How Pantone Became the Global Authority on Color

Pan­tone has declared “Peach Fuzz” the Col­or of the Year. This selec­tion, how­ev­er, rais­es the ques­tion: How did Pan­tone become the glob­al author­i­ty on col­or? Above, the Wall Street Jour­nal describes how Pan­tone began as a com­mer­cial print­ing com­pa­ny dur­ing the 1950s. Then, in the ear­ly 60s, it evolved into some­thing quite dif­fer­ent. Rec­og­niz­ing that its clients (and oth­er com­pa­nies) need to print mate­ri­als with con­sis­tent col­ors, Pan­tone cre­at­ed a uni­ver­sal col­or lan­guage, the Pan­tone Match­ing Sys­tem (PMS), where each col­or is assigned a spe­cif­ic num­ber. For instance, “Peach Fuzz” cor­re­sponds to #FFBE98. As Slate points out, this sys­tem ensured that “print­ers and clients would have a shared ref­er­ence when they talk to one another—an indus­try stan­dard, so that a col­or would mean the same thing all the way from a designer’s vision to the print­ed item.” Over the next 60 years, Pan­tone con­tin­ued to nur­ture the Pan­tone Match­ing Sys­tem, undoubt­ed­ly gen­er­at­ing sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue along the way and, more impor­tant­ly, mak­ing itself the arbiter of col­or world­wide.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete Dig­i­tal Scan

Prince Gets an Offi­cial Pur­ple Pan­tone Col­or

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

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Behold LEGO Reenactments of Famous Psychology Experiments, as Imagined by Artificial Intelligence

Cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Tomer Ull­man, head of Harvard’s Com­pu­ta­tion, Cog­ni­tion, and Devel­op­ment lab, may have inad­ver­tent­ly blun­dered into an untapped vein of LEGO Icon inspi­ra­tion when his inter­est in AI led him to stage recre­ations of famous psych exper­i­ments.

If you think Vin­cent Van Gogh’s Star­ry Night LEGO play­set is a chal­lenge, imag­ine putting togeth­er the AI-gen­er­at­ed play­set inspired by Yale psy­chol­o­gist Stan­ley Milgram’s 1961 obe­di­ence stud­ies, above.

Par­tic­i­pants in these stud­ies were assigned to play one of two parts — teacher or learn­er. Part­ner pairs were seat­ed in sep­a­rate rooms, acces­si­ble to each oth­er by micro­phones. The teacher read the learn­er a list of matched words they’d expect­ed to remem­ber short­ly there­after. If the learn­er flubbed up, the teacher was to admin­is­ter an elec­tric shock via a series of labelled switch­es, upping it by 15-volts for each suc­ces­sive error. The micro­phones ensured that the teacher was privy to the learner’s increas­ing­ly dis­tressed reac­tions — screams, des­per­ate protes­ta­tion, and — at the high­est volt­age — radio silence.

Should a teacher hes­i­tate, they’d be remind­ed that the para­me­ters of the exper­i­ment, for which they were earn­ing $4.50, required them to con­tin­ue. They also received reas­sur­ance that the painful shocks caused no per­ma­nent tis­sue dam­age.

Here’s the thing:

The teach­ers were inno­cent as to the experiment’s true nature. They thought the study’s focus was punishment’s effect on learn­ing abil­i­ty, but in fact, Mil­gram was study­ing the lim­its of obe­di­ence to author­i­ty.

The learn­ers were all in on the ruse. They received no shocks. Their respons­es were all feigned.

If our eyes don’t deceive us, the Mil­gram exper­i­ment that the AI imag­ines is even more extreme than the orig­i­nal. It appears all par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing those wait­ing for their turn, are in the same room.

As some­one com­ment­ed on Bluesky, the new social media plat­form on which Ull­man shared his hypo­thet­i­cal play­sets, “the sub­tle details the AI has got wrong here are the stuff of night­mares.”

