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Published October 07, 2012 Updated April 11, 2022

18: Belgian Cards: An Introduction

The card-makers of Turnhout were prolific in their output and inveterate copiers.

Belgium Brepols Glénisson Mesmaekers Van Genechten

People were not always keen to collect Belgian cards, unless they were something special, so English pattern cards from Turnhout and elsewhere in Belgium were often ignored in the 1970s and 80s. It's true that there were a lot of them about - and still are - partly because they were made in vast quantities, even in the 19th century, but also because when Stanley Gibbons bought the Kurzrock collection from the United States, the market was flooded with them. As I understand it, that collector went to Turnhout at the time Carta Mundi was getting into gear and he bought up all the old stock of the makers who went to make up that company. There were both full packs and thousands of samples, some of which were very interesting and unusual, but nevertheless common. There was also a large export trade in Belgium. Moreover, a lot of square cornered, unindexed packs were made for the Indian market right up into the 1930s (so you often see them for sale misdated), I am led to believe, as temple offerings in particular. This would explain why so many of them are poorly printed, on thick card and impossible to play with. Below I give a selection of some of the more interesting items by way of an introduction.

For a list of a miscellaneous number of Belgian makers, some from outside Turnhout, click here

Van Genechten samples and a couple of back designs; the large stamped numbers are typical of this maker. c.1875

Van Genechten for Ansell, London, using a Turnhout version of the double-ended standard, c.1875 or earlier.

Glénisson was a less common maker, originally in partnership with Van Genechten. These cards, which use Glénisson's version of the same design, seem to have been made for the British market, as the back has the flowers of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom (including the shamrock for Ireland). c.1875

Brepols also used this design, c.1875-85

Mesmaekers continued to use this design, with six turned courts as well, c.1880-1900

Glénisson, like all the Turnhout makers, made single-figure courts, too, which continued later than in the UK and the USA.

Glénisson, c.1870

Turnhout makers were inventive and produced north European versions of the standard English pattern with courts that look like those of the packs derived from the Paris pattern and some non-standard packs. A single-figure version is illustrated on page 19 of this blog; a double-ended version is illustrated here, c.1875.

Brepols, c.1875

The best reference for Belgian cards and their makers is probably The Turnhout playing card industry (1826-1976) by Eugeen Van Autenboer, published together with Louis Tummers' History of Belgian playing cards from 1379 to 1826 in the Memo from Belgium series, No.174, by the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in Development in 1976. It is full of historical detail, useful dates and discussion and illustration of the products of the various makers. Sadly, it is out of print, but the Belgian Embassy in London is a helpful first port of call. The Turnhout Museum dedicated to playing cards and their production is well worth a visit (as are the other European playing card museums) and from time to time catalogues for particular exhibitions have been produced.

There have been card-makers in various centres in Belgium, but Turnhout is certainly the most prolific in terms of size of output. They also produced a wide range of types of card, from Chinese money-derived cards to Portuguese dragon aces packs to non-standards as well. As regards the standard English pattern, they have always been inveterate copiers of other makers' designs, but after c.1850 started to develop their own as well. These designs were often used by different makers with variation in the details. The main problem with Belgian cards is that they are often anonymous, so unless you have sets of plates relating to named makers, it's down to educated guesswork as to who actually made them. The Turnhout makers also made cards for other publishers, who had their own named ASs (just as in many other countries), or the makers themselves may have used pseudonyms, especially for the export trade, such as Ansell or Davis, both based in London.

In the 19th century they were not above pinching other people's names and designs, sometimes as part of an illegal trade. In 1825 Joseph Hunt complained to a government commission looking into the taxation of playing cards that fake copies of his Garter AS were to be found on sale in England and that he understood that they had come from Belgium. The pack illustrated below is likely to be one such illegal import. The AS is from a wood block and has GIIII instead of GIV. The court cards are copies of Type II of the 1820s used by Hall, Stone and Creswick.

The usual single-figure courts were related to De La Rue's D3; the quality of the printing varied, but below is a rather finely executed example with purple added to the colours by Brepols & Dierckx Zoon from c.1870.

Van Genechten even produced a version with six turned courts, c.1880-1900.

The non-English types were vary varied. A number of non-standard packs are illustrated on other pages of this blog. Below are three different versions of the JH in different styles of the Austrian pattern A, a descendant of one of the Lyons patterns; who made them is impossible to tell. The In Wien on the banner on the right does not mean they were made in Vienna. A few cards from a 16th century Lyonnais pack by 'IV' (from a reproduction by The Scolar Press, 1970) are also illustrated. Note that the figure of the JH is turned in the later pattern.

