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. This can partly be explained by the large number of paper manufacturers established in the area since the 14th century.
Cardmakers were usually regulated by the guild of painters in their area, and numerous accusations, complaints, orders and protections are recorded relating to cardmakers seeking to protect their monopolies over the years. There were also complaints of counterfeit goods of inferior quality with forged trade marks being smuggled into neighbouring France (Cremers, 1994).
Local areas of production emerged, such as Tournai, Namur, Liège, Amsterdam, Brussels & Dinant. Antwerp was a centre of playing card production in the 16th century. An intriguing deck featuring an obsolete Portuguese pattern with dragon aces survives by Gilis van den Bogarde dated 1567 here
A wrapper dated 1676, with the coat-of-arms of the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs, by Jean Constant Remy, Namur here►
Other Belgian cardmakers include Nicolas Bodet in Brussels, Gerard Bodet in Liège, J.-B Galler and François-Jean Vandenborre in Brussels, E.A Daveluy in Bruges, the Dubois firm in Liège. Belgian playing card designs were largely subjugated to local variations of French and German patterns, including tarot cards. What has become known as the standard Belgian pattern replaced earlier patterns in around 1900.
Since the nineteenth century playing cards became the most spectacular offshoot of the Turnhout printing industry. The principal card makers in Turnhout were: Brepols (1826-1970), Van Genechten (1856-1970), Glénisson (1837-99), Mesmaekers (1859-1968), Biermans (1875-1970), La Turnhoutoise (1881-1960), all of which eventually all merged into Carta Mundi (1970-present).
These manufacturers tended to offer a similar range of cards and were in close competition with each other. Some of the most common or standard patterns associated with Belgian cardmakers are the following:
During the nineteenth century Belgian manufacturers exported worldwide, extending their markets by producing Chinese cards for export to South-East Asian countries including Java, Sumatra, the Celebes, Thailand and possibly China as well.
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"...
Nationaal Museum van de Speelkaart
In 1983 the Nationaal Museum van de Speelkaart was established in Turnhout, housed in a former Mesmaekers annex. The museum contains historic manufacturing machinery, numerous exhibits with plenty of information and is well worth a visit.
Belgian beer labels
Connotations of playing cards and jokers from Belgian brewery.
We are born and all live in Turnhout. Turnhout is the playing card city of Belgium. We have the national playing card museum and of course the worldwide leader of playing card production, CartaMundi. So it was logical for us to work with playing card names for our beers. Het Nest Brouwerij►
• See also Het Nest Brouwerij playing cards►
Member since February 01, 1996
Founder and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.
Brazilian scenic aces with emperors of Brazil, Austria and France and other dignitaries on the court...
French-suited Bavarian Animal Tarot by J B Dubois, Liège, Belgium, late 18th C.
Early 19th century Animal Tarot pack produced by J T Dubois, Liège, Belgium.
Psychedelic designs promoting Louis De Poortere, a company selling carpets and rugs.
Four Corners of the World fantasy playing cards by Daveluy, Bruges, Belgium, 1875-1880.
Commedia dell’Carte political transformation cards illustrated by Stef van Stiphout, Belgium, 1977. ...
Original designs depicting leaders and allegories from Russia, France, Great Britain and Belgium.
Two souvenir packs with different court cards made by Glénisson for the Isle of Man, c.1880.
Cartoon-style illustrations promoting a Belgian organisation for scouts and guides.
Playing cards for gender equality, created on the 500th anniversary of classic French cards
Another pack of Dutch costume playing cards c.1880.
Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.
Railway Stations quartet game illustrated by Wim Dolk and published by Servex BV, Utrecht, 1975.
Promotional deck designed by Ray Goossens for the Boerenbond farmers’ union, c.1968.