A Collector’s Guide to the Thoth Tarot

Originally published in Sky’s Embrace, Horizon Lodge O.T.O.

Shellay Lynne Maughan 2015 all rights reserved

The Book of Thoth

1938 to 1943

The Thoth Tarot was designed by Aleister Crowley and executed by Lady Freida Harris. The project took five years, from 1938 to 1943, and was published as The Book of Thoth [h]. What we now know as the Thoth Tarot are the illustrations for this book. This major undertaking was completed near the end of Crowley’s life and reflects his seasoned thinking and accumulated knowledge.
 

The collaboration between Crowley and Freida Harris was an active one [i]. A major feature of the illustrations is the use of Projective Synthetic Geometry, or magical perspective, that Harris explored constantly in her artwork.
 

There was no deck of cards printed to accompany the Book of Thoth, but it’s clear that Crowley intended there to be one as soon as time and funds allowed. As it turned out this was not until the late 1960s, after both he and Freida Harris had passed on. Since its first publication as a color deck, the Thoth Tarot has never gone completely out of print, a claim that can be made by almost no other tarot deck.

Sangreal One Color Thoth

Mid 1960s

Sometime in the mid to late-1960s Carr Collins and the Sangreal Foundation commissioned the Simpson Printing Company of Dallas, Texas to print the B&W illustrations from a first edition of The Book of Thoth [b], as a tarot deck. The images were printed with blue ink, and the backs in red. The size of these cards was 5.5 x 3.75 (140 x 95 mm), which became the de facto standard for all large size Thoth decks. About 250 decks were made in a limited edition, now out of print.
 

An article in "Magical Blend" refers to another deck tinted in green and published by Shambhala, in 1968. This is probably the same deck with some confusion over the publishers, but that’s just my speculation. I haven’t been able to find a complete copy of the article. (Eboni Anpu; Lotte Lieb & Bill Heindrick: Talking Tarot [Magical Blend])

First Edition in Color

1969

In the late 1960s Llee Heflin [f] traveled to England to photograph Lady Frieda Harris’s original watercolors, then still in the personal possession of Gerald Yorke. Under Hymenaeus Alpha, the cards were published in color for the first time in 1969, from these photos. They were produced in a large, 5.5 x 3.75 inch format, and housed in a high quality two piece ‘slider’ box; a gold inner box which holds the cards and a white outer box that slides over it. With a traditional flair, the box printing was done in red and black; black text and a red O.T.O. lamen. The back was the Rose Cross in full color. There was no Little White Book (LWB), but each deck included a contact card with an introductory message and contact information for those interested in learning more about the Order. All editions thus out of print.
 

There is disagreement, even among experts with access to all records, as to which ‘White Box’ was published first and is the First Color Edition. I lean toward the conclusion that Weiser is the first edition, based on the lack of errors in the Weiser deck (suggesting access to the actual photos), the synchronicity of the printing dates with the printing of The Book of Thoth Weiser edition, and the fact that Llewellyn doesn’t clearly claim to have published the early edition. That said, no less an authority than Hymenaeus Beta himself disagrees with my timeline and states that the Llewellyn came first.

Please Note: Hymenaeus Beta generously gave comments; this should not be taken to mean that he endorses the accuracy of the information herein.

Weiser White Box A

1969

Distributed by Samuel Weiser, printed in U.S.A.

Unornamented borders on the card faces, no Hebrew letters or other symbols. The hue of the card borders is not consistent throughout the deck. Majors are numbered with Roman numeral at top of cards, minors with Arabic numerals. Rose Cross covers the entire back of the card. The Caliph Card has the PO Box number as "2043". Stuart Kaplan gives the publication year as 1969 in his Encyclopedia of Tarot, vol. III.

Lewellyn White Box B

1972

Llewellyn’s history site shows “Edition by Llewellyn in cooperation with O.T.O. 1971-72” and, separately, a picture of the box tagged 1/1/1972 [c]. Printed in Hong Kong.

Lewellyn-Weiser Edition White Box B

1973

Printed in U.S.A. published with the collaboration of Grady McMurtry, Lee Heflin, and Gerald Yorke.

Unornamented borders on the card faces, no Hebrew letters or other symbols. Majors numbered with Roman numeral, minors with Arabic numerals. Rose Cross back.

Nearly identical to the Weiser edition, however there were (at least) two misprints in both the Hong Kong and early U.S. printings of the Llewellyn edition that do not appear in the Weiser:

  • The number "8" is missing from the top of the "8 of Cups" card.

  • The illustration for the "Ace of Pentacles" card is printed upside-down.

Later printings of the Lewellyn-Weiser Edition corrected these defects. Early printings give the PO Box number as "2043", in later printings it was changed to "1111."

