by Jean-Michel David
A number of years ago (in September 2006), I started a discussion thread on Aeclectic’s TarotForum with regards a peculiarity of the Sun card on the Waite-Smith deck. At that stage, the discussion did not go very far, yet it remains a detail that has yet to be explained.
images from the 1909 and 1910 publications
As I mentioned at the time, Frank Jensen, in his book Story of the Waite-Smith deck, shows two early images (page 121) from different publications of the Sun card in outline (no colour), depicting, I suggested, different levels of accuracy of Pamela Colman Smith’s actual picture.
I still consider that the most likely explanation for the ‘squiggly’ line adjacent the numeral is that Pamela used the additive form of the Roman numeral (XVIIII) – as seems apparent from the earliest publication – and that this was later changed to its subtractive form (XIX). The original (XVIIII), if I am correct, would likely have been misread as an ‘error’ by the publisher (who may not even have been aware of the additive convention), and was thus quickly ‘fixed’ by scratching off the fourth ‘I’, rendering it the whole as ‘XVIII’ as well as adding a meaningless ‘squiggly’ line adjacent the number. This line was to be subsequently retained in (most) card imprints and somehow considered part of the original drawing – even after the numeral form was changed to ‘XIX’.
image from 1909 in Occult Review
Such error, incidentally, is not unique: a similar error of numeration occurs in a reproduction of the Hermit and of Temperance in de Gebelin – thereby rendering both Justice and the Hermit as ‘VIII’; and both Death and Temperance as ‘XIII’ (interestingly, de Gebelin uses the subtractive ‘XIX’ for the Sun).
images from de Gebelin
As can be seen above in the first set of images (of the Waite-Smith at the beginning of this article), the earliest publication (in Occult Review from 1909) clearly had intended the additive form (unless, of course, this is to be read as an ‘error’ by Pamela, which I personally doubt). By the time of Waite’s 1910-1911 Pictorial Key to the Tarot, the additive had already been altered.
images from the Pam-A, Pam-C and Pam-D decks
It would be wonderful to find copies of the original plates or drawings made by Pamela – this remains, however, highly unlikely. As a consequence, it seems that later imprints of the deck (even the earliest ones, except for the Pam-B imprint – as shown below), have retained that un-natural and pictorially inconsistent addition of the squiggly line.
image from the Pam-B decks