AI’s take on the Stan­ford prison exper­i­ment seems more benign than the con­tro­ver­sial 1971 exper­i­ment that recruit­ed 24 stu­dent par­tic­i­pants for a filmed study of prison life to be staged in Stan­ford University’s psy­chol­o­gy depart­men­t’s base­ment, ran­dom­ly divid­ing them into pris­on­ers and guards.

AI’s faith­ful recre­ation of the LEGO fig­urines’ phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions can’t real­ly cap­ture the faux guards’ bru­tal­i­ty — mak­ing their pris­on­ers clean out toi­lets with their bare hands, strip­ping them naked, and depriv­ing them of food and beds. Their pow­er abus­es were so wan­ton, and the pris­on­ers’ dis­tress so extreme, that the planned dura­tion of two weeks was scrapped six days in.

It’s worth not­ing that all the stu­dent par­tic­i­pants came to the study with clean bills of phys­i­cal and men­tal health, and no his­to­ries of crim­i­nal arrest.

Far less upset­ting are the cog­ni­tive sci­ence exper­i­ment play­sets depict­ing the delayed grat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Stan­ford Marsh­mal­low Test and the selec­tive atten­tion of the Invis­i­ble Goril­la Test (both right above).

Ull­man also steered AI toward LEGO trib­utes to B.F. Skinner’s oper­ant con­di­tion­ing cham­ber and Mar­tin Seligman’s learned help­less­ness research (below).

No word on whether he has plans to con­tin­ue exper­i­ment­ing with AI-engi­neered LEGO play­set pro­pos­als fea­tur­ing his­toric exper­i­ments of psy­chol­o­gy and cog­ni­tive sci­ence.

Fol­low on Bluesky if you’re curi­ous. You’ll need to reg­is­ter for a free account and apply for an invite code, if you haven’t already… wait, are we set­ting our­selves up to be unwit­ting par­tic­i­pants in anoth­er psych exper­i­ment?


Via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Psy­chol­o­gy Exper­i­ment That Shocked the World: Milgram’s Obe­di­ence Study (1961)

The Lit­tle Albert Exper­i­ment: The Per­verse 1920 Study That Made a Baby Afraid of San­ta Claus & Bun­nies

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Discover the Mikiphone, the World’s First Portable Record Player: “Fits a Jacket Pocket; Goes into a Lady’s Handbag” (1924)

The iPod shuf­fle recent­ly enjoyed a bit of a come­back on Tik­Tok.

Can the Mikiphone be far behind?

The inven­tion of sib­lings Mik­lós and Éti­enne Vadász, the world’s first pock­et record play­er caused a stir when it was intro­duced a cen­tu­ry ago, nab­bing first prize at an inter­na­tion­al music exhi­bi­tion and find­ing favor with mod­ernist archi­tect Le Cor­busier, who hailed it for embody­ing the “essence of the esprit nou­veau.”

Unlike more recent portable audio inno­va­tions, some assem­bly was required.

It’s fair to assume that the Stan­ford Archive of Record­ed Sound staffer deft­ly unpack­ing antique Mikiphone com­po­nents from its cun­ning Sony Dis­c­man-sized case, above, has more prac­tice putting the thing togeth­er than a ner­vous young fel­la eager to woo his gal al fres­co with his just pur­chased, cut­ting edge 1924 tech­nol­o­gy.

A peri­od adver­tise­ment extols the Mikiphone’s porta­bil­i­ty …

Fits in a jack­et pock­et

Goes in a lady’s hand­bag

Will hang on a cycle frame

Goes in a car door pock­et

Ide­al for pic­nics, car jaunts, riv­er trips

…but fails to men­tion that in order to enjoy it, you’d also have to schlep along a fair amount of 78 RPM records, whose 10-inch diam­e­ters aren’t near­ly so pock­et and purse-com­pat­i­ble.

Mai­son Pail­lard pro­duced approx­i­mate­ly 180,000 of these hand-cranked won­ders over the course of three years. When sales dropped in 1927, the remain­ing stock was sold off at a dis­count or giv­en away to con­test win­ners.

