The classic Rider-Waite Tarot is the best known Tarot deck. The vibrant cards, featuring full scenes with figures and symbols, were drawn in 1909 by Pamela Colman Smith under direction of Arthur Edward Waite.
Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the tarocci or “tarot” cards will be acquainted with the work of Miss Pamela Colman Smith, although they may be excused for not knowing her name. In the early years of the XXth century Miss Smith – an Anglo-American illustrator – was commissioned by the Masonic occultist Mr. Arthur Waite to design a complete set of all seventy-eight cards of the traditional tarot deck. She completed this work in a remarkably short period of time between April and October 1909 and some time after this the cards were published by William Rider & Sons of London under the title ‘A Pictorial Key to the Tarot’. They have thereafter been known as the ‘Rider-Waite’ tarot and the name of the illustrator was not included in the title or on the box.
This omission was then duplicated in 1971 when the American company US Games Inc. purchased the copyright to the cards and reissued them to the American market, making them the most well-known and popular tarot cards of the modern era. Today, the ‘Rider-Waite’ cards have become infused into popular culture to the extent that they may be regarded as prototypal; there are countless new sets on the market today, each with new illustrations on new themes, but the Rider-Waite cards are, as it were, a standard.