Pamela Colman Smith’s Tarot deck, sometimes called the Smith-Waite Tarot Deck because she was commissioned by Arthur Waite, has fascinating pictures of coins – known as Pentacles because they all carry the five-star symbol.
Created in 1909, Pamela’s pictures have stood the test of time, but they also reflect the financial and business world as she knew it, over 100 years ago.
The cards, which were reissued in the early 1970’s, also tell a story about those critical economic times. Pamela’s Pentacles show extreme highs and lows! They also send a powerful message about values. What you value most; who you value most.
The Finances of Bohemian London
She was a freelance artist – a woman still in a man’s world – where her friends in the Suffragette movement had to fight for the same economic opportunities. Pamela’s finances were typical of those the ‘creatives’ and Bohemians in London at that time, experienced. Even Pamela’s friend, W.B. Yeats (who would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature) was chasing pennies.
In Australia you might see the pentacles in Pamela’s Tarot as dollar or two dollar coins. They might have meant gold sovereigns to Pamela, or perhaps pennies.
I am sure you know the work of Brigit Esselmont if you are a Tarot fan. Her website Biddy Tarot has a huge following.
She has a strong business background – unusual for a Tarot professional. So, how does Brigit see Pamela’s coins?
“The Suit of Pentacles Tarot card meanings cover material aspects of life including work, business, trade, property, money and other material possessions. The positive aspects of the Suit of Pentacles include manifestation, realisation, proof and prosperity. The negative aspects of the Suit of Pentacles include being possessive, greedy and overly materialistic…”
Pamela’s Pentacles and the Knight of Coins
The mood of the times was something the psychic artist Pamela Colman Smith channelled into her cards. She was working at a time when inflation and stuck wages in Britain began to bite. The middle and upper classes were visibly rich, especially in London. The working classes were struggling.
You can see this in the Knight of Pentacles. Here is a money man. A trader, perhaps, or a small business man, or a banker. He has the money, but will he pay? Will he strike a deal or lend? This is also the very image of a trade union mover and shaker who wants to negotiate on overtime and the bottom line.
The Strikes of 1910 and the Tarot
Strikes were on the rise when Pamela created her cards. Cotton and shipbuilding industries had lost jobs and by 1910, after her cards had been on sale for a year, unions found they had bargaining power and coal strikes rolled. It’s very interesting to look at the rolling brown landscape behind the Knight of Pentacles – it could so easily be a Kent coalfield like Tilmanstone Colliery, where my own family worked.
Stuart R. Kaplan and the Seventies
I mentioned that Pamela’s cards were revived in the Seventies. It’s interesting that this period, just after American businessman Stuart R. Kaplan bought his first Tarot deck, also coincided with strikes.
Kaplan was on Wall Street in 1968 when he found a deck at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in Germany.
In 1970 he acquired the rights to Pamela and Arthur’s deck – and the Pentacle cards had a story to tell once again. By 1973, when the reissued cards were part of a general boom in Tarot and astrology, the recession was well and truly here.
These coin or Pentacle cards tell tales about lump sums (redundancy settlements, perhaps) and also juggling money (the Two of Pentacles). They are about the search for money that may – or may not – be there at all (the Three of Coins).
Sitting Pretty and Family Inheritance
They show people sitting pretty (the Four of Coins) and also the power of family inheritance. They made immediate sense in the early Seventies just as they had back in 1909.
Pamela created her cards at the same time that The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was being written by Robert Tressell. This famous socialist novel was his account of working class struggle among construction builders. Like Pamela, Robert was buried in what was then known as a pauper’s grave – there was no money for an engraved headstone.
Know Your Price With the Pentacles
Many of Pamela’s images hint at the importance of knowing your price – valuing yourself. When her cards were reborn so was the Women’s Liberation movement and women began to strike for equal pay. This is another strange echo of 1909, as Pamela was friends with some high-profile Suffragettes and in fact created art work for the movement.
In 1968 just as Stuart R. Kaplan was purchasing his deck, the women of the Ford car plant in Dagenham got up from their machines and walked out on strike. Their revolution was captured in a fantastic British film, Made in Dagenham.
You can almost see the sisterhood in Pamela’s Three of Cups card. It shows female solidarity and celebration. The women of 1968 brought car production to a halt and their actions led to the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1970 across the United Kingdom.
Pamela’s magical, powerful deck – guided by the hand of occultist and writer Arthur Waite – and perhaps W.B. Yeats himself – is a master stroke. Rather than just painting one coin after another, she dreamed up visions of the future that were profoundly accurate.
Interpreting Pentacles for Yourself
In a moment, I’ll look at the first three cards in the Pentacles series to give you an idea of their deeper meaning.
Mary K. Greer writes that Pentacles “signifies physical, sensate energy. It indicates work, skills, money, body, security, results and the care or valuing of physical resources. It can also indicate being stuck, inflexible, stubborn or stressed and worried.”
You can see how utterly fixed and stubborn the man is in the Four of Coins card, the next one along. He’s not about to lose a single penny. Yet, what is his attitude actually doing for him?
Pamela must have known these types of people very well during her time in the New York art world.
In your own life, the Pentacles cards will bring you news of payments ahead – possibly pennies from heaven – but also the reality of doing it tough.
What is really interesting about these cards is that they are all open to change and movement. You can direct the action. Call the shots. Edit the pictures. Work with the imagery. Reshape your past, present and potential future. It’s really a state of mind, and many of Pamela’s cards show that.
Read more: jessicaadams.com