same thin white border and fine black inner border as the front of the cards with Colman Smith's initials in the upper left hand corner and the lower right hand corner, in black, and all on a background of light blue-grey with a small image of the Rosicrucian Rose from the Death card in the center ... a very simple and pleasing choice that I like better than the black-white-light blue plaid that U.S.Games usually has on the backs of their RWS.
The first book, THE ARTWORK AND TIMES OF PAMELA COLMAN SMITH by Stuart R. Kaplan is the real gift here simply for its information on Pamela ("Pixie") Colman Smith. 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 and I am so glad to see how it celebrates the under-appreciated artist and showcases a lifetime of her artwork. The presentation and Kaplan's book alone are worth the price.
The other book, THE PICTORIAL KEY TO THE TAROT by Waite, is crap which is ironic since it has always been Waite who was credited as the creator of the RWS; this very special edition deserves a better book - see "FAVORITE TAROT BOOKS" in Listmania for alternatives; there have been so many excellent tarot books illustrated with this deck. I can understand the possible dilemma the producers of this set may have faced if they believed that part of presenting a 100 year anniversary set is to recreate all that was part of the original. For me, it would have been an easy decision: go for a better book. There are so many to choose from ... but that is not, for whatever reason, what they decided to do.
Waite was a member of the THE HERMETIC ORDER OF THE GOLDEN DAWN and this tarot deck came out of the spiritual work of THE HERMETIC ORDER OF THE GOLDEN DAWN. When Waite decided to create this deck using Pamela Colman Smith as the artist, she was already a member as William Butler Yeats had introduced her to the order and she joined in 1901, and, in the process, met Waite. The problem is that Waite never intended THE PICTORIAL KEY TO THE TAROT to clearly explain the deck to the masses who he believed could not really understand it the way it was meant to be understood by his fellow members of THE HERMETIC ORDER OF THE GOLDEN DAWN and the result of this is that THE PICTORIAL KEY TO THE TAROT is, at best, incoherent. It is clear that Waite did not foresee a serious use of his deck outside the order ... or, at least, seemed to have little interest or commitment to its cultivation - we are on our own.
It is, also, clear (from what we understand now) that he was more interested in THE MAJOR ARCANA, which portrays the spiritual journey, and handed over and had little interest in or even bothered to understand the MINOR ARCANA, which portrays mundane existence, but this is most of the deck and so, to me, is at least as much the creation of Pamela Colman Smith. I have, on my own, been reading about Pamela Colman Smith and felt she was an amazing woman reported to have had synesthesia and psychic gifts and, at the least, was extremely gifted at portraying both the teachings of the order and the human experience in her drawings ... and so I was very happy to see her finally getting more recognition for her role in the creation of the RWS.
RWS is my primary deck, though I own a lot of tarot decks, and I believe it has the most comprehensive, powerful, complex and emotionally meaningful imagery ... but, yes there are other decks with more beautiful art. Many have rejected RWS because they do not like its artwork. This would have surprised this deck's creators as they were not trying to create a work of art but a tool for spiritual self-development. To me, too many modern decks are beautiful or trendy first and a functioning tool second ... though there is nothing wrong with trying to be both. Unfortunately, in the process of trying to recreate a more aesthetically pleasing version of the RWS while keeping its structure, meaning and imagery, changes have been introduced that alter the meaning in the original images by well meaning people who seem to think they are not making a major change.
(1.) the SIX OF CUPS card, in many decks, becomes 2 children but it is not 2 children in the original RWS image but a symbolically enlarged child offering a gift of a WHITE flower to an adult;
(2.) the TEN OF SWORDS card, in many decks, loses its golden dawn, the carefully placed line-up of swords (along acupuncture points) following spine and in ear, the mudra for joy in the positioning of the fingers of the right hand and the turning of his head to face the sea (water, emotions); this card, for me, was especially meaningful as I discovered tarot a couple of months after my mother's death and all the details resonated deeply;
(3.) THE LOVERS card, in many decks, is reduced to being another TWO OF CUPS and even when there is token mention of the element of choice in the meanings section of their book, it is not always in the image but, in the RWS image of THE LOVERS, we are presented with a choice between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge;
(4.) THE CHARIOT card, in many decks, shows running horses and a driver holding reins but, in the RWS image, there are no reins and no physical movement because everything happens by the power of mind and will.
There are other examples but these, for some reason, bother me the most.
What I am saying is that, for me, the only accurate version of the RWS is the RWS and, if there is some RWS clone you prefer, you should be aware in what ways it changes the images and meanings and how you feel about it. If you are fine with it, there is no problem.
For me, because I work closely with the images in my use of tarot for self-exploration, problem-solving and meditation and because I have found RWS meanings that are important to me have been lost in many of the RWS clones and not replaced with other symbols with the same or similar meaning, I have other decks in addition to but not instead of my RWS.
Amazon.com sometimes lists the same product in separate listings for reasons that are a mystery to me; so this is a review I had previously written in August for a different listing of this same product.
In any case, I am very happy to see this belated tribute to Pamela Colman Smith and love the deck and hope this is not the last we see of the SMITH-WAITE TAROT CENTENNIAL EDITION.