The World of Playing Cards Logo
Published July 03, 1996 Updated October 06, 2023

Belgian Playing Cards

Belgian cardmakers have been actively designing and exporting playing cards since the 14th century.

Belgium Turnhout Add to Collection

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

Gilis van den Bogarde, Antwerp 1567

Above: cards by Gilis van den Bogarde, Antwerp 1567. These had a major influence on several styles of Japanese playing cards, after cards were introduced by Portuguese merchants.

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.


Carta Mundi

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

Welcome to the Museum of the Playing Card!

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.


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. See another example

assorted Belgian playing cards, 19th century

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 designs, 20th century, by Biermans  see more →

Belgian pattern manufactured by Brepols for De Beukelaer’s Biscuits, c.1950

Above: Belgian pattern manufactured by Brepols for De Beukelaer’s Biscuits, c.1950.

BG Bouw Dutch Building Company publicity deck manufactured by Carta Mundi, c.1980

Above: BG Bouw Dutch Building Company publicity deck manufactured by Carta Mundi, c.1980.


REFERENCES

Autenboer, Dr Eugeen van: The Turnhout Playing Card Industry 1826-1976, Aurelia Books, Brussels 1976

Cremers, Filip: Kaartenmakers in Wallonië - Cartiers en Wallonie, Nationaal Museum van de Speelkaart, Turnhout, 1994

Turnhout: National Museum of the Playing Card

Carta Mundi website (includes a history section).

Anonymous Delft earthenware, 19th century

See also: Brepols & Dierckx 'Bongoût' with Scenic Aces for Brasil, c.1885Jeu de Cartes Estétique Nº1World War I Commemorative, 1919Biermans Scenic Aces for Brasil, c.1920A Todos Alumbra, c.1920Dilkhus, 1922Philips Arlita, 1925Brepols Scenic Aces for Brasil, c.1930L'Union Fait la Force, 1945Renée Sturbelle, 1947Low-VisionBrussels Euro Joker Club 1998SupermanCarta Mundi Trumps Car SeriesCarta Mundi Dutch patternCarta Mundi Spanish patternP&O European ShippingP&O Stena ShippingFake Blanchard duty Ace of Spades.

Card Players by Theodoor Rombouts

Above: detail from Card Players by Flemish painter Theodoor Rombouts, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

card players at Loenhout, c.1950s

Above: card players at Loenhout, c.1950s.

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

Beer labels, Het Nest Brouwerij, 2021

Above: playing card-themed beer labels, Het Nest Brouwerij, Turnhout, 2021. Turnhout is, of course, the city of playing cards.

• See also Het Nest Brouwerij playing cards


avatar
1,432 Articles

By Simon Wintle

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.


Related Articles

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Queen of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

Woodblock and Stencil Joker

A limited edition art print of the 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Hearts

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Hearts

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

Woodblock and Stencil Jack of Clubs

A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.

1883 Jeu Quatre Empereurs

Jeu Quatre Empereurs

Brazilian scenic aces with emperors of Brazil, Austria and France and other dignitaries on the court...

1790 Animal Tarot by J. B Dubois

Animal Tarot by J. B Dubois

French-suited Bavarian Animal Tarot by J B Dubois, Liège, Belgium, late 18th C.

1830 Animal Tarot by J. T Dubois

Animal Tarot by J. T Dubois

Early 19th century Animal Tarot pack produced by J T Dubois, Liège, Belgium.

1753 Animal Tarot by G. Larmoyer

Animal Tarot by G. Larmoyer

Flemish Animal Tarot deck by G. Larmoyer, Liège, 1753.

1970 Louis De Poortere

Louis De Poortere

Psychedelic designs promoting Louis De Poortere, a company selling carpets and rugs.

1985 Een Kaartspel

Een Kaartspel

Minimalist playing cards from The Netherlands

2021 Old School Playing cards from Moon

Old School Playing cards from Moon

Designed and published by Leo Scherfig

Het Nest Brouwerij

Het Nest Brouwerij

Het Nest Brouwerij playing cards from Turnhout, Belgium.

