Rider-Waite tarot deck

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The Rider-Waite tarot deck (originally published 1910) is one of the most popular tarot decks in use today in the English-speaking world.[1] Other suggested names for this deck include the Rider-Waite-Smith, Waite-Smith, Waite-Colman Smith or simply the Rider deck. The cards were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite, and published by the Rider Company.


While the images are simple, the details and backgrounds feature of 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.[how?] The Christian imagery of previous decks cards was toned down, for instance the "Pope" card became the "Hierophant", the "Papess" became the "High Priestess". The Minor Arcana are illustrated with images by Smith, where earlier decks had simpler designs for the Minor Arcana but aligning this deck with, for example, the Sola Busca Tarot. The symbols used were influenced by the 19th century magician and occultist Eliphas Levi.[original research?]


The cards were originally published in 1910 by the publisher William Rider & Son of London. The following year, a small guide by A.E. Waite entitled The Key to the Tarot was bundled with the cards, providing an overview of the traditions and history behind the cards, texts about interpretations, and extensive descriptions of their symbols. The year after that, a revised version, Pictorial Key to the Tarot, was issued that featured black-and-white plates of all seventy-eight of Smith's cards. Several later versions of the deck, such as the Universal Waite deck, copy the Smith line drawings with minor changes and added more coloring.

Copyright status[edit]

The copyright status of the deck is controversial.

United Kingdom[edit]

Some claim that the artwork on the deck will enter the public domain in the UK in 2012, seventy years after Waite’s death, because although Waite was not the artist, the artwork was done “for hire.” This makes Waite the author of the deck, and copyright in the U.K. runs until seventy years after the death of the author. However the artist was in fact Pamela Colman Smith and if she is acknowledged as such, the copyright protection runs to 2021 (seventy years after her death)[2]

United States[edit]

Although US Games publishes the only version authorized by Waite’s heirs and the Rider Company’s successors, there is some controversy over the rights. Some authors claim the deck is in the public domain in the United States, because works published in 1909 can only retain their U.S. copyrights until 1984, and subsequent U.S. laws extending copyright were not retroactive to cover works that old.

However US Games is firm in its belief that because the copyright on artwork in the U.S. runs until 70 years after the death of the artist, it is an infringement of copyright to use the images from the deck. In the past several years, this view has been upheld by the courts because they have successfully sued two large companies for copyright infringement.


The deck has been used in television programs and motion pictures.

Major Arcana[edit]

Minor Arcana[edit]






  1. ^ Visions and Prophecies. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1988.
  2. ^ "Ownership of copyright works - Detailed guidance". GOV.UK. 2014-08-19. Retrieved 2016-09-28. 

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