The Pictorial Key to the Tarot - House of White Tarot Museum & Research Library
page-template-default,page,page-id-21217,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,select-theme-ver-3.0,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.12.1,vc_responsive

This is a republication of the 1910 Key to the Tarot (a.k.a. KtT), only “now with pictures!” The wording is the same but the pagination changes to make room for the images, which are unshaded black and white “line only” ink illustrations with borders of Pam’s art. Our working theory is that the The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (PKT or PKtT) was originally released in November 1910 with a pub date of April 1911. Here is the basis of that theory:


  1. I have a copy dated November 1910.
  2. Koretaka Eguchi has a copy with an advertisement included dated April (1911) and has a listing of books “ready in May,” that were released in May 1911. His copy has 48 extra pages of advertisements from William Rider & Son, Ltd.
  3. The November 1910 Occult Review (OR) stating the PKtT would be “ready early in November.”
  4. The 1922 (2nd) edition of the PKtT states that it was first published in 1910 and again in 1922.
  5. The 1972 edition of the PKtT states that it was first published in 1910.


So I guess we can ignore the 1911 publication date printed on the title page of the first edition. At the moment this seems to be solid enough to go on without jumping to unfounded conclusions, but if we are corrected in the future (by the ghost of A.E. Waite for example) I will make sure this information changes.


Now, as to the book format, the 1910/1911 versions are bound in orange cloth with a vertical grain while later editions change to a horizontal grain and later a strange effect you just have to see for yourself and decide what it means. This is one easy way of instantly telling the approximate year of publication just by looking at the cover. The first versions had gold debossed front cover and spine text, and also a gold ouroborous. At some point before the 1922 “second edition” the ouroborous was removed. This may coincide with the later printings of the unillustrated Key to the Tarot, as they were most likely printed at the same bindery (circa 1920). The die, or art, for the snakey may have been created by the first printer and not transferred to the new printer. The previous sentence was speculation, but we do know the various printers who printed the various Keys and Pictorial Keys, so this may have been a cost saving measure.


Still later print runs (still with the “second edition” 1922 copyright) used black ink on the cover instead of gold ink. These are undated but would most likely have been printed during WWII when there were shortages of all kinds. The last year Rider believes the original books were printed was 1939, so the black ink specimens that exist work well with that timeline. The dates on all Keys simply refers to the origin date of that particular version. No cards or Keys were marked by Rider for copyright until 1971. It will take a LOT of research, but British and American law point to these having been public domain for quite some time. When you count up the number of individuals and companies who have printed and published (for sale to the public) The Key to the Tarot, it is a commonly accepted fact; but don’t take our word for it. Ask your legal professional (this is good advice for anything to do with the tarot). For a complete list of credited and known printers of the tarot that Rider worked with please see this page. In the meantime, here’s is a partial list of who published The Key to the Tarot over the years (just below the galleries of PKtT images). Certainly many more will come along. Also, you can find the PDF version of the Key to the Tarot online in numerous places.

Note: The phrase “key to the tarot,” which Waite used as the title for his book came from a book he worked on while writing his book: The Tarot of the Bohemians: Absolute Key to Occult Science, which William Rider & Son, Ltd. published a month before The Key to the Tarot. The first section of The Tarot of the Bohemians was labeled “Part 1. General Key To The Tarot, Giving The Absolute Key To Occult Science.” This book is light years beyond The Key to the Tarot in profound thought and any attempt to impart “secret doctrines of ancient orders.” For everything that Papus got wrong (e.g. the tarot came from Egypt) he invests his entire intellectual prowess in helping the reader understand and master the magic he believed inherent in the cards at his disposal.

Please click on the image to see it full-sized, or on the arrows to scroll through the various pictures. 


The publication of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot made a bold statement that The Tarot of the Bohemians never accomplished. While that book does claim credit for the first public appearance of Pam’s tarot art (on its cover) and The Tarot by Mathers (written twenty years earlier) reveals many of Waite’s subsequent ideas on the tarot, it is this book that set in stone the non-European viewpoints of the tarot, as used for divination. Expanding on the work set down in The Key to the Tarot just one year earlier, Art chose to include Pixie’s images close to their full size and also to include written descriptions of what the reader was seeing in the line art.


In short: Waite gave us “proof” of what the tarot was, what it looked like, how it was to be used, and what we should believe when looking at the images in the book. Such gall would be blasphemous had it not completely obliterated the European tarot from American (and many British) minds over the following decades. For all of its pomp and pomposity, this book is “the king;” and the king has been up for grabs almost since its inception, when L. W. de Laurence printed and copyrighted his own version in 1916, just five years after William Rider & Son, Ltd. published it in 1911.


Hail to the King, baby!

Please click on the image to see it full-sized, or on the arrows to scroll through the various pictures.  

The 1922 PKtT is distinguishable by the lack of ouroborous (snakey) on the cover, but there is at least one pre-“second edition” copy that has only the title and author name blind-stamped (deboss with no ink) into the cover. You can see it at the top of the page in fact. The problem with dating these is the lack of any records thanks to the war and the lack of any convention at the time to state the print run. This brings us to the problem of “1922 editions” with gold ink or black ink with different orange cloth bindings.


