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The Tarot Show – July 2020

Would you believe a $30,000 set of Tarot cards? In 2020, an amazing Sotheby’s auction result has people looking twice at the value of collecting decks, original artwork and even letters.

Lady Frieda HarrisLady Frieda Harris was a true 20th century bohemian (seen here looking not unlike a character from a Tarot card, herself). A recent auction of her original mystical artwork for Alesteir Crowley reached 27,500 Euros at Sotheby’s or around US $30,000.

 The four original paintings for the Thoth Tarot (1938-1943) during the early years of the war, included a trump card (The Magus, lot 96), and three numerals: an Ace of Pentacles (lot 97), an Ace of Swords (lot 98), and a Four of Wands (lot 99).

In his Book of Thoth (1944), Alesteir Crowley describes their collaboration: “She devoted her genius to the Work. With incredible rapidity she picked up the rhythm, and with inexhaustible patience submitted to the correction of the fanatical slave-driver that she had invoked, often painting the same card as many as eight times until it measured up to his Vanadium Steel yardstick! ”


Surrealist Andre Breton and Tarot

Kay Sage Tarot
Kay Sage Tarot courtesy Sotheby’s

The early war years saw a peak of interest in Tarot. Kay Sage, in 1941, created a Tarot card that was inscribed and dated by André Breton and found its way to Sotheby’s.

Auction houses take a regular interest in anything at all from Pamela Colman Smith, the brilliant artist who created the Smith-Waite Tarot Deck.

Pamela was a freelance illustrator for many journals and magazines at the turn of last century and numbered copies of folios or original periodicals are highly collectable. Widdicombe Fair (1899) is a good example – only 500 copies were produced.

Pamela Colman Smith

Even Pamela’s letters, particularly if illustrated, can command as much as $3000-$4000 at auction.

What Sotheby’s were interested in, was a group of 15 autograph letters signed, to her childhood pen-friend Beatrice Weaver, describing her adolescent life in Jamaica, their shared literary enthusiasm (especially as members of a Howard Pyle fan club and the living history of letters describing her artistic training in Brooklyn and her involvement with the theatre.

There are details of Ellen Terry, her benefactor and muse, whose likeness appears in the Tarot. Thus – (“…next week … I sail for London with Miss Ellen Terry – to stay all summer with her – I did a Souvenier [sic] for Sir Henry Irving and Miss Terry – and got to know her so well – she is delightful!…”,

Pamela went to England as a costume and stage designer for Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, and also continued to illustrate books for writers including W.B. Yeats. Any or all memorabilia associated with Pamela is highly collectable.

Lady Frieda Harris Tarot
Lady Frieda Harris Tarot courtesy Sotheby’s

Vintage Tarot Cards – Nicholas Bodet

Not famous, but collectable still are cards from Nicholas Bodet, who was working around 1743-1751. The US $3,840 price reached for this particular deck is typical.

What Tarot collectors were bidding for, was a complete set of hand-colored woodcut Tarot cards, with decorative paper backs, with a note: “The pack of Tarauts contained in this book, formerly belonged to William Courthope, Somerset Herald, who died in 1866: by his widow they were given to his nephew & executor Robert B. Gardiner by whose orders they were bound in these covers 1880”

Garage Sales and eBay Tarot

What should you look out for at garage or car boot sales, and online auction sites like eBay? The time to collect is now as so many original or new Tarot decks are being produced. Even the first edition of a brand new Tarot can be worth keeping in good condition. Particularly collectable in 2020 are limited-edition Tarot cards created as promotions and also – anything linked to the house of Dior – as part of the recent boom in 21st century Tarot interest.


Article Feature Image Credit: Phad Pichetbovornkul






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