What RWS decks do you consider essential to your collection? (and other questions)


So I'm a new collector, venturing into the world of RWS.

I have so many questions, mostly because there are so many editions, publications, etc. of this deck.

The first is maybe the simplest: what RWS decks do you consider to be essential in any collection?

I'm also curious about the generic pre - publication RWS decks. I recently posted here about one such deck:


Then I stumbled upon another "generic" deck on Ebay today that is completely different (and much more appealing). Do you all collect these decks? How to tell them apart? Are any of them of any particular value? I own the Hoi Polloi and I thought that was the only one but apparently not.

I'm currently reading through the University Books editions thread and it is so overwhelming! Also reading up on Albano - Waite editions. Which is also overwhelming, but a little less so.

And how the heck do I get ahold of an early edition, like a Pam A,B,C? Is it even possible? Do they have a common name that I can search by online? Do they ever show up online? What about the "blue box" that I've heard mention of (which is different than Pam A, B, C)??

I'm sure I will have more questions... also feel free to direct me to existing threads. I'm trying to collect slowly and paying attention to must - have decks and ones I particularly like as opposed to whatever I happen to run across. I have to have some level of self - control, right?


I take it that you're looking for RWS only, the classic flatly coloured deck, and not any other variants such as re-colourings.

The answers depend on how much money you're willing to spend. Many of the few existing earliest RWS decks from the 1900s are in the hands of private collectors and battles for them are fierce if the decks are ever publicly auctioned, thousands of dollars. In essence, most people can't afford the genuine early edition decks because they are so old and are artifacts. Luckily, many decks had been recreated at affordable prices.

These days, the Blue Box Rider Waite is your most economical choice for an essential collection's "first deck." Put it into Ebay and you have an idea, the BB-RW comes up regularly. It's the earliest release of the 1971 deck by Rider & Co., not US Games. Looking for the World card image and the simple title "Tarot Cards."

The next is probably a 1971 US Games Rider-Waite Yellow Box, the classic box everyone thinks of. Finding these on Ebay isn't difficult provided you know what hallmarks to look for. Many sellers place 1971 in the titles, but the photos prove that the deck is a later 80s printing. I presume from your level of knowledge that you've already found how to distinguish them.

These two decks have to have the blue hatched tarotee back to be considered the classic RWS. Other backs are variant decks or RWS reprints that were released later.

Beware that some scammers may put newer decks in older boxes. I've seen a Blue Box ad that clearly contained newer cards with copyright info on them.

If you don't mind "modern" reprints to obtain styles, I suggest two other decks:

Original Rider-Waite - Preserves the blue & white Roses & Lilies back of an early 1910s copy. The drawing style has been traced as Pam C. Look for the word Original in the actual title of the deck on the box to be sure it's that one.

Smith-Waite Centennial - One of the best current reprints of Pam-A style. New Lily & signature back. Available standalone or in a box set. This is a good substitute deck if you can't find or can't afford a Blue Box and/or 1971 Yellow Box.

Obtain combinations of these four, and I think you have the most easily found and affordable variants of a RWS essential collection to build on. Finding others requires more work and heavier prices.


Indeed it can be confusing maze. Just start searching the old threads and read. There's a lot of good info, but be careful, not everything can be trusted. I know in the past I've posted things that I later learned were way off, and I've read things that I know simply aren't correct. So read all you can, a lot can be learned, and if you have a specific question you might get more responses than asking a lot of questions all at once. :)


There is a very intricate and mind-boggling amount of information and disinformation about the different Rider-Waite editions. I gave up years ago. Now I just use what I like and let others worry about it. This leaves time for more worthwhile pursuits. :D


Collecting the Waite-Smith essential editions is going to be very expensive. You could put a child through a year or two of an excellent college with what you will spend to acquire the rare and largely unobtainable gems; three years if those jewels must be pristine.

That kind of economic reality gives one pause. But you may have resources beyond my imagination. Then the hunt becomes the driving compulsion, overriding the need to possess.

There's a discussion to have with your existing decks.


My 2 cents worth....

Hi UrbanBramble. By the sounds of things, I'm only a few months further down the RWS collecting road than you.
Below is what I have settled on as my 'RWS Essentials List'.

Luckily for me, the deck that's been sitting in my bookshelf for the last 30years just waiting for me to appreciate it has been a Rider & Co Blue Box.
Seems like I inadvertently bought exactly the right deck all those decades ago because I've been scouring eBay relentlessly for the last two months and I haven't found a single one for up for sale. I fear you'll need a fair amount of good luck to find a Rider Blue Box these days.
(And we'll both keeping our eyes open, won't we?)

I agree with those who posted before me - other essentials are the early 70's US Games Yellow Box versions - without the © and 'US Games Inc' stamped on the cards. Look for the LittleWhiteBook with the Park Street address and if you start getting really enthusiastic, you'll also want the LWB with 38 East 32nd Street. I found both of mine on eBay over the last few of months - about $25 each.

