A timeline of the early Rider Waite-Smith Tarot


About two years ago I started a project to register all the known copies of the early RWS decks that exist. I have had a lot of response and now have 87 registered decks and 17 unconfirmed decks in my database, along with their information. What started out as a project to register the decks has turned into a full blown research project about the timeline of the early RWS. So I thought it was time to share my findings (and opinions and speculations):

December 1909

Publication and sale of the Roses&Lilies deck by William Rider & Son ltd. The deck was sold in a maroon two-part box with the Key to the Tarot. The Key has a ouroboros on the front and a gilded title on the spine of the book and it dated 1910. No printer mentioned, but it was probably printed by Sprague&Co. Price was 5 shilling for the set. The card quality was not satisfactory, so Rider offered their buyers the possibility to exchange it for an improved set which would be released in spring 1910.

April 1910

Publication of the Pam-A by William Rider & Son ltd. The Pam-A cards were thicker and heavier and have a smooth shiny surface. Backs are pebbled. Price for the full set was 6 shilling

1910-sept 1915

Sale of the Pam-A, version 1. It was sold in either with the Key in a maroon two-part box or in a blue/green slipcase box without the Key.The Key is always dated 1920 and has a gold embossed ouroboros on the front of the book and a gilded title on the spine.

Sept 1915

Price mark down of the RWS to 5 shilling, as advertised in the Occult Review. This may coincide with a new printing of the Pam-A, which I call the Pam-A version 2. This new printing is printed on thinner cardstock and weights less. Line art is identical, apart from a few very small red details.

Several things seems to have happened in this year:

1) Sale of the very last copies of the Pam-A, version 2, together with a newly printed Key. This Key has the title embossed on the front and spine, but no ourobos or gilded embossing. The date on the Key is 1920, printer is Butler & Tanner, Frome and London.

2) Publication of the Pam-D. The Pam-D was in all kinds of different boxes. Several copies however have been sold in the same box and with the same Key as the Pam-A. This Key has the title embossed on the front and spine, but no ourobos or gilded embossing. The date on the Key is 1920, printer is Butler & Tanner, Frome and London.
The Pam-D has the same line art as the Pam-A, but dotted printing. It is probably a attempt to use new photographic techniques for printing. The result is not very consistent. Colours bleed outside the lines the cards are not always correct aligned. The cards are also cut unevenly. The card stock is thinner from the Pam-A.

3) Publication of the Pam-C . The Pam-C is sold in a maroon two-part box with the Key or in a blue/green slipcase without the Key. The Key that accompanies this version has a greenish cover with the title on the spine. The date on the Key is 1920, printer is Chance&Bland ltd., Gloucester.
The Pam-C has new line art compared to the Pam-A and Pam-D. The card stock is a lot thinner and weights less. The box is also smaller. The Pam-C was sold from 1920 till 1928.

Problem: both the Pam-D and Pam-C seem to be from the same time. Furthermore, the Pam-D seems to have been sold in many different boxes and without boxes all together. And a Pam-A also has been sold with the same Key as that came with the Pam-D.:confused:

Rider commissioned Butler&Tanner to print a new Key and new cards. The left-over Pam-A cards were sold with the new Key. Butler&Tanner used new photographic printing techniques to make a new version, since the plates of the Pam-A could not be used (line printing vs dotted printing). Result is the Pam-D, which has the same line art. However, the result was not what was desired. Some copies of this new printing were sold in a box with a Key, the others were sold off later in whatever boxes were left over or with just a sticker on one of the cards.
Meanwhile Rider commissioned Chance&Bland to make a new version. Since the Pam-D was a failure, Chance&Bland didn’t use the old plates, but had copyists make new plates, resulting in different line art and the Pam-C. Possibly this process took longer and even though the Key states 1920, it is possible that these Pam-C decks did not hit the market until one or two years later. The Keys however were already printed.

1920 – 1928

Sale of the Pam-D and the Pam-C.
A Pam-C copy has been found with Tax revenue stamps that date from somewhere between 1924-1928.


Name change from William Rider & Son ltd to Rider & Co


Chance & Bland ltd, Gloucester is sold to Northcliffe Newspapers ltd. The Pam-C is no longer printed by this company.


