Collecting Tarot Decks



For actual use, one only needs a single tarot deck, and the basic requirements are simple: the deck should be complete, in reasonably good shape, and of a design that pleases the tarot card reader.  Then why do so many tarot enthusiasts possess more than one deck?  Or, for that matter, why do some persons possess more than ten, or twenty, or thirty?  The answer is simply that tarot decks are fun to collect. 

In this hobby, as in all others, there are two levels of collectors - a relatively small group which one might term serious collectors, and a relatively large group of casual collectors.

The difference is primarily one of intent, and of the amount of resources (time and money) devoted to collecting.  Serious collectors of tarot decks know that they are collectors, and are motivated to build a collection for some specific purpose, if only self-gratification.  They deliberately work on building their collections.

 Casual collectors may not even consider themselves collectors per se, but instead persons with an interest in tarot who, for one reason or another, have ended up accumulating a few - or sometimes much more than a few - tarot decks.  They do not buy to purposely expand or shape a collection, but are apt to make spur of the moment purchasing decisions. 

Whichever group you find yourself in, there are a few similar issues with which to concern oneself.  First, and foremost, is the necessity of maintaining one's collection in good condition.  Tarot cards are usually made of heavy cardboard, and are therefore paper products.  Thus, like rare books, their biggest enemy is mold and mildew.  This means that decks should be stored in an area with a fairly constant temperature, and should be protected from exposure to high humidity.  Barns, garages and basements are not good places to keep a tarot collection.  If you do encounter a deck that has mold or mildew, do not purchase it.  Not only is the deck itself bad, but these things are contagious - keep a mildewed deck with your other decks, and soon all will smell musty and be ready for the landfill.

Second is the question of where to obtain tarot decks.  New decks are not a problem, but one must be selective if one wishes to purchase new tarot decks, for we live in an age where several are published each month, and one would have to have a fairly large budget, and a great deal of storage room, to attempt to build a collection by purchasing every new issue of a tarot deck. 

Relatively common used decks are sometimes auctioned off on internet sites, such as eBay - not a bad way to acquire decks, but of course one can't yet smell things over the internet, and I personally have purchased decks on eBay advertised as being in "great condition" that absolutely reeked of mildew and so were quite worthless.  Other than this consideration, one must also ensure that the deck is complete and in at least very good condition, completeness in this case meaning that everything issued with the original deck, including the box, be present and well-preserved. 

I sometimes receive e-mails asking where a person might buy really old tarot decks.  The plain fact of the matter is that really old tarot decks are not that easy to find and, when available, often command a very large price.  To give an example, in November of 2004 I received a catalogue from Bassenge, an auction house in Berlin (Auktion 84 - Sammlung Historischer Spielkarten).   Most of the items listed were playing cards, but there was an 18th century Minchiate deck with an estimated bid of 7,000 , and a tarot deck from 1820 with an estimated bid of 3,600 .  Not cheap.  Of course, if that sort of price tag is not a problem for your purse, then the advice is to seek out auction houses like Bassenge and advise them of your interests. 

The third piece of advice is to find and associate with like-minded collectors, and of course the easiest way to do this is through an established organization.  The two major playing-card-collector organizations in the United States are absolutely no help here, for they have nothing to do with tarot cards.  In Europe, on the other hand, tarot card collecting is viewed as a respectable branch of playing-card collecting, and for that reason I would heartily recommend joining the International Playing Card Society, based in England. 

Finally, establish your reference library.  There are a great many books out there related to reading tarot cards, but only a few that would be useful for collectors, and Stanley Kaplan's massive 3-volume Encyclopedia of Tarot Cards is the most obvious start for such a library.  You'll find a list of recommended tarot books here.

Tarot card collecting, whether pursued as a casual or serious interest, can be quite rewarding.  The cards themselves are fascinating, and one can get quite far in the pursuit on a reasonably small budget.  Knowledge, as in any form of collecting, is key.  The more you know, the fewer mistakes you will make, and the greater your number of exciting finds and discoveries.  And of course, above all - have fun!



By D. J. McAdam 2005.  Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by copyright law and may not be copied without express written permission. 




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Collecting Tarot Decks