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Deck Review: Smith-Waite Tarot Centennial Edition

My very first Tarot deck was a 1970’s printing of the classic Rider-Smith-Waite (RSW) deck that my father gifted to me sometime in 1990. Ever since then, the Smith-Waite deck has been my go-to deck. Other decks come and go, but I know that I can always work with an RSW.

While I love that old 1970’s copy, it is an atrocious edition. The colors were garish and just plain weird. The image quality is pretty poor. And although I haven’t tested it… I suspect the card-stock was not acid-free, as they are getting slightly crisp with the years. That copy is lovingly tucked into a white satin bag and only pulled out for very special personal readings and focus meditations.

In the early 2000’s I had purchased another copy of the RSW as my work-horse deck. The colors were so much better, more subdued. The printing was clearly more faithful to the original illustrations. But, since this deck was my work-horse deck… it became really, really… well, grimy. I mean, fanning that deck is like trying to fan peanut-butter crackers. (That deck is sitting in my library and awaiting experiments with various card cleansing and fanning powders.)

So, last year I bought my third copy of the RSW. This time I tried out the pocket-sized centennial edition. It now lives in its own velvet bag inside my purse. Let me break down why I think every Tarot enthusiast should have a copy of this deck:

  1. THEY ACTUALLY CALL IT THE SMITH-WAITE DECK!!! After a century of publishers and writers calling it either the Rider Deck or the Rider-Waite deck after the publisher and editor… they’re finally acknowledging the actual artist, Pamela “Pixie” Colman Smith. They have also included two bonus cards featuring non-tarot illustrations by Smith. I’ve chosen to go ahead and keep them in the deck for readings. The one on the left tends to come up as a combination of the Two of Cups and The Lovers. The one on the right I’ve affectionately dubbed The Single Mother’s card (applicable to any gender). I will definitely be writing more about Pixie in the future: badass queer witch of color working in the early 1900’s who set the standard for Tarot illustration. (swoon)

    2 bonus cards featuring Pixie’s non-Tarot art.
  2. IT’S POCKET SIZED!!! Unlike a “miniature” deck which is really only useful as a novelty or for very tiny people with really good eyesight… this deck’s cards are a comfortable 2.25″ x 3.75″. This means I have a deck that I can actually use, takes up less space in my purse and gear bags, and it’s actually possible to do a Wheel of the Year Spread on a normal sized table!

    Pocket-sized cards.
  3. IT’S AN IMPORTANT REFERENCE!!! Some people just don’t like the RSW deck. And that’s totally fine. But it IS historically important and so many of the decks that were published after 1909 and even now are based on this deck. For me, having an RSW deck in your library is like having a dictionary. You might not do readings with it, you might not even enjoy it per se, but it’s useful. If nothing else, when reading articles or books about the Tarot, it’s helpful to pull out the RSW deck so you can look at the symbolism at the same time.
    The Major Arcana 0-11.

    The Major Arcana 12-21.
  4. IT COMES IN A TIN!!!┬áTuck boxes can be a nightmare (just ask my youngest son as he watched three different adults truly struggle to unbox his Totoro playing cards this Yule.) So any deck that comes in a rigid box or tin is starting off on the right foot for me. The Little White Book (LWB) is decent and includes an interesting history of the deck written by Stuart R. Kaplan. As LWB’s go it’s not amazing, but it’s better than most. Since this has become my new work-horse deck, it lives in a silk scarf and velvet bag in my purse. The tin and LWB are shelved in my library.

    Tin box for the Smith-Waite deck.

The Smith-Waite pocket-sized Centennial Edition in a tin is available directly from US Game Systems Inc, Amazon, and more than likely your local book/magic shop.