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The Waite/Colman-Smith collaboration in the creation of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck

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The Waite/Colman-Smith collaboration in the creation of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck


The card-by-card collaboration of Crowley and Harris in the creation of the cards of the Thoth deck is immortalized in written correspondence between Crowley and Harris.

This brings me to my question is about the Rider-Waite deck. Is there any written correspondence or other written records that would shed light on the question of the extent of the collaboration between Waite and Colman-Smith in the creation of the major and minor arcana cards of the Rider-Waite deck? In this regard, I note that, in the preface to his book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Waite writes the following:

Quote:
In the second part, I have dealt with the symbolism according to some of its higher aspects, and this also serves to introduce the complete and rectified Tarot, which is available separately, in the form of coloured cards, the designs of which are added to the present text in black and white. They have been prepared under my supervision - in respect of the attributions and meanings - by a lady who has high claims as an artist.
Thanks!
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Have you heard the one liner...


the mention that Pamela Colman Smith in a letter to a friend referring to the job as "a whole of work for very little money". This is not an exact quote, so I will dig up the reference in Kaplan...

But I've heard Mary Greer and others refer to this one line as the only reference ever made in writing by P.C.S.

I've not heard any other records surfacing, yet. I'll post the line that I read in Kaplan and ask if anyone has updates, I'm interested as well.

Regards,

Cerulean
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Re: The Waite/Colman-Smith collaboration in the creation of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck


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I certainly haven't seen any evidence beyond what folks have already posted here. I think we can make a few reasonable deductions, though, based on internal evidence.

In Kaplan's Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, he shows an illustration by Smith. The caption reads, "'A Figure of Awful Beauty.' The angel from the story 'The Garden' by G.J. guards with a fiery sword the Tree of Life, which lays at the northmost point of the earth. The flaming hair resembles the hair of the angel on the Lovers card of the Rider-Waite Tarot. The Green Sheaf, issue 10, 1904." The illustration shows a mountaintop covered with flames, out of which rises a huge, transparent figure with both arms upraised, one hand carrying a wavy sword. Beside that illustration, Kaplan places the Lovers card, and it is indeed quite apparent that Smith drew on the earlier picture as inspiration for the angel on the Lovers card. To me, this suggests fairly strongly that Waite did not "spoon-feed" every aspect of at least the Lovers card, since the major influence on the angel's appearance was a previous illustration by Smith.

In a similar example, Kaplan places side by side the Four of Swords card with an illustration from A Broad Sheet, 1902, on which a woman reclines in a church or mausoleum in a very similar manner to the knight on the Four of Swords. To me, this indicates that Smith used her own judgement to arrive at a picture to illustrate the Four of Swords, although admittedly this conclusion requires a little more speculation than the Lovers example.

Then, there is the similarity between several of Smith's cards and cards from the Sola-Busca deck. The similarities are so great that it's obvious that Smith used the Sola Busca cards as inspiration. Since the Sola-Busca deck was only available to be seen in a single set of photographs at the British Museum (I can't remember where I read this but I do clearly recall reading it somewhere), it's reasonable to assume that Waite directed Smith to go to the museum and look at the cards. From what we know about both Waite and Smith, I think it's likely that Waite would have known about this deck while Smith probably wouldn't have.

Then there's the way Waite writes about the numbered Minors in his book. He seems sometimes at a loss, sometimes saying a card could mean such-and-such or it could mean its opposite, or commenting that the picture doesn't reconcile this meaning with that meaning. He writes like someone who has been handed a bunch of pictures and who now must make sense of them, not like someone who decided what images the cards would show.

My inference from this (admittedly speculation on my part) is that he did not dictate the specific images for the numbered Minors, but rather handed Smith a collection of divinatory meanings, directed her to go to the British Museum to see the Sola Busca to get an idea of the kinds of pictures Waite had in mind, and then let her come up with the pictures on her own.

