the aquarian tarot

by david palladini

In 1970 a new tarot deck came out. the aquarian tarot, by david palladini, took the imagery of the rider-waite-smith tarot and translated it into an art deco form with the figures now being shown in 3/4 view. this was the second deck i got so i am inordinately fond of it. i've always considered it my "no bad readings" deck as everything and everyone on it is just so very pretty. i've always been annoyed about the 3/4 view though - i prefer to see the entire figure including the feet. have you ever been on the phone, having a conversation that runs something like "I'd love to meet up with you" and you, on your end, are making strangled, gagging faces at the notion, your caller completely unaware of the sight? that's how I feel about not seeing the entire figure on a card. they could be sitting there, all serene and noble and be wearing bunny slippers or tapping their toe in boredom, waiting for the whole business to be over. i like to see feet.

so, we have this new deck. but there are several variations of the cardbacks. but, there is this black, two-piece box that does not vary. How is one to know what one is getting? and, where do they all fit in the grand chronology?

i don't have exact dates; only a general scheme.

when i acquired the wardle collection there was a stack of these black boxes, each labelled 2nd edition, 1st, 2nd, etc printing. these were all the solid blue backs. the 3rd edition was the now-common blue patterned cardback. and, there was a self-teaching deck with a completely different cardback. so what was the 1st edition? and what is with that relentless black box?

my theory on the black box is that a bazillion of them were printed and just kept getting used throughout the various printings of the deck. the little white book (lwb) itself changed very little throughout this process. it is always a bit risky to date a deck from the box or the lwb though oftentimes it is the only clue we have. check with the rws early editions for the problems with the books and dating the decks.

as i was trolling ebay, i noticed aquarian decks for auction that had cardbacks i hadn't to date seen - pinkish backs with an ouroboros snake on them. i managed to get a couple of these so i now assume these are the 1st editions, though in what order they are in i don't know because we have that problem of the black box - all the decks show up in the same black box with the same dates on them and except for the self-teaching deck, have no other identifying marks. as far as I know there are three different versions of the ouroboros snake-backed cards. i have only two. one fine day. . . . so if you ever wonder why people ask to see a picture of the cardback in an auction, the reason is that it is often the only way to identify what edition or printing of a deck it is.

and, to make things even more interesting, there are a number of boxed games that used both the solid blue backed cards and the self-teaching cards.

So, here we go with the version and the possible timeline:


 Pink Back, Red Snake

1st Edition, ? printing

Red Back, White Snake

1st Edition, ? printing

 Orange Back, Black Snake

1st Edition, ? printing

(waiting to get this one)

 Fool from both decks
Magician from both decks


 Self-Teaching Aquarian Tarot, 1973

Box back (front is the same as above)

 Card Back

 Fool card

High Priestess card

The self-teaching deck also showed up in two boxed games - galaxy gazer. these were in the format of bookcase games that were popular in the 70s and early 80s. According to stuart kaplan's encyclopedia of tarot, volume I, the karin koal cards and games are from 1973.


 Box Fronts (out of slipcase which is the same image)

Box Backs


 Game Board, 1st version

Game Board, 2nd version by David Palladini

Now we hit something really strange. The cardback changes to solid blue. BUT, the major cards have no numbering on them in what I assume to be the first printing of what wardle calls the second edition. WHY? it is entirely possibly that the solid blue backs were floating out there at the same time as the ouroboros snakes, but again why? no answers here. the solid blue back held for some time and the majors acquired (or reacquired their numberings).


 2nd Edition Cardback

 2nd Edition, 1st printing Fool

Actually w/ no numbering (added by JWardle)

 2nd Edition, 1st printing Magician

Again actually w/ no numbering which was added by JWardle

 2nd Edition, 2nd and on printing Sun

The numbering returns (or appears)

 2nd Edition, 2nd and on printing Justice

The numbering returns (or appears)

The solid blue backed cards showed up in a coupla games - the majors numbered versions, either the entire deck or just the majors. And yet again, only the 1970 date. grrrr!


 The Compleat Fortune Teller, 1970(!?!)

Majors only solid blue backed deck

The Ancient Art of Tarot, 1970 (!?!)

78 card solid blue backed deck

then, in, amazingly, 1970 (!grr!) the cardback changed to the patterned blue design. this is the version taken up by us games in (surprisingly) not 1970 but 1975. the cards shifted a bit in color tones and the box changed to the tuck box. i'm sure there is a newer version out there but i've never seen any reason to get another. it will just have to go on my to-be-acquired list.


 3rd Edition Cardback

 US Games Box Front, 1975

US Games Box Back, 1975


 1970 Morgan Press Fool

1975 US Games Fool

1970 Morgan Press Magician

1975 US Games Magician

If you look closely at the differences between the morgan press and us games versions, the morgan press version is a bit more saturated and rich, with finer detail. this could be because of a different printing process or whatever. nonetheless, the aquarian is still one of my very favorite decks and a lovely rendition of the rws images in a different style.

david palladini did another deco-ish deck, the new palladini, which is rather the same thing only different.

[kissing cousins]