From Russia (and Czech Republic, and Finland) with love


I feel like I’ve pulled off something of a coup here. I managed to snag a much sought after deck of Tarot cards, published by Baba Studios (Magic Realist Press) in Prague: The Victorian Romantic – Russian!

The deck was so loved in English that it was being pirated in other countries, with bootleg editions being printed and sold by certain Russian dealers. To stem this tide, Magic Realist Press licensed an authorized version to be published in Russia, with all card titles and the accompanying little white book (LWB) in Russian as well. They were actually printed in Finland, and took a very circuitous route to Prague, through Russia (back and forth a couple of times… it got to be comical after awhile as Karen posted updates on its whereabouts). Most copies of the deck went to Russian authorized resellers, but MRP got approximately 250 copies to sell themselves, knowing we, their rabid fans, could not live without one. Karen Mahoney initially released them in a few small, timed batches on their Web site back in December, and again in January, and try as I might I was never quick enough to actually score one.

Enter Twitter.

I happened to be online a couple of weeks ago and refreshing my Twitter stream one morning at work when a tweet from Baba Studios went out announcing 20 more decks up for sale on their site. I didn’t think, didn’t hesitate, didn’t breathe, just popped over and logged in to my account there and just like in a fairytale, managed to buy one! I actually did it, I actually managed to get one in my cart and hit the “pay now” in some kind of record time. Seriously, in FOUR MINUTES they were all gone. For the people who got the announcement in the newsletter Karen sends out, it was already too late. There are copies now going for upwards of $300 on EBay, not including the three Karen is auctioning off to raise money for a new camera for her partner Alex to use in their business. So go Karen! Better you guys get the money for the decks (last I checked one of the auctions was at $152 with several days yet to go). Many of us had despaired of ever getting our hands on one of these decks. The resellers descend like vultures, scooping them up by the handfuls for face value then posting them on EBay almost instantly for something like a 500% mark-up. The retail price is €26, or $35US. So you can imagine how frantic some of us were to get our hands on one of these beauties at the retail price, rather than wait and have to mortgage our homes or sell our children for one later.

Ahem.

So, on to the cards. Oh sigh, so pretty. Since the titles are in Cyrillic, I had to go to Baba’s Web site to look up some of the cards. Some I was able divine (heh) by the illustrations, some I know from having seen the English versions, but a few were a mystery to me. One I did know, and one of the main reasons I wanted this Russian version, is this extra Emperor card. Karen was asked by the Russian publisher to create a more ‘traditional’ Emperor, as they felt the original Emperor in the VR deck would not resonate with the Russian audience. (in case there’s any question, the Emperor is the one on the right below, on the left is the Knight of Swords)

Emperor and K of Swords The borders aren’t actually pink, in case your monitor make it look like they are (which mine does, although they seemed to scan in ok, maybe it’s this program). I did try to adjust the color of the images a tad, the Emperor’s robe is a really rich red on the actual card.

Luckily, all the cards can be seen at the Victorian Romantic Web site, with the titles in English. I managed to figure out most of them, but a couple were surprises. It does follow the Waite-Smith conventions for the most part, although not slavishly. Karen’s humor and ingenuity have some interesting and lovely surprises.

VR Russian Knight of Pentacles Here’s the Knight of Pentacles. None of the suits are simple variants of Waite’s deck, they don’t simply depict the number emblems on the pip cards.

The Nine of Pentacles VR Russian Nine of Pentacles gives us the lady in her garden, but nary an actual pentacle in sight.

The Six of Swords shows us the boat on the water, but that’s as close as you get to the standard imagery.

VR Russian Six of Swords

My only regret with this deck is not being able to read the LWB, or have a book that explains what the source artwork is, unlike Kat Black’s Touchstone Tarot that lists all the artwork used in the deck. Karen did mention that maybe, just maybe, they will reprint the deck in English, as early as next year, but that’s NOT definite. There does seem to be still a great demand for this deck so I am still hopeful of a copy in English (although I think I’ve already got them all figured out after looking at the Web site to fill in the ones I couldn’t make out on my own). It was voted 2006 Deck of the Year on the Aeclectic Tarot site, but for whatever reason there were still a lot of us who missed out on it, and so many new people discovering it just now that I think they could easily do another healthy print run. I know I’ll be in line for a deck/book kit if they get around to it. (hint-hint, Karen!)

I will say the cardstock is much thinner than I had anticipated. It’s not the thick sturdy stock used in the Bohemian Gothic, so I am a little afraid of damaging the cards. Gentle shuffling seems to be called for here. They would certainly look lovely framed, if I decide not to use it to read with, but I have to be touching my decks all the time. The lamination seems good, but they bend so easily I would recommend extra care when using them.

So stand by if it gets reprinted in English, these babies will go like hotcakes!

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15 thoughts on “From Russia (and Czech Republic, and Finland) with love

  1. Monica says:

    Ah, the magic of Baba Studio. I did contemplate getting a Russian copy, but decided against it since I’d find it a bit strange doing readings with it. Should they come out in English again though, well, that’s another story. I would stay up all night to get my mittens on a couple of them 🙂 I got one copy of the silver edition Bohemian Gothic second edition, and regret not getting at least another one.