I was already familiar with the passage quoted by Vincent in which Waite says he "spoon-fed" Smith, but it wasn't until reading Vincent's post that I noticed for the first time that although Waite says the Trumps were produced under his supervision, he only says he "spoon-fed" her on three specific cards: the High Priestess, the Fool, and the Hanged Man. This leaves us with the suggestion that perhaps Smith had more leeway with the other Majors, as she obviously did with the Lovers.

Also, it's interesting that Waite says "...If anyone feels drawn in these days to the consideration of Tarot symbolism they will do well to select the Trumps Major produced under my supervision by Miss Pamela Coleman Smith." Note that he singles out the Majors. This might suggest, as I posited above, that Waite specifically directed Smith on the Majors but gave her much more leeway on the Minors, as Vincent suggests.

I love to speculate on these things, especially since we'll probably never know for sure!

-- Lee
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Quote:
Originally posted by Lee
I certainly haven't seen any evidence beyond what folks have already posted here. I think we can make a few reasonable deductions, though, based on internal evidence.
Yes, we certainly can.
Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

In Kaplan's Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, he shows an illustration by Smith. The caption reads, "'A Figure of Awful Beauty.' The angel from the story 'The Garden' by G.J. guards with a fiery sword the Tree of Life, which lays at the northmost point of the earth. The flaming hair resembles the hair of the angel on the Lovers card of the Rider-Waite Tarot. The Green Sheaf, issue 10, 1904." The illustration shows a mountaintop covered with flames, out of which rises a huge, transparent figure with both arms upraised, one hand carrying a wavy sword. Beside that illustration, Kaplan places the Lovers card, and it is indeed quite apparent that Smith drew on the earlier picture as inspiration for the angel on the Lovers card. To me, this suggests fairly strongly that Waite did not "spoon-feed" every aspect of at least the Lovers card, since the major influence on the angel's appearance was a previous illustration by Smith.
I agree with your facts, but I can't say I agree with your conclusion.

All the facts might reasonably point to is a matter of style rather than content. What evidence is there in these facts to contradict Waite's claim that he supervised Smith as to the symbolism in the Major Arcana?

That Smith incorporated a figure previously used by her, does not mean she was at liberty to compose a card according to her own wishes, and Waite says explicitly that he, and he alone, was responsible for the symbolism contained in those cards. What reason do we have to disbelieve him? It may well be that Waite instructed her to use that very figure for that very card.
Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

In a similar example, Kaplan places side by side the Four of Swords card with an illustration from A Broad Sheet, 1902, on which a woman reclines in a church or mausoleum in a very similar manner to the knight on the Four of Swords. To me, this indicates that Smith used her own judgement to arrive at a picture to illustrate the Four of Swords, although admittedly this conclusion requires a little more speculation than the Lovers example.
Again, this is only evidence that she drew on earlier drawings, not that she had any editorial control.

Isn't it equally possible that Waite had said to her;

"I wish you to draw";

"The effigy of a knight in the attitude of prayer, at full length upon his tomb."

or

"I wish you to use that picture of a knight from 'A Broad Sheet' for the Four of Swords"

Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

Then, there is the similarity between several of Smith's cards and cards from the Sola-Busca deck. The similarities are so great that it's obvious that Smith used the Sola Busca cards as inspiration. Since the Sola-Busca deck was only available to be seen in a single set of photographs at the British Museum (I can't remember where I read this but I do clearly recall reading it somewhere), it's reasonable to assume that Waite directed Smith to go to the museum and look at the cards. From what we know about both Waite and Smith, I think it's likely that Waite would have known about this deck while Smith probably wouldn't have.
Agreed.
Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

Then there's the way Waite writes about the numbered Minors in his book. He seems sometimes at a loss, sometimes saying a card could mean such-and-such or it could mean its opposite, or commenting that the picture doesn't reconcile this meaning with that meaning. He writes like someone who has been handed a bunch of pictures and who now must make sense of them, not like someone who decided what images the cards would show.
Do you have any examples?

