K. Frank Jenson - The Story of the Waite-Smith Tarot


I picked up my copy of The Story of the Waite-Smith Tarot at Tarot Cafe here in Melbourne on Saturday. I powered through it and finished reading it Sunday evening.

Even if you are not a Waite-Smith fan, it is so readable and so worth getting a hold of. AND ... drum roll ... it has a Foreword by our very own jmd.

I learnt much that I hadn't previously known, not just about the main figures, but their history with the Golden Dawn, information on the changes made in sequence - Justice-Strength, the placement of the Fool, the ideas behind their version of the Sun and the Lovers; some 'facts' which turn out to be myths ... the printing processes; comparisons of the various versions; the decks that have followed (or just plain stolen) the pattern. There are heaps of great photos as well.

K. Frank Jensen writes in an easy style and obviously is passionate and highly knowledgeable about his subject. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Go on ... get a copy ... I dare you :)



Thank you for this review, mythos.

This is a book that I'm considering getting and it helps to read different opinions. The WS deck is certainly significant, so shedding more light on it is a worthwhile endeavor.


Jensen knows his stuff - understatement of the millennium ;). He DID run Manteia.... (And I have chatted to him by e-mail about other things; he certainly DOES know his stuff !)


Another batch of books is being sent tomorrow, so other people should soon be able to add a comment as well... but let me add mine too, with a small note beforehand.

Firstly, to be clear about my role in this: I do not make any money of any kind from it. I hold two hats for the Association for Tarot Studies (ATS), one of which is Publications. Engagements so far has been quite time consuming that I do outside of my full-time work, and to the benefit of the ATS.

With publications (so far, pamphlets for the 2005 Int. Conference, two books, DVDs, Journal, and Major Tom's deck - as well as the monthly Newsletter and major input into the websites), if the ATS decides to go ahead with my recommendation, and funds are insufficient, we also have to decide whether to wait, or put in our own funds loaned to the ATS. This latter is the case for this book.

When I first heard that Frank Jensen's book was not going to be published by a major publisher, I was quite frankly very surprised, and discussed the prospect with ATS Committee members and with Frank Jensen. In my view, this is a book that should have been picked up by a major publisher and distributor. On the other hand, the result is that the editing has been so minute that Frank Jensen's peculiar writing style had been maintained - a bonus in my view.

The whole design, including the shape and size of the book, is at Frank's suggested preference - down to the preferred font! Where we had some major publishing problems included initial major losses of resolution of images (that were fixed prior to the final printing) and major pagination problems (that were also resolved prior to printing).

The book itself is a delight to read. Does it contain some errors? Undoubtedly. As 'editor', I fixed those I picked up, and Frank also sent me various corrections during the final weeks. There are undoubted corrections that remain to be made that a professional editor would perhaps have seen.

The work, however, is clearly to be seen as an instalment (a very important instalment) of a work in progress. One of the major items to still be located are the original paintings by Pamela Colman Smith, or even the original plates used by Rider in the deck's first or even early print runs.

The Story - and narrative story it is - gives a very good overview and idea of both the key players behind the deck: Arthur Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. It also gives a wonderful sense for the delightful precision of Pamela's hand in expressions and details on the earliest printed deck - something that appears to have been quickly lowered in quality in subsequent renditions (details from early decks shows, at least to my eyes, this).

There are not many books that focus on this deck that I would personally buy, but this is one of them!


As a number of people have now received and read the book, I thought I would remind those who so feel like it to add their thoughts...

I suppose that I am curious as to what others do think.

As I now look at the book with non-participatory eyes, it remains a book I would personally not only purchase, but recomment. Some of the editorial errors (a few) that I see I personally find a little annoying (though I am perhaps here still too close and involved), but on the whole, a book that has a style and content that is informative and has its own peculiar cadence.

The thread The Sun's 'extra' ray - a suggested explanation arises as an example of some considerations arising from reading Jensen's text. I had been aware of some of the 'problems' with this drawing for some time, and of Holly Voley's highlighting it as an 'Oh Shit!' line.

Only Jensen's book allowed for various bits of information to be brought together in a way that other considerations are easily considered. This, of course, is merely one example.

I personally consider that the book is well worth the read!