    Enjoy your new adventures with this deck and the Russian language!

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  2. Digital Dame says:

    Hi Monica 🙂

    Thanks for coming by. I wasn’t sure how I’d manage with the Russian, but really it’s not too much of a stretch with the images. The cards that really threw me were the Wheel of Fortune, and The World. There were just a few of the minors I couldn’t identify right off, but after looking at the Web site I think I have them all down now.

    I got two copies of the 2nd Edition (pewter) BoGo. For once in my life I was thinking ahead and decided to spend the money. It’s the only time I’ve bought two of the same deck, and even considered getting a standard 2nd edition without the pewter/silver edging but decided I better cool it for awhile 😉 So hard to resist, though! They still have some copies of the standard version, if you’re interested in that.

    Now I’m saving my pennies for the LE Alice Tarot that’s coming out later this year! I’ve never gotten one of their LE decks before, but as I told Karen, I don’t get to take fabulous vacations to tropical islands or anything so this is going to be my treat to myself. 🙂

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  3. submerina says:

    I’ve also been felt off “meeeeeh” towards the VR, until I saw the pink borders! OMG ❤ And then I read that it's just a weird digital thing *extreme sad face* So I'm holding out until they publish the pink version 😉

    The cards you've shown here show the artwork to much better effect tha even the images on the official site. I much prefer the softness of your pictures. I understand why they would publish images that are "downgraded", but it's the main reason I've never cared for this deck!

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    • Digital Dame says:

      And they really are even better in person. I don’t know if it’s my scanner, operator error, or my monitor, but the cards are really really lovely in person. The colors are so much better, I just could not match the red of the Emperor’s robes no matter what I tried. I was surprised too at the difference when I looked at the real thing in my hand, and at the official Web site. The images are much lower resolution, no doubt on purpose.

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      • submerina says:

        The difference between the images is incredible. MRP should think about putting up even just a single card at higher res. to show what you can really expect from the deck. Not that they are hurting for sales or anything 🙂 But now I understand why people love this deck so much.

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      • Digital Dame says:

        Isn’t it something? I was pretty surprised when I looked at their site, I’d never paid too much attention to this deck until one card caught my eye one day. But seeing them now in person is such a startling difference between MRP’s images and the real thing. Their images really are pretty ‘blah’ in comparison. I’m glad they put up the whole deck, but of course doing that the images necessarily had to be low-res. Even the ones I put up are not high-res, they’re just a few Kb each. If you tried to print them they’d look like crap, so you can imagine what the real McCoy looks like if you think these look good 🙂 I really hope they reprint it in an English version next year.

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  4. Digital Dame says:

    Thanks, Tasha. 😀 Despite the thinness of the cards, they have a great feel to them. I think on their Web site they said the original printing had a layer of carbon in the cards to help prevent bends and creases, but I don’t know if these do or not. It doesn’t seem like it but I don’t plan to put them to the test! I do think it’s a great shame more art-y decks like this aren’t published. There are so many out there with really bad artwork.

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  5. maryjblog says:

    Oh these are da bomb, or however you’d say that in Russian (da Sputnik?!) I say knock back a shot or 6 of good Russian vodka, and see what they have to say.

    (If you ever get your hands on a Polish deck I’ll have to request the first reading, just to see if my ancestors and countrymen have anything to tell me.)

    On a less ridiculous note, your most recent reading has been resonating, as always. Teaching on the Siberian campus would still not be my first choice, but some good things have come out of it.

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  6. Digital Dame says:

    Hahaha, a trip to the liquor store seems in order 😉 I typically drink Finlandia vodka, but some Stolichnaya might be more a propos with these. I wonder if Rosie remembers much Russian?

    Actually there are some Polish decks out there, but they can be hard to get hold of (then again, they can’t be any more elusive than this little prima donna was).

    Glad to hear the reading is making some sense. If you want further clarification on anything, let me know and I can pull some more cards. Maybe we’ll take this little pretty for a spin 🙂

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  7. Shaheen Miro says:

    This is one of my favorite decks. I absolutely love it. I found it a couple of years ago when I was doing readings at a festival near where I live. I had never heard of them or Baba Studio… but I bought them on an impulse because they spoke to me… which few decks do. I have loved them ever since. And I now love Baba Studio and all their beautiful work. I wish I could have gotten a copy of the book that goes with this deck and I still want a deck of the Bohemian Gothic with the gilded edges…. It’s so difficult to get limited addition tarot decks… I guess I need to get in the game lol.

    Are the english edition out of print as well? Thats why you got the Russian one?

    -Shaheen
    shaheenmiroinsights.wordpress.com

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  8. Digital Dame says:

    Hello Shaheen,

    Nice to meet you! Yes, the English edition is long out of print. It pops up once in awhile on eBay, but for far more money than I can spend on one deck. I really hope they decide to reprint it next year. At the moment I’m saving my pennies for their Alice Tarot, due out late this fall (last I heard). If you’re on Facebook, definitely ‘friend’ or ‘like’ both Baba Studios and Alice Tarot there to keep up on the news.

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