Sometimes people can see things that aren't there, and miss other things altogether, especially where Waite's writing is concerned.
Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

My inference from this (admittedly speculation on my part) is that he did not dictate the specific images for the numbered Minors, but rather handed Smith a collection of divinatory meanings, directed her to go to the British Museum to see the Sola Busca to get an idea of the kinds of pictures Waite had in mind, and then let her come up with the pictures on her own.
It is possible.

It is equally posssible that Waite gave her detailed notes on exactly how the cards should be composed, but we have no evidence for this theory either.
Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

I was already familiar with the passage quoted by Vincent in which Waite says he "spoon-fed" Smith, but it wasn't until reading Vincent's post that I noticed for the first time that although Waite says the Trumps were produced under his supervision, he only says he "spoon-fed" her on three specific cards: the High Priestess, the Fool, and the Hanged Man. This leaves us with the suggestion that perhaps Smith had more leeway with the other Majors, as she obviously did with the Lovers.
It might suggest that.

It might equally suggest that she kept getting the symbolism wrong for these three cards, whereas the other Trumps she managed to get right first time.

Trump designs such as The Chariot, The Wheel of Fortune and the Devil are taken from the drawings of Eliphas Levi. This was obviously done under Waite's guidance.
Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

Also, it's interesting that Waite says "...If anyone feels drawn in these days to the consideration of Tarot symbolism they will do well to select the Trumps Major produced under my supervision by Miss Pamela Coleman Smith." Note that he singles out the Majors. This might suggest, as I posited above, that Waite specifically directed Smith on the Majors but gave her much more leeway on the Minors, as Vincent suggests.
The reason that he singles out the Majors, is because the essay concerns the Majors only. In the same way, just because I am writing about Waite's deck, does not mean I am not interested in any other.

Even so, I won't deny that there is a reasonable chance that what you say concerning the Minors is correct. On the other hand, there are also some tantalising clues that Waite took much more interest in the Minors than he is currently (the last 30 years or so) being given credit for.

There is also the question of whether Smith had the level of occult knowledge required, for this to be anything other than Waite's creation.

Quote:
Originally posted by Lee

I love to speculate on these things, especially since we'll probably never know for sure!

-- Lee
Too true.



Vincent
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between the lines


It is not until page 67 of his book of fragments that
Waite confesses to the fact that there was an artist:
"The Tarot cards... have been drawn and coloured
by Miss Pamela Colman Smith."

But what really is happening (right under our noses)
on page 68, when he writes:
"For variations in the symbolism by which the designs
have been affected, I alone am responsible." (?)

He's stealing the credit for the deck by taking "blame"
for all the original work and contributions of the artist.
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Hi, Vincent --

First, I just want to say that I am not one of those who seeks to belittle Waite's contribution to his deck. I am not a fan of his writing style (he comes across as a pompous ass), but this doesn't change the fact that he was the guiding force behind the most important deck of the 20th century and the one which, in my opinion, is single-handedly responsible for the explosion in popularity of the tarot. I very much doubt we would be discussing tarot on a forum if not for the RWS deck.

Also, my speculations are just that, speculations. Although I've drawn my own conclusions, I'm not championing any particular viewpoint, and if anyone wants to try to convince me that another viewpoint is more true, I'd be delighted to listen.

That said, regarding examples of Waite's writing on the Minors which suggests to me that he didn't dictate what images Smith should use, here's one I found:

Seven of Swords: "Divinatory Meanings: Design, attempt, wish, hope, confidence; also quarrelling, a plan that may fail, annoyance. The design is uncertain in its import, because the significations are widely at variance with each other."