These days, an authen­tic Mik­phone can fetch $500 and upward at auc­tion. (Beware of Miki­phonies!)

Relat­ed Con­tent

Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renais­sance Inven­tion Cre­at­ed to Make Books Portable & Help Schol­ars Study Sev­er­al Books at Once (1588)

Behold the Jacobean Trav­el­ing Library: The 17th Cen­tu­ry Fore­run­ner to the Kin­dle

The Walk­man Turns 40: See Every Gen­er­a­tion of Sony’s Icon­ic Per­son­al Stereo in One Minute

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.



The History of Disco Visualized on a Circuit Diagram of a Klipschorn Speaker: Features 600 Musicians, DJs, Producers, Clubs & Record Labels

Half a cen­tu­ry after it was birthed in New York’s black, Lati­no and gay under­ground club scene–and near­ly 45 years after the infa­mous Dis­co Demo­li­tion in Chicago’s Comiskey Park–dis­co is final­ly being accord­ed some respect in the annals of music his­to­ry.

Even those who remain imper­vi­ous to dis­co fever seem will­ing to acknowl­edge its cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance as evi­denced by a recent exchange on the Trouser Press forum:

It was every­where and could indeed get tire­some. But today I can appre­ci­ate how well put-togeth­er those records by an artist like the Bee Gees were…

Hear­ing tech­no for the first time in the ear­ly 90s, and real­iz­ing it was just dis­co in a new, all-elec­tron­ic pack­age, made me real­ize how good a lot of it was…

I remem­ber see­ing (A Taste of Hon­ey) on The Mid­night Spe­cial. It was the first time I’d seen a band with female mem­bers play­ing instru­ments…

Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly cel­e­brat­ed the his­to­ry of hip-hop, UK-based design stu­dio Dorothy gives dis­co its due with a blue­print pay­ing trib­ute to the many artists who made the form what it was, from foun­da­tion lay­ers like Ted­dy Pen­der­grass, Mar­vin Gaye, and James Brown to such trail­blaz­ing super­stars as Don­na Sum­mer, Glo­ria Gaynor, Sylvester, Chic and the Bee Gees.

The Dis­co Love Blue­print also name checks some of disco’s influ­en­tial pro­duc­ers, DJs, and labels, along with water­shed moments like 1969’s Stonewall Upris­ing and 1977’s Sat­ur­day Night Fever, report­ed­ly film crit­ic Gene Siskel’s favorite movie.

And while the dis­co explo­sion even­tu­al­ly saw young straight sin­gles doing the Bump in Indi­anapo­lis, Phoenix, and Spokane, Dorothy sticks close to the epi­cen­ter by includ­ing such leg­endary New York City clubs as Stu­dio 54, The Gallery, Par­adise Garage, The Saint, and The Loft, a pri­vate dis­cotheque in DJ David Man­cu­so’s Low­er Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

In Bill Brewster’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The His­to­ry of the Disc Jock­ey, Man­cu­so’s audio engi­neer, Alex Ros­ner, recalled the Loft’s clien­tele as being “prob­a­bly about six­ty per­cent black and sev­en­ty per­cent gay:”

There was a mix of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, there was a mix of races, mix of eco­nom­ic groups. A real mix, where the com­mon denom­i­na­tor was music.

One can’t men­tion the music at The Loft with­out giv­ing props to the inno­v­a­tive and effi­cient sound sys­tem Ros­ner devised for Mancuso’s 1,850-square-foot space, using a McIn­tosh ampli­fi­er, an AR ampli­fi­er, Vega bass bot­tom speak­ers, and two Klip­schorn Corn­wall loud­speak­ers, whose cir­cuit dia­gram inspired the Dis­co Love Blue­print­’s lay­out.

