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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

Dieudonné & Cie Aluette

Aluette playing cards manufactured by Dieudonné & Cie, Angers (France), early 20th century.

Aluette playing cards

manufactured by Dieudonné & Cie, Angers (France), early 20th century.

Aluette is a card game popular in Brittany and the West coast of France, usually played with a special pack the design of which is descended from Archaic Franco-Spanish models. The cards have Spanish suit symbols, the courts have become somewhat stylised and many of the numeral cards contain additional decorative motifs or embellishments which were incorporated by earlier manufacturers or are related to the game-play. Traditional (or archaic) features include a kissing couple on the Five of Coins (once the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella) and a naked child on the Ace of Swords. The Cavalier of Coins is shown in partial back-view.  See also → Lequart Aluette   Dieudonne Catalanes   France-Cartes Aluette 1976

Aluette playing cards by Dieudonné & Cie

Above: Aluette playing cards by Dieudonné & Cie, Angers (France).


In around 1754 Jean Dieudonné (c.1720-1795) relocated from Metz in France to Grevenmacher, in eastern Luxembourg, near the border with Germany. In that same year, being a widower, he re-married Marie Elisabeth Lejeune, a merchant’s daughter. After launching his new business and building it up, he successfully become head of a dynasty of cardmakers. After Jean Dieudonné's death the business was managed by his widow, Marie Elisabeth Lejeune.

Above: 2 cards by Mathias Dieudonné the elder.

The history of the firm is closely linked to the political changes that have marked its existence. Thus, following the French Revolution and the annexation of Luxembourg in 1795, it was forbidden to represent crowned heads on playing cards, and when in 1797 the French government introduced the tax on card games, it took all the commercial intelligence of the Dieudonnés to ensure the survival of the company. Several sons and grandsons became cardmakers thereby continuing the family name (Georges (1759-1828), Jean II (1764-1793), Mathias I (1768-1840), Mathias II (1795-after c.1840) and Antoine Dieudonné (1789/1802-1864)).

Cremers (1994, p.63) suggests that Jean Dieudonné may have learned his trade at Metz but been forced into exile by the strict tax regulations in France. His move to Gravenmacher may have been in order to avail himself of paper supplies, materials and clients in the Rhine valley area, accessible via the Moselle river. The products of the Dieudonné factory were mainly intended for the foreign market, the tax advantages in Luxembourg creating a context favourable for this flourishing craft. Seeking government tax concessions, Dieudonné claimed to be the sole supplier of playing cards to the inhabitants of Luxembourg. The successors of Jean Dieudonné continued the manufacture in Grevenmacher until 1880, when Jean-Paul Dieudonné decided to abandon the production of cards in the township. Other branches of family descendents emigrated to France, Orleans and Angers, taking the business with them where it became known as Dieudonné et Cie.


REFERENCES

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

Kulturhuef Museum, Grevenmacher: the playing cards of Jean Dieudonné

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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