Vincent says "Sometimes people can see things that aren't there," and indeed, I had thought there were more examples but now I can't find any, so perhaps my argument is weaker than I first supposed. However, there are several examples where Waite offers opposite or unreconcilable meanings for the cards, or says that the card illustrates one set of meanings and then presents other meanings which the illustration obviously won't fit, which leads me to wonder why he directed Smith to illustrate the card one way (if indeed he did direct her that specifically) and then presented meanings in the book which the illustration doesn't relate to.

Vincent says, "There is also the question of whether Smith had the level of occult knowledge required, for this to be anything other than Waite's creation." I think this is definitely true with regard to the Majors. However, I don't think Smith would necessarily have had to have occult knowledge in order to come up with a series of images illustrating divinatory meanings handed to her for the Minors, if that is indeed how the process went.

Waite seems to me to be somewhat ambivalent about the Minors in general. On the one hand, he takes great pains to emphasize that the Minors have no significance beyond a use for fortune-telling. On the other hand, he writes the following sentence, which I think is the best sentence in the entire book:

"The mere numerical powers and bare words of the meanings are insufficient by themselves; but the pictures are like doors which open into unexpected chambers, or like a turn in the open road with a wide prospect beyond."

-- Lee
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I've just been rereading the biography of PCS contained in Kaplan's Encyclopedia Vol. 3, and I find some passages where Kaplan seems to agree with my conclusions (or maybe it's just that my conclusions are based on my subconscious memory of reading these passages). Kaplan says:

"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 fo 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 leaset several of the images of the Minor Arcana. [...] The landscape and costumes in general are characteristic of Smith's work. Waite even failed to notice some descrepancies 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."

Kaplan also says, "Many of the Minor Arcana cards are, in fact, like details of a stage [Smith had worked in the theater as a stage and costume designer], with a plain ground and a low, decorated backdrop. [...] This effect is completely absent in the Major Arcana which would again indicate that the Minor Arcana were more Smith's creation than Waite's."

By the way, Vincent, you say "That Smith incorporated a figure previously used by her, does not mean she was at liberty to compose a card according to her own wishes, and Waite says explicitly that he, and he alone, was responsible for the symbolism contained in those cards." By this, do you mean that Waite says that he alone was responsible for all the cards? If so, could you point me to where he says that? Unless I'm misreading your sentence.

-- Lee
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I will reply in greater length to your two posts when I have some more time.

Thank you for this interesting exchange.

Quote:
Originally posted by Lee
By the way, Vincent, you say "That Smith incorporated a figure previously used by her, does not mean she was at liberty to compose a card according to her own wishes, and Waite says explicitly that he, and he alone, was responsible for the symbolism contained in those cards." By this, do you mean that Waite says that he alone was responsible for all the cards? If so, could you point me to where he says that? Unless I'm misreading your sentence.
-- Lee
I was referring in particular to your mention of the Angel in the Lovers card, but it does seem from the PKT that he claimed responsibility forall the cards. Or, at the very least he doesn't say that he is not responsible for the Minors.

I may be able to pick out some more quotes, but I don't have my books with me at the moment.

This is from the PKT;

"For the variations in the symbolism by which the designs have been affected, I alone am responsible... ...In regard to the Minor Arcana, they are the first in modern but not in all times to be accompanied by pictures, in addition to what is called the "pips"--that is to say, the devices belonging to the numbers of the various suits. These pictures respond to the divinatory meanings, which have been drawn from many sources"


Vincent
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Re: between the lines


Quote:
Originally posted by Fulgour
It is not until page 67 of his book of fragments that
Waite confesses to the fact that there was an artist:
"The Tarot cards... have been drawn and coloured
by Miss Pamela Colman Smith."

But what really is happening (right under our noses)
on page 68, when he writes:
"For variations in the symbolism by which the designs
have been affected, I alone am responsible." (?)

He's stealing the credit for the deck by taking "blame"
for all the original work and contributions of the artist.
Confessions... stealing, isn't he despicable?

Even Saddam Hussein is going to get a trial.


Vincent
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