Going for the Gold

I now have a handful of tarot decks with gold-foil highlights and in some cases complete backgrounds. I also have the Golden Lenormand but I’m not including it here, and the Dali Tarot but it only has gold on the upper and lower borders. Kat Black’s Golden Tarot and Eric Dunne’s Illuminati Tarot didn’t make the cut because they only have gold edging. The three I own that represent the best examples of the style are the Golden Universal, the Golden Art Nouveau and the Golden Botticelli.

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The appearance of the Golden Universal I would call “Medieval Formal;” the Golden Art Nouveau is a credit to its namesake style; and the Botticelli suggests “Renaissance Classical.” The Golden Universal employs black dots on a gold background (apparently hinting at perforations), the Botticelli has a “flowers-and-leaves” wallpaper motif, and the Art Nouveau exhibits a more geometrical pattern in gold that seems a bit overrun by the scenery and figures.

Of the three, the Golden Art Nouveau is my favorite for its lyrical imagery; it is likely to become my first choice for public readings, even ahead of my beloved Albano-Waite and the impressive Smith-Waite Centennial Edition. The Golden Universal’s artwork is also more expressive than the original RWS and therefore more endearing (if somewhat starkly stylized). The Botticelli I never warmed up to. I have to say that I don’t care much for the severe black borders on the Botticelli; at least Lo Scarabeo got rid of the multi-lingual titles on the Golden Universal and the Art Nouveau.

Some gold-trimmed decks have been plagued by easily-chipped borders or gilt edges that seem to have been “glued together” during manufacturing. My Illuminati had to be pried apart card-by-card, fortunately with no delamination. Printing such decks has to be expensive (with the costs passed on to us) and the production challenges must be daunting, which makes me wonder how many more of them we will see. I doubt we will ever have a gold-edged Thoth or Tarot de Marseille, and certainly not an overall gold-foil treatment, since their images are canonical and too many purists would howl. The RWS has kind of positioned itself as “tarot for the masses” so tinkering with its graphic formula has become par for the course among tarot artists. Fine-art-themed decks like the Botticelli and a number of others are prime candidates for gold overlay because they customarily sport an antique “patina” that increases in warmth with the addition of gold foil. For myself, I would like to see some already-expressive modern decks like the sprightly Chrysalis Tarot or the atmospheric Aquarian Tarot given the “gold treatment.” Brian Williams’ Renaissance Tarot would be another worthy possibility.

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