by Jean-Michel David
I must admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect. One can see images on Kat Black’s site, or indeed on various other sites which have used one or more of her designs… but the difference which always arises between the light pixelled electronic version and the printed version can be so vast as to make one wonder how the two can be so different. In this case, it also is – Quite a nice deck!
Golden Tarot has had quite a journey in its making, and some of it appears like the excuses one may hear from far-fetched stories, rather than the reality of the travails of its birth.
A number of years ago, Kat Black decided to make herself a deck by electronically ‘collaging’ images from Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe. That deck developed as a labour of both beauty and love, for her own usage. Sensibly – at least in my personal view – Kat opted for the more traditional numbering in the Major Arcana, with Justice as eight, and Strength as eleven.
By this time two years ago, it was basically and unscrupulously pirated from her site by a German calendar/diary maker and published without her approval – or even knowledge at the time. Those pirated cards were of the Major Arcana only, and each card measures approximately four by seven centimetres, with ‘TAROT-Kalender 2002′ prominantly printed on each of the card’s lower portion and reverse, reminding us of www.realis.de’s illegitimate claims.
Then, one night, Kat Black woke to the ringing of her phone. I have since been puzzled as to what may have motivated Stuart Kaplan to ring at a time he could not have failed to know would have been a Western Australian’s dreamtime. Perhaps it was a very astute strategy rather than carelessness. In any case, the CEO of the world’s largest Tarot deck distributor, and publisher of the three volume (soon to be four [the fourth volume was released in late 2005]) Encyclopedia of Tarot made a contractual offer. Not only would Kat have her deck published and broadly distributed, but, of course, it would be legally protected. Amongst many other qualities, the American sense for legalities is altogether well known in other parts of the world.
In the meantime, of course, various people had contacted Kat about the pirated copy, and Tarot Garden (whom I would recommend for this act alone) went so far as to generously ask her what they should do with copies of the deck they acquired prior to knowing of the piracy. In addition, it seems that there was also concerted effort by various people who had found her site and deck and thought it should be published to strive to get US Games to have a look at this wonderful rendition. A grass-roots call for publication of a masterfully re-mastered work of masters.
But what of the cards themselves? Already you have seen some of these here – undoubtedly even before reading these very words. What the images cannot do justice to, however, is the general feel and quality of the finished product. And for those who hold the printed version of the Newsletter, the black-&-white rendering makes the cards even further removed from their golden state.
The cards measure approximately seven by twelve centimetres, and are gilt gold along their edges. The images have both a radiance and na•ve beauty so wonderfully maintained from the chief masters from which Kat Black re-crafted the images: Simone Martini, Gozzoli, Giotto de Bondone, and, quite frankly, such a wide variety of artists that the delight in discovery – irrespective of the deck’s merit as Tarot – makes the deck a delight to behold.
The fabulous box in which the deck comes is a delight – and I am sure that here US Games has started a new phase in the care of box design. Already alternatives have appeared to what has rather become conventional packaging for Tarot decks and proving rather… how shall I put it, inconvenient (I’m trying to be polite!). With the box design in which the Golden
Tarot is presented, one wants to keep it – and use it! It is solid, well sized, and beautiful.
The deck itself, unfortunately, has been, in its re-working for US Games publication, altered in some ways I would personally have preferred left as was. Of especial alteration of note is its closer resemblance to imagery as depicted on the Waite/Colman Smith deck (published variously, but often referred to as the ‘Rider-Waite’).
The Major Arcana images have been modified from the earlier version Kat made for herself. As a result, some of the ‘rawness’ of the earlier collage has disappeared. In direction, however, the images have, rather than simply become better blended, become ever closer to those of the Waite/Colman Smith. Justice and Strength have also been re-numbered to fit this structure, and the minor arcana has been guided in numerous ways by the artwork of Pamela Colman Smith.
There are, of course, numerous exceptions. Death, for example, is depicted in image quite unlike either the skeletal reaper or the Horseman; the Hanged Man maintains, as per the Marseilles, the right leg folded; the Wheel of Fortune is a charming rendition which combines traditional imagery with traditional representations of age; the Hermit is on no mountain – or none that is obvious; and, wonderfully, the Magician has his left hand raised, and right lowered, as is more traditional.
