Thanks to Sally Stephens for the pictures!
I have a confession to make. I did not believe this deck existed when the 1993 version called The Original Rider Waite Tarot Deck came out from US Games Systems. It was icky and green and really unattractive. I had my Pamela A at the time and said "No way. This is crap!" The card back bothered me a lot, but then I was an ignorant babe-in-the-woods then. Now I know a bit better.
So here's the saga: Stuart Kaplan claimed he reproduced the ORWTD from a copy he borrowed from an anonymous collector. This was supposed to be what the deck was like from the first. I was skeptical at best; dubiously cynical at worst. But I bought it, hated it, put it on the shelf, and ignored it for years. THEN about the year 2000, the regular US Games RWS comes out with a new font replacing the calligraphic titles. The card images are also trimmed a bit from the 1971 version. Not a good thing in my book and many other people's books. I look again at the 1993 ORWTD and find redeeming social value in it. It's icky green, but the tonalities are truer to the Pamela A and the images are not clipped. I have a new respect for it.
In the meantime, I'm learning more and more about the history of the deck and the timeline. Frank Jensen's Manteia article goes into this more. This ORWTD bothers me for a few reasons: a) only one copy exists which no one has seen except Kaplan, and b) I don't have it. I reread the Manteia article and notice the reference to a brown rose & lilies deck in the collection of the US Playing Card Company. It's the only copy, so maybe it is the trial run. Okay, there is a precedent for this cardback. Blue is still not working for me.
Then, in May of 2002, a friend emails me that there is a "original blue rose & lilies deck" up for sale on eBay. I go look. Wow! It just might be real! I email Frank and ask my usual hundred questions. He knows about the deck. The owner contacted him for information (all of which showed up in the item description). Frank offered to buy the deck, but the owner refused. I ask Frank how much he wants the deck (it is nice to know the ceiling of possible fellow bidders). He tells me and I plot and plan to exceed it. I am going to have to melt a few pieces of plastic, but hey, what's plastic when Tarot is on the line?! I spend the next week fantasizing about the deck and going over just how much I'm willing to bury myself to get it. Several people know I'm really serious and mostly irrational about it. Well, the day of the auction closing comes. It doesn't end till the evening, but by noon the price is up to $1100. Not a good sign. Comfortably at home, I check in to the auction an hour before it closes to watch. The price goes up a bit more. Fifteen minutes before the auction closes, Lo Scarabeo chimes in with a bid. Someone counterbids. Lo Scarabeo comes out on top. THEN, Stuart Kaplan checks in with a bid. My fingers leave the keyboard. They stay on the mouse and the Refresh button of my browser. My pockets won't go that deep. The slugfest begins. The prices goes up in $500 increments, $100 increments, until Kaplan comes out on top at $8200. We all knew this would happen. So, the deck exists and now we all know where it is. The End.
Not quite. It is now time for petty Hollycarping. That auction was the most pathetic display of bidding I've seen! Obviously, neither side subscribes to the "go in late, bid high, don't give your opponents time to rebid" strategy. The last 30-45 seconds is time enough for the death-bid. Or, to lose if you aren't daring enough. It works well for me. If I had very large balls and hadn't already sold my soul for a cheap bottle of wine, I fantasize I could have taken that deck. But I didn't and congratulations to the winner!
The ITS Tarot Congress is in Chicago later that month. The story is Kaplan will be there WITH THE DECK! The excitement builds. I want to see the sucker just so I can know that it exists. I get there. The grand display happens at Kaplan's lecture. I see the deck. After the initial look to see it is real, I realize something. This deck sucks! It is a very nasty printing. I am shocked. I am glad I didn't mortgage the farm to get it. I am really, genuinely glad. The colors seem sloppy and the cards are cut poorly. See above pictures. The margins are uneven. I have a 'dried mud' deck like that and I don't much like it. The deck is a Pamela A, just as advertised. It came in a red box just like my Pamela A, along with a 1910 copy of The Key to the Tarot. Just like my Pamela A. I am relieved, gratified, and confused. What is this strange creature? Where does it fit in the timeline?
I mumble a bit at the convention, discreetly of course. I go home. I have too many questions. This deck does not fit. Several things bother me. A lot.
1. Okay, the deck exists. Is this the only copy? I don't think so if this is supposed to be the first print run.
2. Looking closer, the 1993 reproduction is a Pamela C. This new version is a Pamela A. What is going on here?! Two different printings with the same card back and the same uniqueness? Something is wrong here.
3. The 1993 reproduction is green. There is no other word for it. The colors are different. Why is this new version not green? Why doesn't it match the colors on my Pamela A?
4. Why is it printed and cut so poorly?
5. Why don't I have one?
Burning issues for me. I mull and stew for quite some time. Finally I go and nag Frank. I'm good at that. I am amazed and gratified that he still speaks to me. I ask him all these questions. I am thinking something is very wrong as I can make no sense out of the given information. I am postulating that this version is yet another test run of one unique copy just like the brown version. Frank answers at last. He says the deck is probably the one mentioned in Gilbert's AE Waite A Bibliography as the first run printing. The second run was printed on "superior card stock" and is the familiar Pamela A I have. The cards were cut so poorly because it is very tricky to match up a discreet back (the rose & lilies pattern) with the card front images. Mistakes are bound to happen. And they did. The publisher and printer realized this was going to be a nasty problem and changed the card back to the 'dried mud'. This repeating pattern does not depend on lining up with the card front and is much easier to work with. That is why it lasted so long.
The very scarcity of the blue rose & lilies still bothers me. I want/need to know another one exists, even if I don't have it. I hope that someday another copy will surface. Update news: Another blue rose & lilies deck was recently (9/13/03 date of update) up for auction and sold for $1225. I was out of town on vacation and demmit, didn't get to bid. Next time. . . . However, I'm delighted to see that another deck has surfaced and many congratulations to the winner! (Send me scans, please?) So, I now consider this deck a legitimate print run, and the first-first edition. End of story. Until I get my own copy of course. Then I'll put more pictures up here.
Now, of course, there's the problem of why the two versions of the Original Rider Waite Tarot, 1993 and 1909, don't match. The lines are very different as is the quality of the drawing. Here, I go out on a limb with my opinion. The 1993 version is entirely fabricated from the rumors of the blue rose & lilies existence combined with a copy of the deck that had the 'dried mud' backing. This copy was not a Pamela A, but a Pamela C. An old deck surely; but not old enough. The Pamela C variant on the OS line is visible in the 1993 version. This extra line does not show up in the 1909 version.
Until I can see and touch the supposed copy that was used for the 1993 version, I cannot believe that it exists. In my opinion the deck does not exist; it was cobbled together from rumors. I would like to be shown wrong on this, but am not expecting to be.
So, all I need now is a blue rose & lilies deck, in the original box with the original book! The dream-list always seems to recycle itself, eh?