Collecting Tarot Decks

photo-4I really couldn’t tell you at what point I crossed the line from “practical tarot-loving person with reasonably-sized stack of different decks on a shelf” and stumbled into the craziness that is tarot collecting. Probably about the same time that I discovered my old Röhrig Tarot (one of my first decks) was going for stupid amounts of money on Ebay (think upwards of $300), or else when I decided I simply HAD TO HAVE the then out-of-print Chinese Tarot and was infuriated to find that it couldn’t be obtained (used, even) for less than $80 (BLARG).

I’ve always been a little bit of a packrat (well, maybe more like a food-aggressive dog that isn’t convinced there’s a next meal coming). I have several collections of various and sundry magical items: periodicals, wands, skulls, My Little Pony™ blind bag figures. A tarot deck collection was part of a natural progression, especially after I started reading professionally and writing a lot about tarot.

Aside from just loving tarot and wanting lots of it around all the time, I wanted to have lots of examples to show off as needed in the tarot classes that I teach. I wanted to be able to quickly take original photos for articles. I wanted to be able to produce decks that demonstrate a progression in tarot history, much in the same way that any scholar can reference published works over a span of time. Having immediate access to these materials facilitates writing, research, the synthesis of original ideas, and teaching.

Collectors usually have the specific m.o. of choosing and hoarding decks according to projections about future value. The point is preservation, resale, or some further strategy that doesn’t include regular use (which devalues the cards in the same way that writing margin notes devalues a book). Making projections about future value is part of what’s fun about collecting (it’s basically gambling, except you can’t lose out entirely). There’s also the thrill of hunting down and then acquiring something scarce.

Because there are so many available decks at any one time and limited funding for building a collection, it helps to have parameters. These will vary from collector to collector according to taste. Some of mine are as follows:

1) I prefer self-published or otherwise unique decks. First of all, after years of reading cards, mass-produced decks start to look the same (especially from companies like Llewellyn and Lo Scarabeo). Self-produced decks are just more interesting. Second, they almost always appear in limited runs, which means that they’re more likely to accrue monetary value over time. As examples, consider the Collective Tarot and the Light Visions Tarot (PS, if any of my readers has either and would care to part with it, shoot me a message). Small batch decks have a tendency to appear and disappear before earning massive online interesting, so it helps to continually monitor sites like Kickstarter and Etsy for upcoming projects. Where possible, preorder.

2) I prefer decks that are just fucking weird. These may never be valuable (though sometimes are), but they often elicit cult-type followings and always make personal collections more interesting. Weirdness might include odd structures that deviate from usual tarot models, unusual themes (consider the Insane Clown Posse-themed Dark Carnival deck, which, hilariously, includes “juggalos” in its list of production materials), or particularly terrible (sometime great, but usually terrible) art. The weirder, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

3) I love historical reproductions. I’m a major nerd for tarot history, so any time I can get my hands on a quality reproduction (or the real deal) of a historically significant deck, I’m there. For me, these are perfect teaching tools, and just uniquely gratifying to own. Consider this limited release in the Marseille tradition.

Your own collection could be based on any individual standard or interest. Some people really love animal-themed decks, or collect decks from specific publishing houses.

Additional tips for building or maintaining a collection include the following:

1) Buy two copies. One to open and play with, the other to keep sealed and then sell when the value appreciates. If you wait until the deck has doubled in value, you essentially break even and, if you’re smart and careful, you can collect for profit. As a rule, when a deck reaches twice its original sale value, it’s time to sell.

2) Avoid handling, humidity, and basically anything that can damage paper. Decks are most valuable the closer they are to mint condition. Just letting paper products sit around unattended can cause them to devalue (ever smelled a musty book?). It’s important to control climate and handling wherever possible. Shuffling cards, oils from fingers and hands, and surface scratches from sliding a card on a hard surface can all cause depreciation and make a deck harder to sell.

3) Keep abreast of upcoming reprints. When a deck is rereleased (which just happened with that Chinese Tarot I mentioned earlier, and is typical of companies like Lo Scarabeo and U.S. Games), its value usually drops significantly. Deck values fluctuate, often in relation to how prominent a deck is in popular conversation.

4) Keep the box in good shape. If it’s a deck you’re going to use regularly, it can still pay to keep the box separately and in clean condition. The packaging is part of the deck, as far as a collector is concerned.

5) Maintain a network of fellow readers and collectors. Sometimes you’ll have good trading opportunities or else people who can keep an eye out for decks you’re looking for.

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2 thoughts on “Collecting Tarot Decks

  1. Chris Mann

    Your first two parameters are similar to how I choose trading cards to collect. Historical reproductions are not all that common, but I would like to get the 50th anniversary Mars Attacks reproduction.

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    Reply

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