As Kat Black described, she has used the Waite/Colman Smith for over twenty years, and intended the newer version of her deck to combine what she values in both the Waite/Colman Smith and the Visconti-Sforza
Some cards will be, for myself, more difficult to adjust to. For example, having the figure of the Star standing with two urns makes the imagery, out of context, seem virtually like a representation of Temperance – especially as even the ‘flooding’ stream or river is omitted; the Aces, with their absolutely stunning and wonderful representations by Angelic beings holding the single implement – be it Cup, Sword, Staff or Coin – gives, in some cases, the impression that here is the Page of the suit.
Of course, I write this as I look at individual cards, and without the benefit of having used them much. In no time at all, a user would quickly get to differentiate and get to recognise these for what they are.
The courts are, to my eyes, particularly beautiful, and wished I had the space to depict them all!
Let me return a while as to how I obtained the three copies I received – not all for myself, I must say!
When I heard, quite a while back, that Kat’s deck was being published, I asked Tarot Garden to put two sets aside, knowing that here was one I could give a friend with quite discerning tastes.
To say the decks took a while in coming is an understatement. Initially, I thought that with some to be expected delays in publication, the projected date of mid-2003 would still give me sufficient time to obtain one for his Virgoan birthday.
Of course, how could one know beforehand that delays upon delays would be expected (‘didn’t you do a reading’ I hear some say in cheek). At that early stage, even the name of the deck had not been decided, being left, unlike Kat personal effort, in the hands of US Games. To their credit, they maintained the title which surely serves it best. Not long after this, another pirated attempt was made – and as Kat says, they attempted to ‘flog [these] dodgy copies on eBay’.
… and not long after that, another.
The high seas seemed fuller of pirates than wealthy cargo holders!
In the meantime, US Games was busily trying to get the deck published. To save costs on a deck they wanted to nonetheless maintain at high quality, they used a printer in China, rather than the usual Belgium one… but from here, allow me to quote Kat herself as she explained it on Aeclectic www.tarotforum.net :
‘I didn’t know that my deck was being printed in China until my own copy (finally) arrived. Almost all of the US Games decks I have were printed in Belgium. I too suspected that the delays were at least partly because it’s being made in China rather than their usual arrangement with (some of the world’s best) printers in Belgium.
The quality is very good, though. And US Games told me that there is no way that they could have produced such a high quality deck AND a heavy-duty box AND a nearly-200-page mini-book for RRP of US$25 unless it was done in China.’
Great, many of us thought – and many ordered, or rather pre-ordered, on Amazon.com. But then, another incident occured: due to, possibly, delays in publication, pre-orders were cancelled (for some a second time!), and the deck removed from its stock list… One can imagine a not too happy cat, errr, Kat: ‘The really hair-tearing thing is that it’s happened sooo close to release (if US Games Ònext weekÓ is true)’, hair-tearing also for those who had pre-ordered at Amazon.com reduced price.
…and then, when finally all was supposedly about ready for distribution – - – - another delay! so why the final delays? After all, a major business and deck distributor would surely have been on top of all the details!
But here, I must leave the final words to Kat as she explained it in Aeclectic:
‘I just heard from US Games [...].
After all the other reasons that have added up to the deck being 6 months or so late, this has to be the most bizarre.
Lucky I’m not the paranoid type….
The shipment was unloaded from (The Slow Boat From) China on the East Coast, then was put on a train to get to US Games on the West Coast. In Vancouver, there was an avalanche and the train got derailed. So all the freight has to be sorted out and sent by road or whatever.
Hopefully that means it should all be sorted pretty soon. Unless they’re all covered in mud or something. So… if you ever DO manage to get hold of your copies from this first edition, you’ll know it’s already had a more exciting life than most of us’.
Luckily, I can claim to have received a number of copies of this first edition… only one of which will remain in my treasured collection.
I do not easily recommend a deck outside the more traditional ones – but this deck I heartily do so. Further, it will, I but strongly suspect, just grow and become ever more sensitised with ageing. Congratulations both Kat Black and US Games!
Golden Tarot, published by US Games, isbn 1-57281-434-9
> purchase Golden Tarot on Amazon
visit Kat Black’s Golden Tarot site