The QH from the same pattern was not turned.

There is a nice example of an old French regional design, the first Rouen pattern (not the predecessor of the standard English pattern), still being produced in c.1900 by Brepols.

(For all the courts, see page 11.)

To finish I'll illustrate a number of ASs by Turnhout makers. Typically they have the motto Dieu pour tous at the bottom, but not always. Certain designs seem to be maker-specific.

At the top left the anonymous one is probably by Van Genechten; other names would appear in the top scroll. The second left at the bottom is by Mesmaekers, the one on the right is by Van Genechten; again, other names appear at the foot, such as Ansell or Champeneys.

On future pages I'll illustrate standard English courts by maker. See pages 21, 22 & 23.


By Ken Lodge

Member since May 14, 2012

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​I'm Ken Lodge and have been collecting playing cards since I was about eighteen months old (1945). I am also a trained academic, so I can observe and analyze reasonably well. I've applied these analytical techniques over a long period of time to the study of playing cards and have managed to assemble a large amount of information about them, especially those of the standard English pattern. Read more...

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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 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


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 007 Die Another Day

007 Die Another Day

“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


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

1976 Butagaz


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

Mickey for Kids

Mickey for Kids

Mickey for Kids playing cards from Disney.

1990 Velux


Velux - la fenêtre de toit de qualité, c.1990.

Biermans Genoese pattern

Biermans Genoese pattern

Biermans Genoese pattern for Clayson agricultural machinery, late 1960s.

Jean Borin

Jean Borin

‘Cartes de Luxe’ with artwork by Belgian artist and designer Jean Borin (1907-1997).

1962 Banque Nationale de Paris, c.1962

Banque Nationale de Paris, c.1962

Special deck made for La Banque Nationale de Paris by Van Genechten, Turnhout, c.1962.

M/S Kronprins Harald

M/S Kronprins Harald

Souvenir of Jahre Line Ferry M/S Kronprins Harald

2003 British Airways Concorde

British Airways Concorde

British Airways Concorde playing cards made in Belgium by Carta Mundi, before 2003.

1877 Cartes de Luxe (1877) facsimile

Cartes de Luxe (1877) facsimile

‘Cartes de Luxe’ first published by Biermans in 1877 was reproduced in facsimile by Amstel Beer in c.1980.

1950 Genever Giraf

Genever Giraf

Dutch pattern advertising deck for Genever Giraf made by Van Genechten in the 1950s.

Piket Fijne Speelkaarten, c.1925-30

Piket Fijne Speelkaarten, c.1925-30

‘Piket Fijne Speelkaarten’ by La Turnhoutoise, c.1925-30.

1980 BG Bouw Building Company

BG Bouw Building Company

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

1964 Max Velthuijs for KLM

Max Velthuijs for KLM

Playing cards designed by Max Velthuijs for KLM airlines first published c.1964

Domino Cards, c.1890

Domino Cards, c.1890

Domino Cards by Mesmaekers Frères, c.1890

1999 Millennium


‘Millennium’ limited edition playing cards by Carta Mundi, 1999

1945 Le Jeu des Alliés

Le Jeu des Alliés

“Le Jeu des Alliés” manufactured by Mesmaekers N.V., Turnhout, 1945.

1973 Food Exchange

Food Exchange

“Food Exchange“ playing cards designed by Ralph Dobson for the British Diabetic Association.

1875 Anon Spanish Cards c.1875

Anon Spanish Cards c.1875

Spanish-suited playing cards made in Belgium by Léonard Biermans, c.1875.

Manuf’d for L.N. Mann

Manuf’d for L.N. Mann

Standard English pattern manuf’d for L.N. Mann by Van Genechten, c.1890.

1960 Tobacco advertising

Tobacco advertising

Advertising decks made in Belgium by A. Van Genechten, 1960s.

Four Colour Cards / 四色牌 / Si Sek Pai

Four Colour Cards / 四色牌 / Si Sek Pai

Four Colour Cards made in Belgium for Far Eastern markets

Brepols Genoese pattern

Brepols Genoese pattern

“Cartes Françaises” and Genoese pattern by Brepols.

Abbey Playing Cards

Abbey Playing Cards

Abbey Playing Cards made in Belgium by La Turnhoutoise, c.1950s.