Compiled by Lyn Howarth-Olds (New Zealand)
Friend and honoured to be assisting in the management of the K. Frank Jensen Collection
It is with great sadness that the Tarot world said goodbye this week to a wonderfully unique human-being, K. Frank Jensen (Denmark). He was 83.
Frank’s interest in Tarot began in the early ’70s. He was not a Tarot Reader. But, among other things, he was a Tarot collector, Tarot author, Tarot researcher and archivist.
In 1975 he established Spilkammeret (literally ‘The Chamber of Games’). Spilkammeret‘s purpose was to collect, preserve, register and document divinatory and symbolic systems (mainly tarot and cartomancy decks) manufactured and used during the 20th century. At the turn of the Millennium the aim was fulfilled and his collection contained approximately 95% of all tarot and cartomantic decks published during the 20th century along with a number of earlier decks. The collection was unique inasmuch as it was considered the most complete in existence.
It was to my great delight that Frank took time in 2011 to contribute to my Letters to the Past Tarot Project. Letters to the Past was an international collaboration featuring 22 well known tarot contemporaries. Each contributor wrote a letter to an historical figure posing a tarot related question. Every letter – completely unique – provided fascinating insight into the world of tarot, its past, its present and its future. Frank’s contribution was a letter penned to Monseigneur Antoine Court de Gébelin. The final paragraph of this letter reads as follows:
Mon Cher Monsieur Gébelin, life is short and death lasts so long. We leave traces of whom we were; we sort of exist, as long as we are remembered. It is, however, only the very few who can leave an imprint that lasts over centuries. You did, but not by your linguistic studies nor by your studies of ancient myths. You lived on through your intuitive and unsubstantiated contention in volume 8 of Monde Primitif, that a deck of 78 playing cards was a secret book by the Egyptian god, Thoth. You would be amazed to see what the seed you sowed, 225 years later, has developed into. It’s likely that you would also be shocked to learn that tarot is no longer solely an esoteric system, but has become mass media, a vehicle for dreams and frustrations, and an industry run by commercial interests.
Fortunately for us all, Frank has also left ‘an imprint’. Something he will be remembered by. He too has ‘sown seeds’.
On December 21, 2012, Frank signed an agreement to generously donate his very large – one-of-a-kind – collection to the Roskilde University Library, Denmark. Much of the collection is already in the hands of the Library. The remaining items that were still in Frank’s possession will be transferred in the coming weeks/months.
It was Frank’s desire that his collection remained whole. Completely intact. In his view, ‘the real value of a collection is its degree of completeness’. Interested parties had contacted him over the years offering their services to act as custodians, care for the collection or to set up Trusts. But in the end Frank was adamant that his collection of around 1500 tarot decks, 600 cartomancy/fortune telling decks, along with some 3000 books and his archive of correspondence, should be kept together in an official institution.
And so it is. Roskilde University Library, only a short distance from where Spilkammeret was originally housed, will care for the K. Frank Jensen Collection. The Collection will not be broken-up, sold, or squirrelled away behind closed doors in private collections. It will forever remain accesible to researchers and interested parties. The K. Frank Jensen Collection is managed by a Board of Directors.
So in closing I will add, Frank Jensen, you too will be ‘one of the few who have left an imprint that lasts over centuries’, and for that we are truly grateful.
Links to further information about the KFJ Collection:
Lyn interviewed Frank Jensen in 2011 for the New Zealand-based tarot-Art. You may read the pdf here:
K. Frank Jensen’s contribution to these Newsletters – aside from numerous private communications – includes a celebration marking the centenary of the Waite-Smith Tarot Deck:
[He was also instrumental in honouring Pamela Colman-Smith in the deck’s title (previously missing). His book The Story of the Waite-Smith Tarot, established itself as a key reference for the deck on its publication in 2006. His contribution to another international collaborative effort saw him contribute an early photographic self-portrait with his sister standing in naked innocence for the hexagonal Honeycomb Tarot – JMD]