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These are variations of the original PCS/RW, also known as the RWS or the RWCS. I use the term PCS/RW to refer to the two decks on the left, being the closest representation of Pamela Coleman Smith’s art under the guidance of Arthur Edward Waite, and produced by the Rider and Son company. The PCS/RW basically means any deck that is as close as possible to the original color and line work of Pam. Subsequent decks, such ad the one “recreated”by Frankie Albano (above) or the Universal Waite deck re-lined and colored by Mary Hanson-Roberts (who also created the Hanson-Roberts Tarot on the next page) change the colors and the line work. To some this is heresy, while others find it an improvement. Most people just don’t care.


These are all great decks to learn the tarot with and will serve you well throughout the years as they are easy to interpret, true to “modern tarot” symbolism (such as it is), and are so popular that any teacher or other reader can relate to your questions or exhortations about the deck. One significant detail I like to point out to my students is the cat on the Queen of Wands. This is one small example of many tiny details that go unnoticed in variations of decks, but it serves well to know these, and pay attention to the implications when it comes to deep reading. The cat in the PCS/RW is a mangy beast while the UW deck has cleaned it up and given it a soft, shiny coat. As the QoW (shorthand for Queen of Wands) is a fire sign, and in my humble estimation a Leo woman, she would never be upstaged by a cat whose poise, sophistication, and beauty draws attention away from herself. This is not a statement on Leo women. It is a point of fact on the Leo archetype whose energy is represented in this card to indicate subtle nuances of energy expression. When illustrating astrological archetypes one cannot possibly include all of the facets of personality in a single image less one come up with a cacophonic collage, or “jumbled mess” of competing points of interest. Art requires a focal point to exact expression.


This is why the RW (in its many variations) is so popular to this day. Its beauty lies in its ability to draw the eye to specific details at various points in a reading. At one time we will see the sun and at other times the baby. Still other times the fiery red banner of proclamation will clamor for our attention. In short, any of the Rider Waite variations are great decks to start reading teh tarot with, even though you may prefer the art of “prettier decks.” On the next page we will examine other decks you may choose to practice with or study early on. Know that if you choose to learn from my book The Easiest Way to Learn the Tarot--EVER!! I have chosen the PCS/RW to illustrate the book. If you take personal, one-on-one lessons from me you can expect me to refer to that deck for clarity of understanding and speed of learning.


As to the numerous variations of the RW decks from the original 1909 version, through the de Laurence and Kaplan editions, that is a bees nest I will not be kicking over here. A great website that contains a wealth of information on the (alleged) shenanigans of the infamous “Doctor L. W. De Laurence” can be found here. Highly recommended reading. Very addictive information.


Also see: starter decks page two

The Original “Rider Waite” decks

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This is a great web paghe that has lots of decks to look at.