Belgian cardmakers have been actively designing and exporting playing cards since the 14th century. Some of the earliest documentary evidence about playing cards in Europe emanates from Belgium: accounts for money spent on playing cards; money lost whilst playing at cards, etc.
Playing cards became the most spectacular offshoot of the Turnhout printing industry.
Since the nineteenth century the principal card makers in Turnhout are:
Brepols (1826-1970), Van Genechten (1856-1970), Glénisson (1837-99), Mesmaekers (1859-1968), Biermans (1875-1970), La Turnhoutoise (1881-1960) and Carta Mundi (1970-present).
The different manufacturers tended to offer a similar range of cards. Some of the most common or standard patterns associated with Belgian cardmakers are the following:
During the nineteenth century Belgian manufacturers produced Chinese cards for export to South-East Asian countries including Java, Sumatra, the Celebes, Thailand and possibly China as well.
Daveluy, Bruges (active 1835-1895) •
Brepols & Dierckx 'Bongoût' with Scenic Aces for Brasil, c.1885 •
Jeu de Cartes Estétique Nº1 •
World War I Commemorative, 1919 •
Biermans Scenic Aces for Brasil, c.1920 •
A Todos Alumbra, c.1920 •
Dilkhus, 1922 •
Philips Arlita, 1925 •
Brepols Scenic Aces for Brasil, c.1930 •
L'Union Fait la Force, 1945 •
Renée Sturbelle, 1947 •
Brussels Euro Joker Club 1998 •
Carta Mundi Trumps Car Series •
Carta Mundi Dutch pattern •
Carta Mundi Spanish pattern •
P&O European Shipping •
P&O Stena Shipping •
Fake Blanchard duty Ace of Spades.
In 1983 the Nationaal Museum van de Speelkaart was established in Turnhout. Their website is in Dutch, but some nice pictures can be seen here.
After almost 200 years Turnhout is still a world centre for playing card production and Carta Mundi - a symbolic name indeed! - takes care that Turnhout playing cards will always "turn up trumps"...
Cartamundi has its head offices in Turnhout, Belgium and factories in Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland, the United States, Brazil and Mexico, and wholly-owned sales offices in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Chile and Singapore. The group had a turnover of €142 million in 2007, and employs more than 1,000 people.
In its technical presentation and the aesthetic aspect imparted to it, a playing card remains a faithful reflection of the period which produced it.
Above: double-ended provincial variant of the 'Paris' pattern which had spread to the Low Countries from Northern France, manufactured in Belgium, woodblock & stencil printing technology, c.1780-1810.
Above: assorted Belgian playing cards, 19th century: a) English style by Mesmaekers, b) Daveluy, 1870, c) Spanish-suited card, 4) Brepols & Dierckx & Son, c.1865.
Above: assorted playing card back designs, 20th century, by Biermans see more →
Above: Belgian pattern manufactured by Brepols for De Beukelaer’s Biscuits, c.1950.
Above: BG Bouw Dutch Building Company publicity deck manufactured by Carta Mundi, c.1980.