Tarot Classic and Encyclopedia of Tarot by Stuart Kaplan
Review by Nina Lee Braden

Perhaps the most widely known name in modern Tarot circles is that of Stuart Kaplan, president of U.S. Games. U. S. Games is the largest publisher and distributor of Tarot decks and books in the United States. It is because of Kaplan's efforts more than any other one single factor that Tarot has reached its current level of popularity. In addition to being a publisher of Tarot decks, Kaplan is also a Tarot collector and author. He has several thousand decks in his personal collection, and his collection of Tarot literature is unequaled, anywhere.

Kaplan has written several works on Tarot, some short, several book-length. Four of them deserve mention here. In 1972, Stuart Kaplan published Tarot Classic in conjunction with a deck of that same name. This book is far more than a mere guidebook for the Tarot Classic deck. Instead, it has a substantial section on Tarot history, a chapter on the major influences and developments of modern Tarot, in-depth meanings for each of the seventy-eight Tarot cards, chapters on shuffling and dealing the cards and on various Tarot spreads (patterns used for studying the cards for divination or meditation), a chapter on sample Tarot readings, and, finally, a selective annotated bibliography. The book is copiously illustrated in black and white, and is a good general introduction to Tarot for either the reader or the non-reader.

Stuart Kaplan's masterpiece is his three-volume Encyclopedia of Tarot. Kaplan's encyclopedias have a combined total of 1633 pages. These books are essential for any serious Tarot student or collector. Each book contains a unique annotated bibliography, for a combined total bibliography of sixty-nine large, double-column pages. Each volume is also indexed. Each volume contains black and white illustrations with a section of color illustrations. These books have more information on Tarot than most of us will be able to assimilate in a lifetime of study.

The first volume of Kaplan's Encyclopedia was published in 1978. It includes chapters on the history and origins of Tarot, early references to playing cards, early types of cards which are similar to Tarot and playing cards, the Visconti and Sforza families (early patrons of Tarot art decks), early hand-painted decks, early printed Tarot decks, eighteenth and nineteenth-century decks, and twentieth century decks. There are illustrations of key figures and locales and manuscripts as well as illustrations of hundreds of Tarot cards. There are many tables provided as well.

The second volume of Kaplan's Encyclopedia is essentially an elaboration and expansion of the first sections of the first encyclopedia. This volume, published in 1986, gives more details, more charts, more illustrations on the early Tarot decks, playing card decks, and Tarocchi and Tarock decks. There is a section on the early symbolism of Tarot's Major Arcana and a very detailed, multi-paged system of cross referencing sequencing and naming of the Major Arcana cards in various decks. Kaplan also discusses the printers who made the early printed Tarot decks, the taxes on playing cards, and the origins of miniature cards. He finally discusses several dozen early Tarot decks which were not covered in the first volume of his encyclopedia. This book, while excellent and extremely valuable, is of less use and interest to most modern Tarot students and collectors and has not been a significant resource for my Tarot studies.

The third (and largest) volume of Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot was published in 1990. Its major focus is on Twentieth Century Tarot. Perhaps the most valuable section of this volume is the illustrated biographical chapter on Pamela Colman Smith, illustrator of the highly influential Rider Waite (Smith) deck. There has been very little available to the public about this talented artist, and Kaplan has provided an excellent essay on her. The illustrations that he has chosen show the range of her talent and work, and they also help to show the influences which Smith incorporated into the Rider Waite (Smith) deck. Volumes I and III have been the ones which have been most useful to me in my studies.


Review Nina Lee Braden
Page 2003 Diane Wilkes