While it is almost certain that the PKtTs with screen printed black ink were published later than the gold gilt stamped PKtTs most sellers and collectors will simply refer to all of these as “1922 editions.” If you are in the market for a 1922 PKtT insist on seeing images of the cover and insides before you spend $100-$300 on a copy that has heavy foxing and black print.

The first edition of University Books, Inc.’s edition of the Pictorial Key to the Tarot came with a few surprises. University Books had an already impressive catalog of metaphysical instructional books when they published Waite’s seminal work on the tarot, so along with this book you could get either a thin brochure (pictured here) or an eight-page catalog of their current offerings. Because of their transient nature, few of these brochures or catalogs survive to this day. The back of the U. B. PKtT dust jacket listed some of the books they hoped you would be interested in, and we can see how that selection changed in the various editions. This makes dating them quick and easy.

Please click on the image to see it full-sized, or on the arrows to scroll through the various pictures. Or. . . Check out our collection of web-friendly scanned images of this deck here. 


This edition of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot is often referred to as the “1959 edition” (no such creature exists) because it includes an introduction written by Gertrude Moakley that was copyrighted in 1959.  The 1966 edition of this book cites May 1960 as the first printing of this book, which is the same month University Books, Inc. also published the first four-color Waite-Smith tarot deck in the United States. All of this was 9 years ahead of Frankie Albano, and 12 years before Stuart Kaplan. The text and art they used was under the public domain, so the only thing they claimed copyright over was the “new material.”


The enormous contribution to the Waite-Smith legacy by University Books, Inc. is so important that it merits a page dedicated to University Books, and their books, decks, and catalogs related to this deck. That page, with greatly expanded information can be found here. To the left are a selection of what we hope you will find interesting shots of their four editions of the PKtT.  For the record, they list only three printings. I have found four; make of it what you will.

Please click on the image to see it full-sized, or on the arrows to scroll through the various pictures. Or. . . Check out our collection of web-friendly scanned images of this deck here. 

1971 KtT infor goes here

Please click on the image to see it full-sized, or on the arrows to scroll through the various pictures. Or. . . Check out our collection of web-friendly scanned images of this deck here. 

1972 KtT info goes here

Who published the Pictorial Key to the tarot?

Below is a partial list of all of the companies and individuals that published either The Key to the Tarot or The Pictorial Key to the Tarot and does not fully account for European, Asian, Russian, and South American publications of this work, nor publications in foreign languages. Also, several companies published it in various formats and reprinted it dozens of times. Furthermore, so many publishers have been bought and sold that it is increasingly hard to track down which major publisher owns the company who publishes, or published, this work. What is funny is how many individuals are trying to claim copyright ownership on what is in this book. If any copyright did exist on this work (its words and illustrations) it would easily qualify as the most pirated book in history. I had to stop researching various publishers about an hour after my eyes started bleeding.


Please note: any ellipse below ( . . . ) indicates that our research indicates these companies still publish this book.


  • William Rider & Son, Ltd. (1910, 1920*)
  • Rider & Co. (1922, 1931, 1939, 1971, 1972 . . .)
  • de Laurence & Scott Company (1916: claims copyright 1916, copyright 1918, republished 1920’s through the 1960’s)
  • HarperCollins (1986)
  • Penguin Random House (RHUK bought Rider & Co.)
  • Unicorn Books (1971)
  • University Books, Inc. (1960: claims copyright 1959, 1962, 1966, copyright 1987)
  • Causeway Books (1973 through 2000 – reprint of University Books, Inc.’s 1959 first edition )
  • Samuel Weiser (or) Red Wheel/Weiser (1971 through 2008)
  • Rudolph Steiner Publications (1971: claims copyright 1971)
  • Harper & Row, Publishers (1980 – “reprint of the 1971 ed. by Steiner Publications”)
  • Citadel Press (1979 through 1995, also see University books)
  • Waakirchen: Urania-Verlag (1978)
  • U.S. Games Systems (1977 . . .)
  • Barnes & Noble (1978 . . .)
  • Dover Books (2005 – “from the 1911 version”)
  • Axiom Publishing (2007)
  • Createspace publisher #1 (2008)
  • Createspace publisher #2 (2009)
  • Createspace publisher #3 (2010)
  • Createspace publisher #4 (2013)
  • Createspace publisher #5 (2015)
  • Paragon (1993)
  • Martino Fine Books (2012 – reprint of University Books, Inc.’s 1959 first edition)
  • Lyle Stuart (1989 see Citadel Press, also Carol Publishing)
  • Multimedia Publishing (1971, 1975)
  • C Trade Paper (1989 – possibly Carol Publishing)
  • Galahad Books (2000)
  • Garber Communications (1986)
  • David Westnedge, Ltd. (1996 through 2003)
  • Blauvelt (1976)
  • Cosimo Classics (2007)
  • Dodo Press (2008)
  • Kessinger Publishing, LLC (2003)
  • Read Books (2013)
  • France Press (2013)
  • Literary Licensing, LLC (2014)
  • Budge Press (2013)
  • Forgotten Books (2008)
  • Jazzybee Verlag (2013)
  • Didactic Press (2013)
  • Sun Publishing Co (1981)
  • Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (2010)


(*No known copyright filed)