As com­pos­er and pro­duc­er Matt Som­mers told The Vinyl Fac­to­ry, those speak­ers sur­round­ed dancers with the sort of high vol­ume, undis­tort­ed sound they could lose them­selves in:

…the Man­cu­so par­ties were unique because what he did was take it to a whole oth­er lev­el and cre­at­ed that envel­op­ment expe­ri­ence where you could real­ly get lost and I think that’s what peo­ple love about that, because you can just let your trou­bles go and enjoy it.

Get Dorothy’s Dis­co Love Blue­print, fea­tur­ing 600 musi­cians, DJs, pro­duc­ers, clubs and record labels here.

Relat­ed Con­tent

The His­to­ry of Jazz Visu­al­ized on a Cir­cuit Dia­gram of a 1950s Phono­graph: Fea­tures 1,000+ Musi­cians, Artists, Song­writ­ers and Pro­duc­ers

The His­to­ry of Rock Mapped Out on the Cir­cuit Board of a Gui­tar Ampli­fi­er: 1400 Musi­cians, Song­writ­ers & Pro­duc­ers

Dia­gram of a 1950s Theremin: 200 Inven­tors, Com­posers & Musi­cians

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

The His­to­ry of Hip Hop Music Visu­al­ized on a Turntable Cir­cuit Dia­gram: Fea­tures 700 Artists, from DJ Kool Herc to Kanye West

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

The Untold Sto­ry of Dis­co and Its Black, Lati­no & LGBTQ Roots

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

A Free Digital Archive of Graphic Design: A Curated Collection of Design Treasures from the Internet Archive

We’ve got a thing for cre­ative prob­lem solvers here at Open Cul­ture.

We also love a good com­mu­ni­ty-spir­it­ed project.

Graph­ic design­er Valery Mari­er ticks both box­es with, a free graph­ic design archive that was born of her frus­tra­tions with online research at a time when Covid restric­tions shut­tered libraries and archives.

The non-prof­it dig­i­tal library Inter­net Archive is rich in inter­est­ing mate­r­i­al, but its lack of cura­tion can often leave the user feel­ing like they’re sort­ing through the world’s most dis­or­ga­nized junk shop, root­ing for hid­den trea­sure.

Mari­er was also dis­cour­aged by “a com­bi­na­tion of con­fus­ing boolean oper­a­tors and an absolute hodge­podge of dif­fer­ent meta­da­ta tags and cat­e­go­ry names:

I fig­ured that if I was hav­ing these prob­lems, then there were like­ly oth­er folks who were as well. So I decid­ed to put my design skills to good use and work on a solu­tion. The biggest issues that I felt need­ed to be solved were the user expe­ri­ence, and the con­tent cura­tion. For the archive’s cura­tion, I opt­ed to curate each item man­u­al­ly. While I could have like­ly fig­ured out a way to curate these items using an auto­mat­ed script, I feel that there is an inher­ent val­ue to human cura­tion. When a col­lec­tion is curat­ed by a com­put­er it can seem con­fus­ing and arbi­trary. Where­as with human cura­tion there is often a delib­er­ate con­nec­tion between each object in the col­lec­tion. For the nav­i­ga­tion I want­ed to ensure that it was sim­ple enough that any­one could under­stand it and oper­ate it. So instead of hav­ing a ton of com­plex oper­a­tors, I instead decid­ed to orga­nize them by their aspect in design.

Graph­ic design nerds, rejoice!

Mari­er deter­mines which of the finds should make the cut by con­sid­er­ing rel­e­vance and image qual­i­ty.

A quick peek sug­gests graph­ic design­ers are not the only ones who stand to ben­e­fit from this labor of love.

Edu­ca­tors, his­to­ri­ans, and activists will be reward­ed with a sup­ple­ment to the Guardian from Feb­ru­ary 1970, which pro­vid­ed an overview of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty in their own words. There’s a ton of infor­ma­tion and his­to­ry packed into these 8 pages, from its for­ma­tion and its 10-point pro­gram, to an inter­view with then-incar­cer­at­ed par­ty chair­man Bob­by Seale.

