I am sure that you have all seen those Wish ads all over the place, advertising low cost tarot decks and wondered about them. Here's the thing though, those cheap decks are fakes. Let's explore how to spot a fake deck, and why it even matters in the first place.
Here is a listing that I have pulled from Wish this morning. 176 different decks for only $9 each sounds like an awesome deal, right? There is a reason that there is a saying "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is." Here are seven ways you can tell if a deck is real or fake:
1. The Price
As you can see from the image above, most of these knock off tarot sellers will list a deck for under $10, which CAN be a huge red flag. On some websites I have even seen decks as low as $2.50 each!
The average mass market tarot or oracle deck is priced between $20 and $30. Indie decks can be priced even higher. Now this doesn't mean that inexpensive decks are ALWAYS bogus - Hay House for example often runs massive sales where you can pick up legit copies for 50% off or more. I run regular "clear out" sales where I purge my drawers and list decks for under $10 because they have been gently used. So let's keep looking at some other things to look at...
2. The Quality
The deck pictured above is one of my all-time favorite decks to use for clients, and the artwork is stunning. But a closer look at this image shows us some issues
* The colors are washed out, much less saturated then the original deck
* You can see where there is pixelation in the image, because when a deck is bootlegged they are taking poor quality images to create rather then properly formatted source files.
* The borders are not even, with a much wider border on the top and the left of the card. It is common for bootleg decks to be printed off center, or even with no borders/titles at all.
Here is an image of the Steampunk Tarot, another really fantastic deck that has been a hot with clients too. It highlights another really important indication of a fake deck - the size! Fake decks are often greatly smaller then the original, and are often much narrower to boot.
This fake version of the Witches Tarot is freaking TINY - and I have super small hands. The original card size is closer to 2.75 x 4.5 inches, and the bootleg is 2 x 3.75. This is really common for the fake decks, and I imagine that is to make it so that the stolen images don't look so pixelated when they print them.
Printing on some of these cards is really awful - on one of the decks that I saw there was a blue ink streak straight down the face of the card, completely obliterating the image that was meant to be there.
3. The Packaging
Many of the decks out there have really nice boxes, either heavy two piece glossy boxes, metallic accents or even magnetic closures. This is not the case with the fake decks. Fake decks are almost exclusively cheap and flimsy tuck boxes.
Often there is no publisher listed on the box, and in some cases they don't even put the author's name on the box. The boxes are simple with no bells and whistles and are really just awful quality.
In this Amazon.com listing we can see that not only is the box totally wrong for the deck (Which normally comes with a big box and full sized paperback guide book) but that there is a strange brand name - CHXIHome. Then the description continues with words like board game, divination poker, and table poker game toys. HUGE red flags!
Here on the right is the AUTHENTIC deck. Notice that the box is larger, the art brighter and the deck has the author prominantly listed.
It's a victimless crime isn't it?
* It doesn't hurt anyone...
* But tarot decks are so expensive...
* That deck is out of print and I really wanted it...
This hits even harder if a creator publishes their own decks - because the profit margin is so low to begin with. Let's take one of MY decks as an example - the Past Life Oracle. When creating the deck there are costs associated with the art itself - for many of my decks I actually paint the images so I pay for canvases, paints, brushes, etc.. (granted now I can do most of my work digitally) and then the time that goes into digitizing them, making sure that they fit the specs that the printer provides, and more. Then there is the printing the deck itself - the size of the cards, the cardstock, the box - all of these add to the cost of the deck. At the end of the day I sell the Past Life Deck for about 10% over cost because I still want it to be affordable. Indie decks are always going to be a bit pricier because they are not printing thousands of decks at a time - small print runs cost more.
One of my favorite authors of all times is Ciro Marchetti. He has this wonderful and distinctive colorful look:
When you purchase a bootleg deck not only are you stealing from a creator who worked really hard on that deck, but you are also bringing a poor quality product into your practice. I have seen decks fall apart within a month of purchase, at which point you have to buy another to replace it... and soon it becomes far more expensive then if you had just bought the legitimate deck to begin with.
But there is an even bigger reason not to support those who are creating these counterfeit decks. Their activities can feed organized crime overseas. They can be produced in horrible working conditions by workers who are not paid a living wage and who potentially could be victims of trafficking. Is the human cost worth the couple of dollars that you might save?
So if you see a questionable listing on eBay, Amazon or Etsy please consider reporting it. We need to make it more hassle then it is worth to sell these decks. It is illegal, at least in the US, to knowingly sell counterfeit goods. The more that we can report and get these taken down the harder it becomes for these theives to steal the hard work of the tarot community at large.
So what do you think - is it ever acceptable to purchase a knock-off deck? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Thank you for this very thoughtful article about counterfeit fake decks! I share your feelings of loss for all the souls being trafficked by the global “rape” of creative intellectual property. I am taking responsibility to ensure I am always purchasing authentic copyrighted & individually produced decks while also sharing the truthfulness of the big business that fake decks fund overseas crimes against humanity.
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