contrary to the rather well researched designer/artist pairs like Waite/Smith, Crowley/Harris there was another one at the same time in Paris: René Falconnier and Maurice Otto Wegener.
Falconnier was an actor and a member of the Comédie Française which can be verified by digging into the web, he played there up until the 1920s. About Wegener I could not find anything at all. The name Wegener is a German one, so he could have been an Alsacian, but that is only my speculation.
Falconnier published the design in a small booklet dedicated to Alexandre Dumas fils in 1896, Les XXII lames hermétiques du tarot divinatoire, b/w cards attached. Ross found a link to it at http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5525090q.r=alliette.langFR.
Now, Falconnier seems to have been influenced by Jean Baptiste Pitois (1811-1877), a disciple or colleague of Charles Nodier at the Arsenal library where one had tried to sort out the remainders of the French revolution.
I found the following quote interesting, but the web site is long gone, and it could also well be that everything mentioned there was concocted:
Paris. In 1833, Jean Baptiste Pitois, Charles Nodier's former disciple at the Arsenal Library, was an official in the ministry of public education. Pitois, as librarian to the Ministry of Public Education, was given the task of sorting through all the books from the monasteries and provincial libraries brought to Paris. He and Charles Nodier pored over them and claimed to have made interesting discoveries daily. In that year the Ministry undertook an ambitious project -- to publish all hitherto suppressed documents pertinent to the history of France. Two committees were formed to preside over the enterprise. These committees included, among others, Victor Hugo, Jules Michelet, and an authority on the Crusades, Baron Emmanuel Rey. Among the works subsequently published under the auspices of the ministry of public education was Michelet's Le Proces des Templiers -- an exhaustive compilation of Inquisition records dealing with the trials of the Knights Templar. Under the same auspices Baron Rey published a number of works dealing with the Crusades and the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem. In these works there appeared in print for the first time original charters pertaining to the Prieure de Sion.
Pitois published a novel in 1863 under the pen name Paul Christian: L'homme rouge des Tuileries (Red Man of the Tuileries). The novel contains descriptions of the tarot which obviously served as some kind of guideline for Falconnier's direction.
After the 1896 publication the design was re-used without quoting the author by Edgar de Valcourt-Vermont who wrote under the pseudonym of Comte C. de Saint Germain. The latter was a journalist for the Chicago Times, and, according to The Internet, accused to be a fraud.
Catching up from there, there had been several modifications of the design, all made by occultists in USA.
Most of the designs going back to Chritian are summarized at the Russian site "Early Occultist Tarots" at http://green-door.narod.ru/tarotocc.html. The later developments like the Egipcios Kier or the Ibis Tarot can be found in Kaplan.
So, what can I say so far? It looks like the design was conceived in Paris, by a men somehow involved in or at least influenced by French esoteric circles, but shortly after the design jumped over to the Americas and remained there ever since with a few exceptions like the Apologia del Libro de Thot Tarot. For a while the design seems to have been quite popular in South America. But when jumping over to the new world it also lost its roots.
Does anyone know anything about the beginnings, who Maurice Otto Wegener was, what the interaction between Falconnier and Wegener was, what whose contribution was, and how they came up with the design details at all?