The IBM Ergonom­ics Hand­book from 1989 address­es an ever­green top­ic. Office man­agers, phys­i­cal ther­a­pists, and dig­i­tal nomads should take note. Its rec­om­men­da­tions on con­fig­ur­ing the work space for max­i­mum effi­cien­cy, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and employ­ee com­fort are sol­id. It’s not this hand­some lit­tle yel­low and blue employ­ee manual’s fault that ref­er­ences to now-obso­lete tech­nol­o­gy ren­der it a bit quaint:

Think of two fair­ly recent inno­va­tions in our lives — the push but­ton tele­phone and the pock­et cal­cu­la­tor. Both have a stan­dard key set lay­out, but not the same lay­out.

Mari­er elect­ed to let each pick be rep­re­sent­ed by its cov­ers, fig­ur­ing “what bet­ter way to browse designed objects than by how they look.”

We agree, though we’re wor­ried about where this might leave 1924’s Posters & Their Design­ers. How can its staid blue cov­er com­pete against its sexy neigh­bors in the posters cat­e­go­ry?

Small busi­ness own­ers, set dressers and pub­lic domain fans should give Posters & Their Design­ers a chance. Behind that dis­creet blue cov­er are a wide assort­ment of stun­ning ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry posters, includ­ing some full col­or repro­duc­tions.

While not specif­i­cal­ly typog­ra­phy relat­ed, Mari­er wise­ly gives this resource a typog­ra­phy tag. Hand let­ter­ing loy­al­ists and font fanat­ics will find much to admire.

We hope to pique your inter­est with a few more of our favorite cov­ers, below. Begin your explo­rations of here.

via Eye on Design/Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Let­ter­form Archive Launch­es a New Online Archive of Graph­ic Design, Fea­tur­ing 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


A New Horror-Themed Tarot Deck Draws on a Century’s Worth of Scary Movies, Comics & Magazines

Hal­loween looms.

Have we got a tarot deck for you!

Todd Alcott, the mad sci­en­tist respon­si­ble for Open Culture’s favorite mid­cen­tu­ry graph­ic mashups, infus­es his Hor­ror Tarot with a century’s worth of hair-rais­ing, spine-tin­gling imagery.

The artist admires the genre’s capac­i­ty for con­vey­ing sub­ver­sive mes­sages, explain­ing that “hor­ror is where we think about the unthink­able and rev­el in the things that are bad for us:”

Dra­ma can exalt the finest in human­i­ty, but hor­ror shows us who we real­ly are. From The Golem to Franken­stein to The Shin­ing to The Silence of the Lambs, hor­ror uses metaphor to explore the dark­est and most unfor­giv­able aspects of human nature.

As he did with his Pulp Tarot deck, Alcott put in hun­dreds of research hours, study­ing movie posters, pulp mag­a­zines, fan mags, paper­back books, and clas­sic comics to get a feel for peri­od design trends and exe­cu­tion:

I love see­ing the dif­fer­ent devel­op­ments in print­ing, from etch­ing to lith­o­g­ra­phy to silkscreens to off­set print­ing. All those dif­fer­ent meth­ods of cre­at­ing images, all ridicu­lous­ly com­pli­cat­ed back then, are now tak­en care of eas­i­ly with a few mouse clicks. In my own per­verse way, I want to bring those days back. I want to see the flaws in the process, I want to see the lim­i­ta­tions of repro­duc­tion, and, most of all, I want to be able to feel the paper the images are print­ed on.

The cards of the Major Arcana are inspired by film posters span­ning the silent era to the present day. Each card has close ties to Hor­ror Tarot Stu­dios, a fic­tion­al pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny that pur­ports to have been in busi­ness since the dawn of the motion pic­ture.