Also essential, as far as I'm concerned:-
A University Books RWS - either the earliest in the Red slip box (I paid $90) and then probably a yellow box version (early zipcode 1104 for $45)
And lastly an original 1968 Albano-Waite (I paid $40 last night. Hooray!) And you already have Hoi Polloi.

These are 2014 prices - as the internet never forgets, it will be interesting to see how these prices change over time....
Sure, you could opt to pay big $$ and purchase all of these immediately from an 'eBay Tarot Store' - but searching for these decks is part of the fun, to my way of thinking. And there are most definitely bargains out there waiting to be found.

As Aeric hints, 'The Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Set' is a must have.
BookDepository is your friend here. I can't think of a better way to spend $33.
For me, owning this deck is a way of honoring the 'real thing'.
And this photographic version is the closest that most of us Normals will ever get to a Pam D...

I openly admit to having made serious mistakes along the way too. I've gathered the Universal Waite, the Radiant Rider-Waite and a Belgium printing of the 1993 "Original Rider Waite" around me. Uuugggghhhh.
(My apologies to all the Aeclecticians who love those decks - I just felt your heckles rise!)
Maybe I'll learn to love them one day, too. (Nope. That'll never happen.;))
Probably everybody ends up with a few decks that they end up looking back on, wondering "What on earth was I thinking...?"
In the greater scheme of things, maybe spending $30 to learn that you don't like something is a cheap lesson.

So it is a long - but hopefully helpful - post from me.
I think that for around $300 you could have yourself the makings of a sensational RWS collection.

Now Go! Purchase! :D

And when you think it might be getting out of control, go here:-

I'd be very interested to hear from other more experienced collectors, too.
What have I missed?
Are the 1960 & 1980 deLaurence's or the Morgan-Greer considered essential?


Are the 1960 & 1980 deLaurence's or the Morgan-Greer considered essential?
Not to throw you into a Completionist frenzy or anything ;), but you do know there are three copies of the deLaurence (red, orange and yellow) and if you're going to get one, you have to get all three. And the yellow seems to be the hardest to find, or at least that was the case a few years ago when I finally got mine.

For a collector, I think they're essential because they're a blatant rip-off of the RWS from a time before copyright protection. Mr. deLaurence also ripped off the Pictorial Key, publishing it under his name. So if you're going to get all the decks, you might as well get the books too. Completionism is a very slippery slope. :p



The Rider deLuxe Tarot with golden edges is a must have in your collection, believe me!!!!!


Not to throw you into a Completionist frenzy or anything ;), but..

But..too late !
But...I don't even like the deLaurences.
But.... I suppose that is beside the point....

I wholeheartedly agree about the allure of the "blatant rip-off of the RWS from a time before copyright protection".
For me, that's precisely what appeals about the University Books RWS.
(What rascally rebels we are :cool2: )

But now you're extending The Essentials to include different versions of TPK ???
RWC, you are one wicked man. })


There is so much to respond to. This is *so* helpful.

I do not have a small fortune to spend on decks... and I figured that the early editions are out of my reach, but also figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. My collection will have to build slowly over time and won't include the more expensive ones. In general I try not to spend over $50-75 on any individual deck, with the exception of my Greenwood.

I've been looking unsuccessfully for a blue box and will continue to look. I do know how to date the yellow box RWS by looking at the publishing house and address. One slipped out of my hands on Ebay last week because I wasn't keeping a close enough eye on it. I didn't know about looking for the copyright stamped on the actual cards... a cheap trick, swapping out cards and boxes. I always wondered if people did that. I was bidding on a deck recently and there were no pictures of the cards themselves. I thought the seller was being shady but she did post them upon request and it was the right edition, she just didn't know what she was doing.

Purely visually (at least looking online) and without regard to collectibility my favorites are the Smith - Waite Centennial followed by the Albano - Waite. I got a copy of the Universal Waite for like 50 cents from a yard sale when I first started reading tarot and it just turned me off to the whole RWS style for so long, I didn't realize how beautiful the original artwork actually was until I got serious about tarot and had begun to see a lot of decks.

Really I'm getting hooked by the process of scouring ebay for older editions that others have overlooked. All the info about which boxes etc. are worthwhile is awesome.

I am also fascinated by pre - copyright RWS "ripoffs". With the Hoi Polloi it's because it was printed intentionally right before it was copyrighted and they had the ovaries to literally name it the people's tarot.

I think that's as far as I go away from the original, though. I wouldn't include the Morgan Greer because it's not the same artwork. Plus if you start including the Morgan Greer you have to go on to include the Aquarian, and then where do you stop?

Never heard of the DeLaurence's. Going to look them up tonight. :)