First Re-Issue

1977 to 1983

In 1977, due to the efforts of Gerald Yorke and Stephen Skinner, the original artwork was re-photographed and higher quality images became available. [d] The deck was reissued with a number of changes:

  • The box became a standard card-box with top flap opening, white with printing in black and red and a red O.T.O. lamen.

  • The back of the box was still the Rose Cross, but ‘ghosted’ and overlaid with text.

  • The geometric border featured on the original art was included on the card faces for the first time, together with the Hebrew letters and alchemical or astrological attributions next to the titles of the Trumps.

  • A LWB was added, with text “by James Wasserman, plus essay written by Lady Frieda Harris with commentary and footnotes by Stuart R Kaplan”, this became a standard feature.

(Note: When looking at a specific deck, don’t confuse the card publication dates with the LWB publication dates.)

The cards remained large format (5.5 x 3.75) and the O.T.O. contact card with address was included.

There were several slightly different editions of this version, all OOP, as described below:

Weiser White Box C

1978

Samuel Weiser Inc. in co-operation with US Games Systems Inc.

Printed in Belgium by Carta Mundi.

A booklet accompanies the deck stating copyright 1978 by Stuart R. Kaplan and Donald Weiser.

Lewellyn

Date unknown. Publication information on the top of the box reads "Distributed by Llewellyn Publications, P.O. Box 43383, St. Paul, MN 55164. Cards printed in Belgium. Booklet and box printed in USA."

Weiser 

1983

Samuel Weiser Inc. in co-operation with US Games Systems Inc.

In 1983 an ISBN-number was added: ISBN 0-87728-452-0

U.S. Games Systems

1986

Printed in Belgium by Carta Mundi. This version has significant changes:

  • The front of the box is the same as the previous ‘White box C’ editions, but the Universe card is now on the back, with no text.

  • Weiser's name does not appear on the box, which only states "Published and distributed by US Games". The contact card becomes an introduction card; the message is still there but no address is included.

There is an additional black card with a red unicursal hexagram.

Early printings of this version are often referred to as the "Green Thoth," due to the significant green tint to the card borders, and general greenish cast to the images. This was corrected in later printings.

A three language edition and a four-language edition of this variation were also published:

  • In the three-language edition, English titles appear at the center bottom, French and Spanish titles near the upper corners of the border.

  • The four-language edition is the same as the three-language edition, with the addition of German titles.

AGMüller and U.S. Games Systems

1986

In 1986 the paintings were again re-photographed. The deck was printed by AGMüller, Switzerland. The Rose Cross back pattern was now surrounded by a white border on which the copyright notice was printed; this became the standard. Two extra Magus cards were added to some decks, reproduced from Frieda Harris' drafts. The earlier Roman numerals on the Trumps were replaced by Arabic numbers, and a ‘1’ was added to the aces. The deck became available in different sizes. Except as noted, there is no unicursal hexagram card and no introduction/contact card, the inside last page of the LWB has text with a much shorter O.T.O. greeting and an invitation to that those interested in the order, suggesting they write to Ordo Templi Orientis care of US Games.

AGMüller and U.S. Games Systems

1986

Booklet has: Copyright 1978, 1983 1987 by Stuart R. Kaplan & Donald Weiser.

The white box is similar to the white US Games/Weiser, with “In Small Card Size” under the lamen. On the box is printed: "Published and distributed by US Games Systems Inc and AGMüller & Cie, Switzerland."

Includes three Magus cards. Out of print.

AGMüller / Urania GMBH

1986

Distributed by Urania GMBH, Germany (then the publishing arm of AGMüller)

ISBN: 0-88079-308-2 Box & LWB

Banner across lower right corner: "New Edition".

Cards measure 4.75" x 3.375". "Copyright by AGMüller 1986" is printed on all cards as well as the box.

AGMüller

1986

‘Large Swiss Blue Box A’ (early edition), Publication information on the box reads “© 1986 by AGMüller, CH-Neuhaussen”

Cards measure 3.75" x 5.5" (9.5 cm x 14 cm)

Standard card-box, showing the Magus card, left-aligned, surrounded by a blue border. The deck title appears below the illustration. This edition contained the three different renditions of the "Magus" card. Out of print.

AGMüller 

1996

‘Large Swiss Blue Box B’ (later edition), Publication information on the box reads "© 1944, 1962 OTO International/AGM, Switzerland."

ISBN: 0-88079-469-0 Box, 3-905021-60-9 LWB

Cards measure 3.75" x 5.5" (9.5 cm x 14 cm)

Standard card-box, showing the Magus card, centered and surrounded by a blue border. The deck title appears above the illustration, and the publisher's name appears below.

There is an OTO card included with this edition (details uncertain), and a rainbow Unicursal Hexagram card. One magus. LWB with alternate contents: 41 pages, by "the Hermit"; an excerpt from Aleister Crowley's original Book of Thoth. This booklet is different from the US Games' versions. There is no mention of US Games, Kaplan nor Weiser. Out of print.