The Jus­tice card ref­er­ences mar­ket­ing tac­tics for grit­ty 70s dri­ve-in sta­ples like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave. The deck’s instruc­tion book­let con­tains a few anec­dotes about the pro­duc­tion of these movies, a help­ful bit of con­text for those who might have missed (or skipped) that fer­tile era of women’s revenge pic­tures:

I want­ed the Hor­ror Tarot Jus­tice to be some­one the read­er can root for, even if they’re hor­ri­fied by what Jus­tice promis­es: not death, but “what you deserve.”

Famous Mon­sters of Film­land, a prime pre-inter­net resource for hor­ror fans, was Alcott’s jump­ing off place for the Minor Arcana’s Suit of Wands.

You may have no knowl­edge of that sem­i­nal pub­li­ca­tion, but you’d prob­a­bly rec­og­nize some of the cov­er art­work by painter Basil Gogos, fea­tur­ing such MVPs as Frankenstein’s mon­ster, the Crea­ture from the Black Lagoon, the Phan­tom of the Opera and Drac­u­laAlcott says that many of Gogos’ icon­ic mon­ster por­traits are more deeply ingrained in the pub­lic mem­o­ry than the art the stu­dios chose to pro­mote their movies:

…for the Suit of Wands I want­ed to cre­ate a series of por­traits done in his style, fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters he nev­er got around to paint­ing. The Four of Wands is a card about home­com­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and I had the idea to paint Fred­er­ick March’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as two sep­a­rate men, meet­ing for the first time in a back alley in Vic­to­ri­an Lon­don. 

A home­com­ing does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly require a phys­i­cal return to a phys­i­cal home — it can be com­plete­ly inter­nal. I want­ed to show Dr. Jekyll com­ing to terms with his inner strug­gle.

The Suit of Swords recre­ates the look of anoth­er indeli­ble hor­ror trope — the EC comics of the 1950s:

These comics were so lurid and per­verse that they actu­al­ly sparked a con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tion, which end­ed up putting them out of busi­ness. Again, before the inter­net, this is what hor­ror fans had avail­able to them, and comics pub­lish­ers had to keep push­ing the lim­its of what was accept­able in order to stay ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion. 

For the Five of Swords, I par­o­died and gen­der-swapped the infa­mous cov­er of Crime Sus­pen­Sto­ries #22. The Five of Swords is a card about being a bad win­ner, about gloat­ing at your oppo­nen­t’s defeat, about overkill. I fig­ured that a house­wife mur­der­ing her hus­band and then behead­ing him with a sword count­ed as overkill.

Todd Alcott’s Hor­ror Tarot is avail­able here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch the Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Film, The Golem, with a Sound­track by The Pix­ies’ Black Fran­cis

Behold the Sola-Bus­ca Tarot Deck, the Ear­li­est Com­plete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Carl Jung on the Power of Tarot Cards: They Provide Doorways to the Unconscious & Perhaps a Way to Predict the Future

It is gen­er­al­ly accept­ed that the stan­dard deck of play­ing cards we use for every­thing from three-card monte to high-stakes Vegas pok­er evolved from the Tarot. “Like our mod­ern cards,” writes Sal­lie Nichols, “the Tarot deck has four suits with ten ‘pip’ or num­bered cards in each…. In the Tarot deck, each suit has four ‘court’ cards: King, Queen, Jack, and Knight.” The lat­ter fig­ure has “mys­te­ri­ous­ly dis­ap­peared from today’s play­ing cards,” though exam­ples of Knight play­ing cards exist in the fos­sil record. The mod­ern Jack is a sur­vival of the Page cards in the Tarot. (See exam­ples of Tarot court cards here from the 1910 Rid­er-Waite deck.) The sim­i­lar­i­ties between the two types of decks are sig­nif­i­cant, yet no one but adepts seems to con­sid­er using their Gin Rum­my cards to tell the future.

The emi­nent psy­chi­a­trist Carl Jung, how­ev­er, might have done so.

As Mary K. Greer explains, in a 1933 lec­ture Jung went on at length about his views on the Tarot, not­ing the late Medieval cards are “real­ly the ori­gin of our pack of cards, in which the red and the black sym­bol­ize the oppo­sites, and the divi­sion of the four—clubs, spades, dia­monds, and hearts—also belongs to the indi­vid­ual sym­bol­ism.

