Found on eBay: A vintage Rider-Waite-Smith tarot, “Pam B”

On Sunday night, I got lucky. Really lucky.

I’d been wanting to replace my Rider-Waite-Smith for months – I gave mine away back in Texas, to someone who just seemed to really need it. They’re not expensive, easily buyable from most tarot shops.

Initially, I’d been looking at 70s decks. I wanted something second-hand, and preferred the design on the card backs, a sort of tartan-ish pattern. I missed out on a couple of nice old decks – the ones I liked come in a blue box showing The World and are dated 1971, the last UK Rider & Co printing before US Games took over in 1972.

Sitting down on Sunday night, I spotted an new entry. It was lovely, in a small red box, with a little hardback book, AE Waite’s The Key to the Tarot – interestingly not The Pictoral Key, as you usually see. It was old, it was affordable. I’d had enough of waiting for a deck, so I made the seller an offer, she accepted, and click-click-click, the deal was done.

It arrived this morning, and…well…it’s a special deck.

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Firstly, it’s so wonderful to have un-laminated cards. They are soft and smooth in my hands, they feel barely used – the condition is perfect – but they’re old, and have that mysterious, special feeling that comes with antique books. They make me want to handle them with great care (and anyone who’s seen me give a tarot reading knows I’m not the ‘reverential’ type.)

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Secondly, the card backs. No garish design here – these cards show a crackled design, like broken eggshell. It’s just ever-so slightly different on each card – but not enough that you’d be able to spot the difference.

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Then there’s the print quality. Tilting the cards, you can see the slight sheen where the black ink is applied. Shading for the pale skin-tones in this deck has been achieved with tiny dots. Colours are gorgeously muted, except for the powerful, strong yellows and deep, rusty reds. And the blue, of the sea, of the High Priestess’ shawl, of the Eight of Cups’ horizon, is just the most beautiful shade.

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These colours don’t differ greatly from the modern deck you’d buy today, but they have a different kind of depth and radiance. It’s the kind of quality you feel when you look through old children’s books – the relationship between paper and ink feels…more harmonious, less mass-produced.

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It’s what’s known as a ‘Pamela-B’ or ‘Pam-B’ deck – printed some time between 1932 and 1940. The key tell-tale sign is the missing squiggle on the Sun card (all other Rider editions have this squiggle) and the lack of a date inside the book. More information about the four Rider editions here. And, it turns out, it’s worth a fair bit of money.

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So there’s a dilemma! Do I sell it on and make a tidy profit? My boat needs a bathroom and I’d love to invest some more cash into my shop. Or do I enjoy the fact that I’ve happened upon something special – a tarot deck that feels good in my hands, a little piece of history, a beautiful version of the deck I love the most?

I’m thinking the latter… (of course!) I’ll be using it for my client readings this week, and I’ll interview the deck later this week. I can’t wait to get to know it properly.


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  1. Elisabeth says:

    Awesome! Nice find!
    I just got around to sending you the one I told you I would, like, forever ago if that helps your decision. 🙂

    • Beth says:

      Oooh lovely, thank you! At least then I’ll have a RWS I can carry around with me without fear of it getting bumped around too much in my bag 🙂

  2. raevynwoods says:

    I would definately hold it. I never really connect with the Rider-Waite-Smith-deck, but this version is truly gorgeous. I’d love to just hold them and shuffle through the cards, feel them in my hands and sniff up the old-book smell. Even in the pictures you can feel the history of those cards.
    Definately a keeper.

    And if you don’t connect with them, you can always sell them later on…

    • Beth says:

      Agreed. I was never really considering passing them on, it’s just the kind of thought you have! Though the thing is I am kinda afraid to read with them as they are in such great condition… and as a boat-dweller, I’m not someone who gives space easily to things that aren’t used…
      I’ll just have to get over myself and use ’em, right? Starting tonight, with a personal reading, methinks.

  3. Ren D. says:

    What an amazing treasure, and you are the perfect person to own this actual “little red (boxed) tarot”. There is a school of thought that, since everything on our planet is made entirely and soley from the same raw materials, that we are all intricately related, even to inanimate objects. So say hello to your little cousin, and keep the deck, haha!!

  4. Tango says:

    Ahh, it’s so lovely Beth! Great find. This post has made me even more impassioned to discover the history of my great-grandmother’s red-toned RWS deck.

  5. My goodness. This is soooo lovely, I am drooling. This post is making me wish I had a grandmother who read Tarot and bequeathed me a vintage RWS. A girl can dream, right? xo

    • Beth says:

      Right? I’ve always felt the same – I don’t ‘come from a long line of wise women’ or have an aunt or grandmother who would pass down traditions and tarot cards (more likely, they think it’s a load of old cobblers!)

  6. chloetarot says:

    I’m also in the “keep it” category 🙂 Hey, maybe something will come along later and you’ll feel its right to sell it, but for now, just enjoy the feeling, what you see, and the connection to the past 😀

  7. Lilith says:

    I finally picked up a copy of this deck (a modern reprint, nothing this fancy!!) from a table top sale at the weekend 😀

  8. Robin says:

    Can I just give a wee shout out and thanks for normalizing pronoun pointers 🙂
    It’s always exciting to me to find followers of older paths but with the modern adaptions of inclusion ?

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