AGMüller

1997

"Pocket Swiss Blue Box" Published by AGMüller and distributed by U. S. Games Systems, Inc. Printed in: Switzerland

ISBN: 3-905219-06-9 Box & LWB

Cards measure 2.25" x 3.5"

Standard card-box, showing the Magus card, centered and surrounded by a blue border. The deck title appears above the illustration, and the publisher's name appears below. Box reads:"© 1944, 1962 International OTO / AGM, Switzerland."

There is an OTO card included with this edition (details uncertain), and a rainbow Unicursal Hexagram card. One magus. LWB with alternate contents: 43 pages, A Descriptive Essay by Aleister Crowley, edited by Frieda Harris with a foreword by Hymenaeus Beta. As above, there is no mention of US Games, Kaplan nor Weiser.

Urania Verlag

1994

Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot Jubiläums-Set.

Switzerland 1994, limited edition of 1994 copies.

For the 50 year anniversary of the original publication of The Book of Thoth, Urania Verlag issued a limited and numbered edition which contains the deck, the German translation of The Book of Thoth, a poster depicting the "Eight of Wands" and a CD with recordings of rituals, calls and poems performed by Crowley. Availability unknown.

U.S. Games Systems

After 1986

U.S. Games Systems

after 1986

Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck, Large

978-0-913866-15-3

Deck printed in Belgium; U.S. GAMES SYSTEMS, INC.; Stamford, CT 06902 USA.

Cards measure 3-3/4" x 5-1/2

This is the only English version in print that includes the extra magus cards. Still in print as of 2015

U.S. Games Systems

1996

Deck printed in Belgium; U.S. GAMES SYSTEMS, INC.; Stamford, CT 06902 USA.

Card size 2-7/8" x 4-3/8"

Booklet: "copyright 1978, 1983, 1987."

This deck no longer features the 2 extra Magus cards. Still in print as of 2015

U.S. Games Systems

2000

Pocket Swiss Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck

978-1-57281-294-9

Cards measure 2-1/4" x 3-1/2"inches, Standard poker deck size.

Still in print as of 2015

U.S. Games Systems

2005

Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck -- Premier Edition, December 31, 2005

ISBN: 978-1-57281-510-0

Cards measure 2-7/8" x 4-3/8"

Includes a LWB and a ten-card spread sheet. This deck no longer features the 2 extra Magus cards. Still in print as of 2015.

U.S. Games Systems and A.G. Müller

Spanish Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck Small

ISBN: 978-1-57281-168-3

Cards Measure 2-7/8" x 4-3/8"

Still in print as of 2015.

Urania Verlag

2008

The Golden Thoth

2008

Printed using new photographs of the original art, with care was taken to match the original painting both in hue and saturation. The borders on the card backs are gold.

LWB, 152 pages with a foreword by Hymenaeus Beta, two previously unpublished essays by Lady Frieda Harris, and excerpts from Crowley’s writings.

 

From the O.T.O. international site:

“…Around 2007, O.T.O. went to considerable trouble and expense—with very supportive assistance from AGMüller and the Yorke Collection curators—to digitally re-photograph the deck in high resolution, using a (rented!) $100,000 Phase One camera. We even did the typesetting and layout for the new deck in multiple languages, including English, for free—all in the interests of finally getting a version out that would meet Crowley’s and Lady Harris’ exacting standards. We’ve been very disappointed—thus far, it has only appeared in German.

I have compared this printing of the deck to the original paintings, and it is almost perfect. The original paintings have not faded over time, as some have claimed (the originals have always been protected from light, barring brief exhibitions, and are stable Winsor and Newton pigments). The problem is that prior printings have been simply negligent about color correction—which was admittedly harder in the pre-digital era—and in some cases, colors have been “pushed” to get an effect the publisher likes. Matching the subtlety of the paintings themselves is much harder, but clearly worthwhile.” [e]

Only released in Germany, still available as of 2015. 

Footnotes

b)  Possibly #105, based on http://www.tarotassociation.net/magazine/  R. Leo Gillis p. 39, although uncertain as this article has several factual errors.

c)  http://www.llewellyn.com/about/event.php?id=230

d)  Lon Milo DuQuette Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, p. 17

e)  Hymenaeus Beta http://oto.org/news0413.html

f)  Taken from http://777lleeheflin.org/939393/index2.html Llee Heflin’s on-line biography, URL now defunct

g)  http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Thoth_Tarot

(h)  The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians [the title of] The Equinox, volume III, number 5, Aleister Crowley, The OTO/Chiswick Press Ltd, 1944.

(i)  http://www.tarokki.fi/tarotpuu/2011/03/18/lecture-on-the-tarot-by-frieda-lady-harris-sesame-club-1942/

General - with thanks to Stuart Kaplan The Encyclopedia of Tarot, vol. III