Belgian manufacturers during the 19th century, along with those from USA and France, were competing against Spanish makers in Spanish-speaking markets such as South America. Features of the traditional Spanish designs, including many well-known brands, imagery and logos, were imitated or plagiarised.
Often they were anonymous so as to avoid importation duties in the destination country. It is surprising how many of these Belgian-made decks have survived to the present day in unused condition, often complete with their original wrappers. This leads us to suspect that many consignments of packs never reached their intended destinations, either because they were confiscated or withheld in customs warehouses, or were superseded by newer models, or else they were never shipped in the first place. Overproduction may also have been due to optimism and contracts going wrong. However, the large majority of packs, presumably, were sold and played with.
Above: Spanish Catalan-style playing cards made by Mesmaekers, c.1875. Woodblock and stencil printing. The reverse has a purple marbled effect. more →
Above: Anonymous Spanish Catalan-style playing cards made for export to the River Plate region, c.1875-85. Woodblock and brightly-coloured stencil printing. The reverse has advertising for Cerveza El Gallo which was exported to Uruguay and Argentina. more →
Above: cards from anonymous Spanish-suited pack, made in Belgium c.1875. The cards are of a
cheap grade and stencil-coloured. The lion motif on the ace of coins is a common feature on Spanish packs from
this era. Also the basket of flowers is often seen on Belgian-made Spanish-suited cards. more →
Above: 4 cards from a Spanish style pack made by Antoon Van Genechten, Turnhout, 1877. The attentive Belgian manufacturers exported large quantities of cards to Spain and South America. Van Genechten, for example, was producing 'Cartes Espagnoles' in packs of 40 or 48 cards, in various grades, since the 1850s and in c.1860 made a special pack for Escalada y Vidiella of Montevideo (Uruguay).
Above: cards from a Spanish style pack made by Van Genechten, Turnhout, c.1920. more →
Imitation Spanish packs are also known from El Salvador.