The Lost Tarot is a limited-edition, majors only deck published by Hans Bauer. It’s a lovely, delicate photographic deck, rendered in a surreal and dreamlike style that makes it a pleasure to read with.
I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding personally with Mr. Bauer about his process in creating the deck. Outside of the Tarot world, Bauer is a screenwriter and novelist whose credits include the film Anaconda (a personal favorite of mine, I have to admit). He explained the project of The Lost Tarot to me as follows:
I have long had an interest in photo-based art. Once, it was my desire to create a portfolio of highly distressed, antiqued photographs depicting well-known historical personages (Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc), as if they had simply shown up at my studio requesting that I make their portrait. […]
After several years, during which I sporadically attended a local Renaissance faire, a friend reminded me of the earlier project and suggested that most of the heavy lifting had already been done by the wonderful characters encountered at the faire; fantastic costumes, armor, and period accessories. My friend further suggested that I try my hand at a Tarot deck, about which I knew little at the time.
I decided to experiment with a single card, the Fool, and, if pleased with the result, would continue. To my great delight, the concept came together in ways that I cannot easily explain. I’m reminded of an interview with the singer/songwriter, David Crosby, in which he stated he doesn’t know where the songs come from, they simply happen. And so it was with the images I came to call The Lost Tarot.
The Lost Tarot comes in a sturdy box featuring the image from the Fool card and a wax seal with Bauer’s logo; the latter is an especially nice touch. The deck consists of 22 Major Arcana and the four Aces of the Minor Arcana. It also comes with a numbered card identifying which copy you’ve received out of the 500-deck limited printing, a LWB, and a poster that purports to be the “Testamentum” of an English merchant named William Bradford.
The Testamentum provides a fictionalized backstory for the deck: In 1503, Bradford traveled to Florence and met Leonardo da Vinci, who had invented the first camera. With the aid of da Vinci’s camera, Bradford photographed images corresponding to the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Personally, from a reader’s perspective, I find the story about da Vinci unnecessary; I don’t find that it contributes much to the imagery of the cards or the way the deck reads. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting and creative detail, and the poster-sized Testamentum is a thoughtful addition on Bauer’s part.
All of the cards in this deck are photographs that have been digitally edited to look more aged. Some of them are clearly collages, while others look like they’ve undergone minimal digital manipulation. The Renaissance faire influence on this deck is evident, both in the costuming and the staging. Any one of the figures depicted could easily have wandered out of a Ren faire, and this can be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your personal feelings. I’m not the world’s biggest Renaissance fairegoer (although I had a massive crush on my local queen back when I was a five-year-old), but I find the aesthetic of the deck quite lovely. This deck has a specific personality, and—even without the backstory of William Bradford—it tells a story.
One remark I will make is that several of the people in this deck (such as the Magus) strike me more as Renaissance faire characters than as persons from the actual Renaissance. I actually like this, because I think the deck works well as a Renaissance faire-themed Tarot, but it does clash a little bit with the Bradford/da Vinci narrative that Bauer provides. (As does the use of collage elements, come to think of it.) Once again, I think this is largely a matter of taste. My primary focus with this deck is the readability of the cards, the clarity of their imagery, and the thematic coherence of the deck’s artwork as a whole; the narrative is a much smaller concern for my appreciation of the deck.
Each card in this deck really is a piece of art unto itself, and it’s clear how much work has gone into the creation of The Lost Tarot. This is the sort of deck that I would love to find larger prints of; I fantasize about hanging up a poster-size copy of that Fortitude card on a wall somewhere in my home. The choice of photo collage as a medium gives the deck such a wonderful, dreamy quality, perfectly straddling the line between realism and fantasy. This deck is unlike any of the others in my possession, and that’s quite an achievement on Mr. Bauer’s part.
As a general rule, I recommend Majors-only decks like The Lost Tarot primarily as art decks or collection decks, rather than as reading decks. Mostly, that’s just my stodgy traditionalism insisting that I read with a full 78-card deck whenever possible. However, I found that for a Majors-only deck, The Lost Tarot is surprisingly readable, due in no small part to the inclusion of the four Aces. The Aces are lovely, and having them in the deck brings in at least a little bit of the elemental energy of the Minor Arcana.
I could not be more delighted with this deck. The real joy of self-published decks like The Lost Tarot is the amount of care and attention that goes into their production. This deck is of such high quality, with beautiful cards and beautiful packaging. It’s definitely not a beginner’s deck or one I’d recommend to readers who only have or want a small collection, but for avid deck collectors, The Lost Tarot will make a fantastic and unique addition to their hoards.
A brief note: I received this deck from the publisher for the purpose of publishing a review. Everything I’ve said in this post is my honest opinion.