They are psy­cho­log­i­cal images, sym­bols with which one plays, as the uncon­scious seems to play with its con­tents.” The cards, said Jung, “com­bine in cer­tain ways, and the dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions cor­re­spond to the play­ful devel­op­ment of mankind.” This, too, is how Tarot works—with the added dimen­sion of “sym­bols, or pic­tures of sym­bol­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.” The images—the hanged man, the tow­er, the sun—“are sort of arche­typ­al ideas, of a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed nature.”

Thus far, Jung has­n’t said any­thing many ortho­dox Jun­gian psy­chol­o­gists would find dis­agree­able, but he goes even fur­ther and claims that, indeed, “we can pre­dict the future, when we know how the present moment evolved from the past.” He called for “an intu­itive method that has the pur­pose of under­stand­ing the flow of life, pos­si­bly even pre­dict­ing future events, at all events lend­ing itself to the read­ing of the con­di­tions of the present moment.” He com­pared this process to the Chi­nese I Ching, and oth­er such prac­tices. As ana­lyst Marie-Louise von Franz recounts in her book Psy­che and Mat­ter:

Jung sug­gest­ed… hav­ing peo­ple engage in a div­ina­to­ry pro­ce­dure: throw­ing the I Ching, lay­ing the Tarot cards, con­sult­ing the Mex­i­can div­ina­tion cal­en­dar, hav­ing a tran­sit horo­scope or a geo­met­ric read­ing done.

Con­tent seemed to mat­ter much less than form. Invok­ing the Swe­den­bor­gian doc­trine of cor­re­spon­dences, Jung notes in his lec­ture, “man always felt the need of find­ing an access through the uncon­scious to the mean­ing of an actu­al con­di­tion, because there is a sort of cor­re­spon­dence or a like­ness between the pre­vail­ing con­di­tion and the con­di­tion of the col­lec­tive uncon­scious.”

What he aimed at through the use of div­ina­tion was to accel­er­ate the process of “indi­vid­u­a­tion,” the move toward whole­ness and integri­ty, by means of play­ful com­bi­na­tions of arche­types. As anoth­er mys­ti­cal psy­chol­o­gist, Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, puts it, “the Tarot will teach you how to cre­ate a soul.” Jung per­ceived the Tarot, notes the blog Fae­na Aleph, “as an alchem­i­cal game,” which in his words, attempts “the union of oppo­sites.” Like the I Ching, it “presents a rhythm of neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive, loss and gain, dark and light.”

Much lat­er in 1960, a year before his death, Jung seemed less san­guine about Tarot and the occult, or at least down­played their mys­ti­cal, div­ina­to­ry pow­er for lan­guage more suit­ed to the lab­o­ra­to­ry, right down to the usu­al com­plaints about staffing and fund­ing. As he wrote in a let­ter about his attempts to use these meth­ods:

Under cer­tain con­di­tions it is pos­si­ble to exper­i­ment with arche­types, as my ‘astro­log­i­cal exper­i­ment’ has shown. As a mat­ter of fact we had begun such exper­i­ments at the C. G. Jung Insti­tute in Zurich, using the his­tor­i­cal­ly known intu­itive, i.e., syn­chro­nis­tic meth­ods (astrol­o­gy, geo­man­cy, Tarot cards, and the I Ching). But we had too few co-work­ers and too lit­tle means, so we could not go on and had to stop.

Lat­er inter­preters of Jung doubt­ed that his exper­i­ments with div­ina­tion as an ana­lyt­i­cal tech­nique would pass peer review. “To do more than ‘preach to the con­vert­ed,’” wrote the authors of a 1998 arti­cle pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Para­psy­chol­o­gy, “this exper­i­ment or any oth­er must be done with suf­fi­cient rig­or that the larg­er sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty would be sat­is­fied with all aspects of the data tak­ing, analy­sis of the data, and so forth.” Or, one could sim­ply use Jun­gian meth­ods to read the Tarot, the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty be damned.

