After many years of admiring from a distance, I took the plunge and ordered a copy of the Victorian Romantic deck. I don't know how I first stumbled upon it—most likely during a Google image search for one particular card or another—but it was love at first sight.
I had gone through a phase where I bought nearly every Tarot deck I stumbled across, just because, and I've had a few cases of buyer's remorse. After that experience, I abstained for a while; I think the last Tarot deck I had purchased before the Victorian Romantic was my Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg, and that was in 2008. Six years without purchasing a single deck! You understand, then, the kind of impression the Victorian Romantic deck made on me.
There were a few different editions printed; the only one remaining in stock at Baba Studios is the 2012 special edition. The cards are large—taller and fatter than my St. Petersburg and my Thoth—and the images are sumptuous. It comes in a sturdy box of heavy cardboard with a hinged lid (rather than your usual flimsy paper box and a folded tab opening). Very protective, though the deck fits in so snugly that getting it in and out is tricky business and one should be careful.
This edition also has lovely gold trim on the sides, which I think is a wonderful touch. It catches the light as you shuffle and makes everything feel all the more magical. The whole deck has an air of a bygone fantasy era and a general sense of luxury. That is one word that keeps jumping out at me with this deck: luxury. Every image is detailed and rich with color; every card seems to spring from a sense of dreamy nostalgia where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Some of the images in this edition are new and did not originally appear in the first one, though I'm not sure which particular cards were changed. It also comes with two copies of The Lovers: one called "Dante and Beatrice" and the other called "Swept off her feet." I opted to use the latter for readings and keep "Dante and Beatrice" aside.
What makes this deck particularly interesting is that, because it is collage work of Victorian Classicism engravings and illustrations, most of the cards lack the traditional symbolism of having six pentacles or three cups or so on. There is nary a sword to be found in the above 8 of Swords card, for example. Some of the images chosen are also, in my opinion, quite unconventional and surprising. Nonetheless, they all fit well with the meanings of the cards; if anything, their departure from Pamela Coleman Smith's images in the Waite-Smith deck (upon which this deck is based) does a lot to clarify some cards and shed some light on their meaning.
I also appreciate the Court cards in this deck. Court cards have traditionally been simple portraits of their subject. There is only so much you can glean from a person sitting alone, however; while I've had the elemental associations and meanings memorized for years now, I've never been able to really "get" most of the courts and have longed for a deck that showed them interacting with the world and other people. I think the best ones I've seen have been Lady Freida Harris's—while they are still single-subject portraits, her use of perspective and geometry and color, in addition to the slightly more esoteric animal symbolism, was absolutely first-rate. Her court images still manage to convey a lot of information and ~feeling~ right on the surface.
Likewise in Marchetti's Gilded Tarot, he tried to convey the nature of the Queens by their posture/gaze/relationship with a column.
And Pamela Coleman Smith left clues in the nature of the Knights' horses and how they were riding.
Which has been a technique other artists have followed:
Here, many of the Court cards are shown with people. It seems like such a minor detail but it can make all the difference (for me).
In my binge-buying days, I liked to sometimes do an introductory reading to learn a little bit about my new deck. I did the same with this deck. I also looked into all of the rituals and readings people do with a new deck, but most of what I could find seemed to be variations on the theme of cleansing: sage smudging, crystals, spritzing with herbal infusions, and so on. Daily Tarot Girl (a Tarot blog I hadn't encountered until now) suggests something similar to what I would do: ask your deck questions about itself. She also gives some suggestions about questions you might want to ask.
I opted for a simple three-card layout, but obviously that's what worked for me. I like three-card layouts; I like 3. You might like 1, or 4, or 7, or 10, or or or or....
How would you describe yourself? 7 of Cups
What attitude do you like? Knight of Wands
What attitude do you dislike? Ace of Wands
The 7 of Cups is one of those unconventional cards I mentioned earlier. The traditional Waite-Smith imagery for this card is a figure, back turned, gazing upon a dream of seven chalices. This is the theme you see in most Waite-Smith clones. But in the Victorian Romantic, we have a goblin-looking creature fishing treasures out of the murky depths. Or is he using them as bait to lure in unwary travelers? In the depths is a more human-looking figure, gaze fixed on the gold at the end of the fisherman's line. It is a totally unconventional representation of the lure of the 7 of Cups, but it works.
As a representative card of this deck, and how it chose to describe itself, it works: after all, the language I was using to describe it earlier falls under the realm of the 7 of Cups: luxury, magic, nostalgia, fantasy. And the card's unconventional art speaks to the various unorthodox facets of this deck. That said, it also seems like a bit of a trickster card to pick: the 7 of Cups is not without delusion and deceit. As any Tarot reader will tell you, the cards are not without a sense of humor.
The Knight of Wands is standing with his horse and talking to a woman who seems totally and utterly cheesed with him, while he has the tiniest hints of a smirk on his face. It's like he's just made some groaner of a pun or cutting remark that his companion is just not having. Still, he's a charmer; if he weren't, he wouldn't be talking to anyone at all. Confidence, charm, and enthusiasm. The Knight of Wands doesn't take anything too seriously. This seems more and more like a deck full of levity and goodwill.
The Aces, usually considered positive cards, can also have their downsides. There is such a thing as "too much of a good thing," after all. Mahony and Ukolov give positive and negative meanings for each card in the LWB (I'm a big fan of privileging the small details of a deck's LWB over generic, pan-deck meanings when those pan-deck meanings don't necessarily play out), and for the Ace of Wands they mention "machismo and forcefulness." With the wands in particular there is also the risk of brash, selfish ego; the obsession with the sacred fire of one's self. That Knight is only charming because he knows when to lay off and is sensitive to other people.
An unconventional deck with a sense of humor who dislikes people who are too far up their own asses and who too convinced of their own greatness. Well! Nice to meet you, Victorian Romantic. I'm sure we'll get to know each other quite well.