The Encyclopedia of Tarot                                             Review by Michele Jackson
This is a three volume set, issued by Stuart Kaplan of U.S. Games Systems, a publisher of
Tarot Decks. Kaplan is a collector of Tarot and Tarocchi decks and most of the decks in
this set are from his collection. The books are large and hardcover. Volume 1, first
published in 1978, has photographs of more than 250 decks. Some are rare decks from the
15th century and later, but over half are 20th century decks, many of which were readily
available at the time of publication. Volume 1 contains a 35 page history of Tarot, which
includes the earliest references to the cards and discusses the early names which have been
associated with the Tarot such as Court de Gebeline, Eliphas Levi and A.E. Waite.
Various theories of the Tarot's origin are described briefly, and there is a section which
provides the earliest historical references to playing cards. There is a chapter on
interpreting (reading) the cards in the back of the book which provides divinatory
meanings and a few spreads. This is followed by an excellent bibliography and an index.
Volume II would be of interest primarily to collectors of pre-20th century decks. It has
photographs of over 300 decks and begins with a history of the Visconti and Sforza
families. It has some interesting historical information on the Renaissance, and the art of
that period as it pertains to Tarot. There is also an excellent discussion of the symbolism
of the early Tarot decks. An exhaustive listing of early printers and tax stamps is included
which would be of interest primarily to those who collect pre-20th century decks.
Most of the decks photographed in this volume are Tarocchi decks. Again, there is an
excellent bibliography with over 1000 titles and an index.
Volume III is the largest volume of the set and has photographs of more than 550 decks,
most of which are modern. There is a chapter devoted to the life of Pamela
Coleman-Smith, the artist who drew the popular Waite-Smith deck. It has samples of
other work she did besides the Tarot and is a fairly complete biography of her life. There
is also a section which compares Coleman-Smith’s Tarot cards to a 15th century deck
called the Sola Busca. While not a Tarot deck, the Sola Busca did have illustrated minors,
some of which bear a striking resemblance to Coleman-Smith’s cards. While there is no
hard evidence that she had seen or come in contact with this deck, there is circumstantial
evidence to support this view.
All three books are illustrated primarily with black and white photographs, though each
has a few color plates. If the artist has written a description of his/her deck, it is included,
as well as descriptions of the cards shown, written by either the artist or one of Kaplan’s
writers. The photographs will give you a feel for the deck’s style and what the artist was
trying to say, but the absence of color is a real drawback. To produce these books entirely
in color would have made their cost prohibitive I suppose. They are already fairly
expensive, with Volume I retailing for $25.00 and Volumes II and II going for $35.00
each. That is $100.00 for the set if you include taxes. On the other hand, for the price of 6
or 7 decks you receive access to over 1000 decks. You can spend many hours looking
through these books and Kaplan’s historical information is well researched and reliable.
He is not prone to conjecture, and will tell you whether a piece of information has
historical evidence to support it or not. I highly recommend this set to anyone who is
interested in the history of Tarot, or who collects Tarot decks. If you can not afford the
entire set, I recommend Volume III, followed by Volume I and then Volume II. I have
heard that Volume IV is in the planning stages and will be released on CD ROM as well as
in book format. Also be aware that many of the decks shown are not available to the general
public. Sideways along each page of photographs is a source. Those "from the collection of
the artist" are usually not available for sale. This also true for many "from the collection of
the author".
Encyclopedia of Tarot
Author: Stuart Kaplan
ISBN: Vol. I: 0-913866-11-3
Vol. II: 0-913866-36-9
Vol. III: 0-88079-122-5

Certain scholars of the occult feel that Smith’s contribution to the mystical qualities of the
deck was far greater than has generally been recognized. Although the uniqueness of the
deck is primarily in the imagery of the pip cards of the Minor Arcana, Waite placed most
of the emphasis on the Major Arcana, allowing Pamela more freedom in devising the
Minor Arcana. The fact that a few of the cards resemble Pamela’s previous works would
indicate that she chose at least several of the images on the Minor Arcana. The figure on
the four of swords, though a man , bears a strong resemblance to “The Lady of the Scarlet
Shoes” illustrated by Smith in the 1902 issue of A Broad Street. The tents in the
background of the picture of Henry Irving in Beckett, dated 1905 are like those on the
seven of swords, and Irving’s pose is similar to that of the page of wands. The landscape
and costumes in general are characteristic of Smith’s work. Waite even failed to notice
some discrepancies between the imagery on the cards and his descriptions in The Key to
the tarot. For example he described four streams emanating from the chalice on the ace of
cups, whereas Smith drew five streams.
Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume III, page 30

This page is Copyright 1996/97 Michele Jackson