Publication of the Pam-B. Rider commissioned Fisher, Knight and Co, Ltd, Gainborough Press, St. Albans to print the Pam-B.
The Pam-B used the line art of the Pam-C, but erasing the little squiggly line on the Sun card. Cards are same thickness and weight. The Pam-B was sold in a maroon two-part box with the Key and in a green/blue slipcase without the Key. The Key has a grey/blue cover with the title in black on the spine.

Two versions of the Key have been found:
-2 copies with the date 1931 and the publisher William Rider & Son ltd
-All others state no date, but New Edition and the publisher to be Rider& Co.

Problem: Why was a Key to the Tarot published with the date 1931 and the name of the publisher William Rider & Son ltd after the company officially changed it’s name. :confused:


Sale of the Pam-B packs, printed by Fisher & Knight (part of Mayflower Press). A copy has been found with tax stamps from 1938

April 1941

Mayflower Press in Plymouth (who was printing for Rider&Co) was bombed, destroying the plates of the RWS.

I also again want to address the theory of Pietro Alligo about the B/C being the first deck printed. I posted an essay about this subject before, based on my opinions about his theories before. Although I really appreciate the work mr Alligo has done on this subject. It was a big surprise for me to find out that the Pam-C pre-dates the Pam-B. I always believed the squiggly line to have been added later. However, it seems it was later erased instead.
I have based this on the fact that the C has been sold in the 20’s and the B in the 30’s. Which would mean the C came first. This fact is also proof that they were printed first imo. If both the B and C were first printed and stored, and only later sold, then why did they sell only one edition at a time and not both at the same time. If these were rejected decks, would they really have stored them separately and first sold one, then the other. I find that hard to believe.
Also, there is actually more difference between the B and the C the just the squiggly line on the Sun card. The colour distribution and the colour tone on the C is much softer then on the B. Therefore they are at least from two different printruns.

I am open to any and all discussion on this subject. As well as more information. I am mostly concerned with trying to find out what happened. And since I have had help of several people on the forum and there is an interest in the subject, I thought I would share what my conclusions are so far on this subject. I would love to hear the ideas people have on the problems I have encountered with this timeline.

Lasty, I want to mention who I work with on my project and whose information and opinions are invaluable to me. Because they also deserve credit. First of all of course K. Frank Jensen, on whose work I am building and who has generously shared his information with me. I cannot say for sure that Frank agrees with my timeline.
Others who have given me more then a bit of help are Roppo, Kenji, Kimber and Dusty White, with whom I have had many wonderful discussions on this subject. I hope one day we can unearth the truth on this subject. And of course many thanks to all the contributors to my project for sharing the information on their decks.


Great work!
Thanks a lot for this :)

Best regards


Thanks from me too.
All very interesting indeed. But can you tell us more about the tax stamps please. I've not heard about these before in relation to any deck that came from the UK. How come only some copies have them?


Thank you, Coredil and Sumada. Now nothing is set in stone yet. There are still questions, as you can see. And who knows what else will come to the surface. But this is what I have found out from all the information I have right now.

Sumada, you asked about the tax stamps. I never really thought about them much. Until I started this. I have a Pam-B and a Pam-C with tax revenue stamps on the boxes.

This is what the website about the tax stamps says:
The U.S.A. did not use stamps on a card, but adhesive stamps on the package, the 'Internal Revenue Stamps'. At some times there were different stamps used concurrently. Also revenue stamps not explicitly meant for playing-cards were used for them (and vice versa).The value needed depended on the price of the cards. The stamp was hand-cancelled or stamp-cancelled.

There are two 10 cent on my Pam-C box that were issued between 1924 and 1929. Interestingly, I don't see any sign of hand-written of stamp cancellation on them.

On the box of my Pam-B there are two stamps that were issued from 1929 to 1940. They were cancelled in 1938.

The website with more information can be found here:

I would love to know if anyone else has found such stamps on their boxes of the Pam decks they own. I have asked, but so far, nobody has found those. Quite a coincidence that I have two with them. Maybe some did originally have them, but they were removed.