As in Jung’s many oth­er cre­ative reap­pro­pri­a­tions of myth­i­cal, alchem­i­cal, and reli­gious sym­bol­ism, his inter­pre­ta­tion of the Tarot inspired those with mys­ti­cal lean­ings to under­take their own Jun­gian inves­ti­ga­tions into para­psy­chol­o­gy and the occult. Inspired by Jung’s ver­bal descrip­tions of the Tarot’s major arcana, artist and mys­tic Robert Wang has cre­at­ed a Jun­gian Tarot deck, and an accom­pa­ny­ing tril­o­gy of books, The Jun­gian Tarot and its Arche­typ­al Imagery, Tarot Psy­chol­o­gy, and Per­fect Tarot Div­ina­tion.

You can see images of each of Wang’s cards here. His books pur­port to be exhaus­tive stud­ies of Jung’s Tarot the­o­ry and prac­tice, writ­ten in con­sul­ta­tion with Jung schol­ars in New York and Zurich. Sal­lie Nichols’ Jung and Tarot: An Arche­typ­al Jour­ney is less volu­mi­nous and innovative—using the tra­di­tion­al, Pamela Cole­man-Smith-illus­trat­ed, Rid­er-Waite deck rather than an updat­ed orig­i­nal ver­sion. But for those will­ing to grant a rela­tion­ship between sys­tems of sym­bols and a col­lec­tive uncon­scious, her book may pro­vide some pen­e­trat­ing insights, if not a recipe for pre­dict­ing the future.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Artis­tic & Mys­ti­cal World of Tarot: See Decks by Sal­vador Dalí, Aleis­ter Crow­ley, H.R. Giger & More

Carl Jung Offers an Intro­duc­tion to His Psy­cho­log­i­cal Thought in a 3‑Hour Inter­view (1957)

The Vision­ary Mys­ti­cal Art of Carl Jung: See Illus­trat­ed Pages from The Red Book

How Carl Jung Inspired the Cre­ation of Alco­holics Anony­mous

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Behold the Jacobean Traveling Library: The 17th Century Forerunner to the Kindle

Image cour­tesy of the Uni­ver­si­ty at Leeds

In the strik­ing image above, you can see an ear­ly exper­i­ment in mak­ing books portable–a 17th cen­tu­ry pre­cur­sor, if you will, to the mod­ern day Kin­dle.

Accord­ing to the library at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leeds, this “Jacobean Trav­el­ling Library” dates back to 1617. That’s when William Hakewill, an Eng­lish lawyer and MP, com­mis­sioned the minia­ture library–a big book, which itself holds 50 small­er books, all “bound in limp vel­lum cov­ers with coloured fab­ric ties.” What books were in this portable library, meant to accom­pa­ny noble­men on their jour­neys? Nat­u­ral­ly the clas­sics. The­ol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, clas­si­cal his­to­ry and poet­ry. The works of Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Vir­gil, Tac­i­tus, and Saint Augus­tine. Many of the same texts that showed up in The Har­vard Clas­sics (now avail­able online) three cen­turies lat­er.

Appar­ent­ly three oth­er Jacobean Trav­el­ling Libraries were made. They now reside at the British Library, the Hunt­ing­ton Library in San Mari­no, Cal­i­for­nia, and the Tole­do Muse­um of Art in Tole­do, Ohio.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Napoleon’s Kin­dle: See the Minia­tur­ized Trav­el­ing Library He Took on Mil­i­tary Cam­paigns

Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renais­sance Inven­tion Cre­at­ed to Make Books Portable & Help Schol­ars Study Sev­er­al Books at Once (1588)

The Har­vard Clas­sics: Down­load All 51 Vol­umes as Free eBooks

The Fiske Read­ing Machine: The 1920s Pre­cur­sor to the Kin­dle

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