Golden Tarot by Kat Black
Review by K. Frank Jensen

From US Games Systems Inc. comes a tarot deck which deviates from this publisher’s usual tarot catalogue in more than one way. It is not even necessary to look at the deck to realize that this is different. The box, with its two-part top-lidded, very heavy box it comes in, probably handmade (I can’t imagine a box like this could be made on a machine), makes it look like a very prestigious and costly product. (When do we, by the way, get a standard nomenclature for describing different types of boxes?). The deck's name is "Golden Tarot" and the artist is Kat Black, who is an Australian. Besides the 78 + 2 cards deck, the box holds a 199 page illustrated book in the same size as the cards. When I first heard the deck’s name, my immediate thought was that US Games had incorporated gold foils in the images, as Lo Scarabeo has done for some years, but that is not the case. The gold in the Golden Tarot is limited to the edges and that is elaborate enough.

The second way the deck deviates from most, if not all, US Games decks is that it is a collage deck. At least I can’t recall any other collage decks in their catalogue. That it is created entirely on a computer is no longer unusual; many commercial tarot decks are nowadays.

What is the deck like? Well, it is sort of a topsy-turvy treatment of - guess what? - the good old 1909 Waite-Smith Tarot. Normally, when tarot deck creators or illustrators (I won’t call them "artists") produce their variations of this deck, they bring their efforts forward in time from the beginning of the 20th century, when Pamela Colman Smith created her images. Kat Black has done the opposite by recreating Pamela Colman Smith’s characters and situations by cutting bits and pieces out of old paintings to place them in Late Middle-Age or Renaissance environments, which is actually the environment in which the very first tarot decks ever were created. The Golden Tarot is very well done, it takes a great deal of computer experience and training to manipulate with as many as 20 layers in an image, which Ms. Black states there are in the cards.

When I mentioned the deck to an American tarot friend of mine, she asked, "What do you think of the deck? It looks very impressive. Is it useful though? Many decks are very pretty but have no depth." Later she expanded the question: "I realize now the question about ‘useful’ was vague. I meant to ask if it had a coherent system in of itself and was not just a copy of RWS or Marseille dressed up in different clothes - so many decks change the trappings on the cards and completely lose meaning - pretty pictures of Chinese people on a RWS-style deck doesn’t make sense!"

She is definitely right. Golden Tarot is just another Waite-Smith Tarot deck dressed up in different clothes, this time in Renaissance clothes. There is no real use for it. There is nothing added to the concept of tarot. It is not an improvement of the genuine Waite-Smith Tarot which it takes its basis from. It is not a new and original artistic interpretation; it is just an exercise in computer artistry. It doesn’t make sense. It is not "useful."

The accompanying book of 199 pages doesn’t make much sense either. We get a lot of American-style acknowledgments, a nine page introduction, ten pages of card spreads, about ninety pages of description of the cards (which we can see with our own eyes) and some standard interpretations. The remaining eighty pages are a list of the sources the illustrations are lifted from.

All this doesn’t mean that the Golden Tarot will not be successful. It undoubtedly will. The artist has prepared the ground by presenting the images on Internet, promoting the publication, telling in detail the story about its coming into physical being, including early pirated editions, and, in the last stages, the delays that occurred in transit from the printers. After its publication, she additionally offered signed single cards for sale on eBay, to be added to the deck bought from US Games to make it into an "artist-signed deck," a quality which seems to be en vogue. What an enterprise! The deck will undoubtedly be a success and thus earn its major purpose: to add to the bank accounts of the artist and producer.

One could expect that this elaborate product (it is elaborate: well printed, gilt edged, beautiful sturdy box, an illustrated 199 pages book) would cost a lot. It does not. It is just twenty five US dollars, not more than most mass market tarot decks cost.

It shall be no secret that I would have preferred that all the work, effort, and cost put into this production instead had been used to produce the true facsimile of the very first Waite-Smith Tarot deck, which US Games Systems owes us as a proper recognition of the original creators of the Waite-Smith Tarot. A facsimile in the true sense of the word, "an exact copy" of the first Waite-Smith deck, with the original print screen preserved and, of course, including an exact copy of the box and of Waite’s "Key". We have recently seen an example that exact copies can be made in the reprint of Dondorf’s Java pack, where there is no discernible difference of original and facsimile.

Back to the Golden Tarot, which this should be all about. What’s the reason for its very reasonable price? Twice as much would still be reasonable. Can we expect future products from US Games Systems, Inc. to be cheaper? Have the artist and publisher voluntarily minimize their profit for a good course? Sorry, but I can not help thinking of all the tiny Chinese fingers gluing all those lovely boxes as "...a big job for a very low payment......"

Golden Tarot by Kat Black
Publisher: US Games
ISBN#: 1572814349

If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.

You can read another review of this deck here.

You can peruse a sample reading with this deck here.

K. Frank Jensen is the founder and editor of Manteia, a now-defunct tarot magazine. For his significant contributions to the tarot community, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Tarot Society at this year's World Tarot Congress. He has one of the greatest tarot collections in the world.


Illustrations from the Golden Tarot reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA.  Copyright 2004 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.  Further reproduction prohibited. 
Review © 2004 K. Frank Jensen
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes