The Rider-Waite tarot deck, originally published in 1909, is widely considered the most popular tarot deck for tarot card reading. Other names for this deck include the Waite-Smith, Rider-Waite-Smith, or Rider tarot deck. The cards were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite and were originally published by the Rider Company. The deck has been published in numerous editions and inspired a wide array of variants and imitations. It is estimated that over 100 million copies of the deck have been published in more than 20 countries.
While the images are simple, the details and backgrounds feature abundant symbolism. Some imagery remains similar to that found in earlier decks, but overall the Waite-Smith card designs represent a substantial departure from their predecessors. The Christian imagery of previous decks was toned down; for instance, the "Pope" card became the "Hierophant" and the "Papess" became the "High Priestess". The Minor Arcana is illustrated with allegorical scenes by Smith, where earlier decks (with a few rare exceptions) had simple designs for the Minor Arcana.
The symbols and imagery used in the deck were influenced by the 19th-century magician and occultist Eliphas Levi, as well as by the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In order to accommodate the astrological correspondences taught by the Golden Dawn, Waite introduced several innovations to the deck. He switched the order of the Strength and Justice cards so that Strength corresponded with Leo and Justice corresponded with Libra. He also changed the Lovers card to depict two people instead of three in order to reinforce its correspondence with Gemini.
0 – The Fool
I – The Magician
II – The High Priestess
III – The Empress
IV – The Emperor
V – The Hierophant
VI – The Lovers
VII – The Chariot
VIII – Strength
IX – The Hermit
X – Wheel of Fortune
XI – Justice
XII – The Hanged Man
XIII – Death
XIV – Temperance
XV – The Devil
XVI – The Tower
XVII – The Star
XVIII – The Moon
XIX – The Sun
XX – Judgement
XXI – The World
The cards were first published in December, 1909, by the publisher William Rider & Son of London. The first print run was extremely limited and featured card backs with a roses and lilies pattern. A much larger run was printed in March, 1910, featuring higher quality card stock and a "cracked mud" card back design. This edition, often referred to as the "A" deck, was published from 1910 to 1920. Rider continued publishing the deck in various editions until 1939, then again from 1971 to 1977.
All of the Rider editions up to 1939 were available with a small guide written by A. E. Waite providing an overview of the traditions and history behind the cards, texts about interpretations, and extensive descriptions of their symbols. The first version of this guide was published in 1909 and was titled The Key to the Tarot. A year later, a revised version, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, was issued that featured black-and-white plates of all seventy-eight of Smith's cards.
In the United Kingdom, copyright in the artwork for the deck expired 70 years after the end of the year in which Waite died, i.e. after 31st December 2012. In countries with a 50 years posthumous terms (e.g. Australia, Canada, etc.) the copyright expired after 31st December 1992.
In the United States, the deck fell into the public domain in 1966 (publication + 28 years + renewed 28 years), and thus has been available for use by American artists in numerous different media projects. U.S. Games Systems has a copyright claim on their updated version of the deck published in 1971, but this only covers new material added to the pre-existing work (e.g. designs on the card backs and the box).
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- Decker, Ronald; Dummett, Michael (2019). A History of the Occult Tarot. London: Duckworth. pp. 139–141. ISBN 9780715645727.
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- "Ownership of copyright works - Detailed guidance". GOV.UK. 2014-08-19. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
- Learning materials related to A Psychological Interpretation of the Tarot at Wikiversity