I just got mine this evening, and am still reading the section on Waite. But of course I couldn't resist skimming ahead to the pretty pictures. Having just received the orange de Laurence I won from K. Frank Jensen on eBay, I looked and found MY Fool! In a book! Don't I feel famous :D

I will post more thoughts - and serious ones - when I have read a little more. But so far it looks like a very well-researched and well-told story, and a very well-constructed book.


I just purchased this book and am enjoying reading it very much. I like how it is presented.

I am only about have way through part 2. I loved the biographies. I find myself wishing I could see more of Pamela's art work. It also makes me wonder what colors she would have chose for her deck if she had the choice.

The section about the Golden Dawn was a little hard to follow with all the societies and unusual names that people took.

I am really absorbed. It has been a while since a Tarot book has absorbed me so much.


Well, I finished reading this book. Could not put it down really. So much valuable information. It really helps me see the RWS deck in a whole new light.

The most worthwhile section for me was the section with the drawings from the Pictorial Key to the Tarot. I only wish they were bigger so that I could see all the details. Could we? is there anyplace on line maybe that we could view them in a larger size?

The biographies for Pamela Coleman Smith and Arthur Waite were very interesting, especially Pamela. I do wish there were more information on Mr Waite. I find myself longing to see more of Pamela Coleman Smith's artwork. What I wouldn't give to have been able to view one of her story telling shows! Her apartment with all it's colors. So sad there is not more on these two people. Like Mr Jensen I can always hope that one day the originals will appear.

I am very grateful to Mr Jensen for pointing out the significant differences between the different versions that Rider put out in the earlier part of the century. I want to see only Miss Smith's work and I found myself very unhappy with the haphazard job that were done tracing the reprints.

Although the section on the Golden Dawn was very important to understand, I must say that is was rather difficult to follow. I am happy that Mr Jensen did the research for us. The details would only confuse me if I had done it myself.

There were some things that I could have done without in this book. I really don't think I needed the lessons on copyright laws for one thing. It was hard not to feel that I was being drawn into a personal feud. One between the author and US Games or perhaps Stuart Kaplen himself. Perhaps Mr Jensen could have called Mr Kaplen a greedy liar right off the bat and spared us the jibs and jabs throughout the book that discredit him. As much as I don't like being drawn into other people's feuds, I must say that I admire Frank Jensen's dedication to the original author and artist and now will not look at a US Games version of this deck the same again. I am thankful that I was exposed to the truth.

There is also part four where Mr Jensen discredits all of the clones or remakes as he calls them. Did I really need to hear all this? No, just more of him showing his disdain for decks that took from the RWS deck and made their own changes. He does not hide his dislike for them and I wonder if this section was added just so he could vent his abhorrence for anything other than Pam-A.

Speaking of Pam-A, I would treasure this if a true facsimile were to come out and have to concede that if it were not for the information in this book I would have taken for granted that my Universal Rider Waite was a true replica. Although I disagree with Mr Jensen's opinion that replicas, recolorations, or inspired decks based on Ms Coleman's art are inferior and worthless, I do value authenticity. I love some of the 'remakes' as he calls them, that have been published. I own a number of the ones that are listed in the book and find them enriching. Enriching with the understanding that we always must come back to the original. That when we disregard the true original, than the original meanings become distorted. We must keep the original as our basis for understanding.

With that said I will go back to my original wish for a larger version of the prints from the Pictorial Key to the Tarot where we can study Ms Coleman's original line drawings. The more distinct details in her drawings add so much to the meanings we can glean from the images and if you have read this book you will know what I mean. Just look at the expression on the woman's face in the Lover's card in each of the versions and we can see that none of them look the same as Pam A. Something was truly lost.

My sincerest thanks to Mr Jensen for all his research and hard work and to the ATS for making this must have book available to all of us. I will treasure it as part of my library.


Thank you, Mimers! I share your opinion of Mr. Jensen's personal feelings and the way they crept into the book. Thank you for expressing it more tactfully than I could have :)

But I did also very much enjoy the book. As for the differences in the cards, some close-up shots of the Sun can be seen too on Holly Voley's website.


Mimers said:
I do wish there were more information on Mr Waite.
If it is more information on Waite you are after, he wrote an autobiography called, Shadows of Life and Thought. I have been thinking about trying to track one down, but it will probably be filled with archaic words and phrases that make reading Waite so difficult. So I'm still thinking on this one. But if a person didn't mind spending a lot of time looking up words and working their way through it, it probably holds a lot of interesting information on the ol' boy.