1880 Des Quatre Parties du Monde

Des Quatre Parties du Monde

Four Corners of the World fantasy playing cards by Daveluy, Bruges, Belgium, 1875-1880.

Sleeperhold Publications

Sleeperhold Publications

Sleeperhold Publications collaborative art playing cards.

1977 Commedia dell’Carte

Commedia dell’Carte

Commedia dell’Carte political transformation cards illustrated by Stef van Stiphout, Belgium, 1977. ...

2001 Euro Playing Cards

Euro Playing Cards

New euro banknotes and coins from several countries on circular cards.

1915 Maquettes for an unpublished WWI pack

Maquettes for an unpublished WWI pack

Original designs depicting leaders and allegories from Russia, France, Great Britain and Belgium.

1890 Belgian Souvenir playing cards

Belgian Souvenir playing cards

made in Germany by C.L. Wüst

1880 Isle of Man playing cards made by Glénisson of Turnhout

Isle of Man playing cards made by Glénisson of Turnhout

Two souvenir packs with different court cards made by Glénisson for the Isle of Man, c.1880.

1860 Bon Gout No.11 with Crimean War aces

Bon Gout No.11 with Crimean War aces

Made by Mesmaekers & Moentack of Turnhout.

2003 Scouting playing cards

Scouting playing cards

Cartoon-style illustrations promoting a Belgian organisation for scouts and guides.

1893 Neptune No.105 Playing Cards

Neptune No.105 Playing Cards

An exotic pack made by A.Van Genechten of Turnhout

1971 Sigma Coatings

Sigma Coatings

Advertising pack for a company supplying marine paints.

1997 Lost Boys

Lost Boys

Designs created on the occasion of a chess tournament in Antwerp, 1997.

2010 Les Cartes pour l'Égalité

Les Cartes pour l'Égalité

Playing cards for gender equality, created on the 500th anniversary of classic French cards

1945 Jeep Playing cards

Jeep Playing cards

Pack of cards celebrating Allied Victory in the Second World War.

1880 Dutch costume playing cards from an unknown maker

Dutch costume playing cards from an unknown maker

Another pack of Dutch costume playing cards c.1880.

1860 Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards

Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.

Dubois

Dubois

Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134

Luxus Skatkarte Nr.1134 printed by Brepols for Germany, c.1940s.

1920 Brazil Pictorial Aces

Brazil Pictorial Aces

Genoese pattern with Pictorial Aces for Brazil by Brepols, Turnhout, c.1920.

1975 Stationskwartetspel

Stationskwartetspel

Railway Stations quartet game illustrated by Wim Dolk and published by Servex BV, Utrecht, 1975.

1934 Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique

Dynastie Royale de Belgique by Mesmaekers, 1934.

1979 Year of the Child

Year of the Child

Year of the Child commemorative deck designed by Jhan Paulussen, 1979.

1960 Cigar Bands

Cigar Bands

A collection of 24 cigar bands with miniature playing cards.

2002 Die Another Day 007

Die Another Day 007

“007 Die Another Day” James Bond themed playing cards, 2002.

Spectrum Bridge by Cartamundi

Spectrum Bridge by Cartamundi

Spectrum Bridge by Cartamundi

2015 Calavera Playing Cards

Calavera Playing Cards

Calavera playing cards designed by Jirs Huygen for Cartamundi, 2015

1969 Belle Vue Gueuze

Belle Vue Gueuze

Promotional playing cards designed by Wim Simons, Belgium, 1960s.

1760 Anonymous Spanish Suited pack, c.1760

Anonymous Spanish Suited pack, c.1760

Anonymous archaic Spanish suited pack, c.1760.

1968 Boerenbond Veevoeders

Boerenbond Veevoeders

Promotional deck designed by Ray Goossens for the Boerenbond farmers’ union, c.1968.

1963 Bayer

Bayer

Humorous pharmaceutical deck made by Antoine van Genechten for Bayer, c.1963.

1976 Butagaz

Butagaz

“Butagaz” playing cards for the French gas company, c.1976

Mickey for Kids

Mickey for Kids

Mickey for Kids playing cards from Disney.