Originally Posted by Lee
For anyone interested in the history of the various editions of the Wirth deck, the following is from a post I made in 2004:
I took down my copy of A History of the Occult Tarot by Decker and Dummett, and it's got quite a lot of information about Wirth and his deck.
It turns out that this deck has quite a convoluted history. There are some interesting tidbits here, such as that Stuart Kaplan was not the first person to add a Minor Arcana to the Wirth deck; and that there are (I think) four different versions of the deck created by Wirth himself. Also, to address Diana's point, it's quite clear that Wirth created the art nouveau borders himself. Also, it would not have been a fantasy of his publisher, because, if I'm understanding correctly, the publisher was Le Symbolisme, of which Wirth was the director.
Here's my paraphrasing of the history of the deck as it appears in the Decker/Dummett book:
1. In 1889, Wirth created his deck, "designed by Oswald Wirth for the use of initiates, following the indications of Stanislas de Guaita." His deck was based on the Marseille deck and also incorporated ideas of Eliphas Levi. The deck was published as Les 22 Arcanes du Tarot Kabbalistique in an edition of 350 decks. The linework was reproduced by "heliogravure" with colors applied by stencil.
This deck is shown in the Encyclopedia of Tarot Vol. 2. The lines of the drawings are sharp and clear, and there are no art nouveau borders. The images actually look rather similar to the US Games Majors. The Fool and the Popess in this deck have dark skin. The reason for this is that Wirth correlates certain trumps to stars or constellations. The Fool and the Popess are allocated to Cepheus and Cassiopeia, who were a mythical King and Queen of Ethiopia.
2. These cards also appeared as illustrations in Papus's book published in the same year, Le Tarot des Bohemiens. Wirth's essay, "Essay on the Astronomical Tarot," appears in chapter 16 of the book.
3. In 1911, Wirth revised his designs for an article he wrote on Masonry and the Tarot. In this revision, Justice has a blindfold. These images are shown in the Decker/Dummett book. Unlike the sharp line drawings of the 1889 version, these images have a soft, painted look. They do not have the art nouveau borders.
4. In 1926, Wirth again redesigned the trumps. He published them in color in a portfolio of 11 plates (or "leaves,") two cards to each plate. To his original designs he added a few exotic touches, such as the yin-yang symbol on the Popess's book. Decker/Dummett say: "Compared with Wirth's stencilled Tarot [i.e. the 1889 version], his new Arcana are brighter, and the colours somewhat differently disposed. The Popess and the Fool both have pale skin. Wirth has added ornate borders, uniquely designed for each card. Some of these borders camouflage an abstract symbol relevant to the adjacent image. They are printed in shiny gold, as are the backgrounds of all the figures."
Thus we have the answer to two questions: A) the borders were without a doubt added by Wirth, and B) this version of the cards had gold printing.
5. In 1927, Wirth wrote and published Le Tarot des imagiers du moyen age (which Decker/Dummett translate as "The Tarot of the Mediaeval Artists"). In this book he departs significantly from the Tarot theory he expounded in his essay in Papus's book, 38 years earlier. The book contains various illustrations, including (quoting from Decker/Dummett) "'ideograms' derived from Western myth and magic. Wirth uses them as succinct representations of the Tarot Arcana. These ideograms are precisely the abstract symbols that he had embedded in the borders of his Plates of the previous year."
To make matters extremely confusing, the 1927 book includes as illustrations in the body of the book a set of trump images which differs from the 1926 plates. Decker/Dummet say, "In the body of the book, the trumps appear in economical linework, usually from the drawings that underlie Wirth's Plates, but quite bereft of the baroque borders. Certain trumps are completely different in drawing and in format." In some copies of the 1927 book, the 1926 plates are bound inside the back cover.
Wirth died in Vienne, south of Lyons, in 1943.
6. In 1960, an artist named Georg Alexander, working at Kusnacht-Zurich, created a 78-card deck by copying Wirth's trumps and adding a Minor Arcana. This deck was published. The trumps do not contain the borders. A title card credits both Wirth and Alexander. The cards were monochromatic, with blue lines on a white background.
7. In 1966, Wirth's 1927 book Le Tarot des imagiers du moyen age is republished by publisher Claude Tchou in Paris. The card images appear as black and white illustrations in the book and also as a color deck of cards included with the book. Wirth's images were redrawn by an artist named Michel Simeon.
Decker/Dummett say: "In the text the trumps again appear in black and white, but in a pseudo-woodcut style, much more mechanical than Wirth's draughtsmanship [...] There are no fancy borders, only slender frame lines, rounded at the corners. Inside the back cover of the book, a pocket contains the 22 Arcana as a pack of cards. The drawings are as in the text, but bright colours have been added, along with coppery backgrounds. On the basis of Wirth's 1926 Plates, we may suppose that he wished his cards to look like mediaeval illuminations, with intense hues against metallic gold. He would have been disappointed by fake woodcuts against fake copper [...] Other affronts to WIrth's intentions are: changes in colour composition, the complete elimination of Wirth's monogram ['ow'] and the distortion of COAGULA -- appearing as COA6ULA -- in Arcanum XV."
8. In 1976, US Games publishes the dreaded 78-card deck, printed by AG Muller. Decker/Dummett say: "This pack is erroneously labelled as the 'original' Oswald Wirth Tarot Deck. Accompanying the trumps, which come from the pack in the 1966 Tchou edition, are the four common suits, newly drawn but similar to those of the Tarot de Marseille [lee's note: actually, i believe the swords and batons are taken from the visconti-sforza designs]. The court cards are rendered in the pseudo-woodcut style, but are drawn with even less competence than were the trumps." I heartily agree with their assessment.
So, we can see that the trumps from the USGames deck derive from the 1966 Tchou designs. There may have been practical reasons (like copyright, etc.) that Stuart Kaplan decided to use these designs rather than the 1926 Wirth original designs. Or perhaps it was simply convenient for him to do so, since the Tchou designs had been published only ten years previously (the USGames deck says that it's published under license from Tchou).
Here's one more little tidbit: When Manly P. Hall published his The Secret Teachings of the Ages in 1926, it included 46 colour plates done in watercolor by J. Augustus Knapp, one of which is Knapp's rendition of Wirth's 1889 designs. Knapp and Hall later created their own Knapp-Hall Tarot.
Decker/Dummett, in their footnotes, actually comment on the Editions de l'Aigle edition (the one I just ordered). They say that Frank Jensen alerted them to this edition, "complete with original borders," as a "faithful reproduction of Wirth's 1926 designs."