October 2015



We'll start with a "Card of the Month" here. It doesn't happen very often, but this month there was a good reason to show one here again. It's a souvenir from this year's IPCS convention in Turnhout, Belgium. It wasn't in the goody bag, but was presented to those members who had the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the Carta Mundi factory there. Carta Mundi is one of the world leaders in the manufacturing of playing cards and the company doesn't usually allow a visit, but for this occasion they made an exception and we got a complete tour of the factory and offices. At the end of our visit there were sandwiches and soft drinks, but to our surprise each visitor also received a personal deck, with his or her name on it. Not only on the box, but on the backs too! 

During the last trading session at the IPCS convention we had already seen this interesting deck on offer. It looked quite similar to a deck that we had bought several years ago, but had the name of "Gustav Lenssen" on one of the cards ánd it came with the original wrapper, which also had the name "G. Lenssen" on it, together with the name of the deck. The deck wasn't sold at the trading session, so we had a few days to think about this offer and we decided to buy the deck after all. The seller was a long time Dutch collector, Paul Symons, and he had several different editions of this portrait by different makers, but this Lenssen deck brought some confusion about the dating of the other editions. Paul and Joop decided to do some further research into this pattern together.


To illustrate the confusion: our first deck was bought from a German collector, who stated that the deck was made by Lattmann around 1870. It came without a wrapper or box, so there was no easy way of checking his information. We found pictures of a few cards in a book about Belgian playing cards, but that didn't give any decisive info about our deck. It wasn't until we had bought Luc Biebouw's book about Belgian playing cards in the beginning of this year, that we became aware that our deck wasn't made by Lattmann, but by the Belgian manufacturer Brepols & Dierckx. It was dated there as around 1880 (Belgische Speelkaarten, Biebouw, BD15, p.81).

The Lenssen deck is titled "Nationale Speelkaarten" and the kings show former Dutch stadtholders from the House of orange, all dedicated to the independence of the Netherlands. All have a crown above the pip, although they were never crowned as king here. The queens and jacks show costumes and dresses from different provinces or places in the Netherlands.

The aces show scenes from different Dutch cities. We've shown the upside down views here separately.



There are two apparent differences between the Brepols & Dierckx deck, which we already had in our collection, and this deck. The ace of hearts in this deck shows scenes from Leeuwarden (Frisia) and Middelburg (Zealand). In the Brepols & Dierckx deck the scenes are from Leyden and Utrecht. Another distinguishing difference is the cap of the queen of clubs. Here she wears a low cap, but in the Brepols & Dierckx deck her cap is much higher. The different ace and low cap also appear in a deck that was made by Biermans and is usually dated as around 1880 (Turnhoutse Speelkaarten, Autenboer/Cremers, 133, p.124).

The name of Gustav Lenssen appears on the King of Clubs. In ads in Dutch newspapers from 1838 his first name is spelled as Gustaaf, but on some of the known wrappers from other decks his name is written (not printed) in French as Gustave. On the wrapper below his name is in print, but only his initial is given.


Our deck is an "hombre" deck, so it consists of 40 cards: courts and aces with pip cards 2 - 7.
Not visible on the scans, but a luxurious touch: solid gold edges all around.


The wrapper shows the portrait of Prince William of Orange (1533 - 1584), who is also known as William the Silent. He is considered to be the founding father of the later Netherlands, being the Stadtholder (a sort of viceroy) to start a war in 1568 against its landlord, the Spanish empire under King Philip II. This war is known as the Dutch Revolt and it lasted about 80 years before independence was declared in 1648 for the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (also known as the United Provinces), which was already founded in 1588. His heraldic device was "Je maintiendrai" (I will uphold), but in this pack he is depicted with a banner, which says "aurea libertas". It refers to the "Golden Liberty", a political system in the Kingdom of Poland in the 16th century, in which the nobles had extensive rights and privileges and elected the king. This system must have been his inspiration to engage in a war with his king, Philip II of Spain. Note that on the wrapper there's no crown above the pip.

The other Princes of Orange are Prince Maurits (the son of William I), who was Stadtholder from 1618 - 1625, Prince Frederik Hendrik from 1625 - 1647 and Prince William III, who began his career in 1672 as Stadtholder of Holland, Zealand and Utrecht and in 1696 of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. In 1689 he had also been crowned as King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland he was nicknamed King Billy, although his formal title there was King William II.

So why is this deck confusing in terms of dating?

It is the first known deck of which the name G. Lenssen has been printed on the wrapper. The present documented information about this playing card "factory"* from Maastricht (Netherlands) is that his company existed between 1838 and 1859. In 1860 the son of Gustav Lenssen, Oscar, founded a playing card company in Zevenaar (Netherlands) under the name Oscar Lenssen & Co. This company took over and incorporated the Lenssen factory in Maastricht and the sales office of Lenssen & Gundlach in Düsseldorf (Germany). The presence of this wrapper would suggest that the deck was made in 1859 at the latest.
The 2 Belgian decks, by Brepols & Dierckx and by Biermans, have always been dated as around 1880. The design of the courts and aces of the Lenssen deck are a match to those used in the later (?) deck by Biermans. In regard to the deck by Brepols & Dierckx we had already made a remark in one of our xpo's about the view of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, which was in our opinion older than the date of the deck. And we can make that same remark about that view of Amsterdam on the ace of clubs in this deck. If that scene was based on a somewhat contemporary view, it should have shown the statue of "Naatje" in front of the royal palace.
This statue was officially called "Eendracht" (Unity), but was soon commonly known as "Naatje". It was erected in 1856 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a short, but military successful raid against a Belgian upraise in 1830, that nevertheless lead to the sovereignty of Belgium. Maybe it was because the artist who designed the statue was Flemish, but his chosen material was of such poor quality that the statue had to be removed from the square in 1914. Parts came loose, a whole arm fell off and it was considered a danger to the public by that time. "Naatje" is still used in a Dutch expression to say that something is bad or poorly done, but the short presence of this statue on the Dam square provides a usable time window.
Therefore the  use of this view on the palace could indicate that the deck has been designed before or around the time that the statue was erected, so sometime in the 1850's. This would be consistent with the publication by Gustav Lenssen, but doesn't explain the later dates of the 2 Belgian decks. We both have theories about this issue, but in order to find some answers Paul Symons and Joop will do some further research in the archives of the National Playing Card Museum in Turnhout in December and will add any further findings here then.

* I've put factory between quotation marks here, because there is doubt about the actual production of playing cards by this "playing cards factory". It's well possible that Gustav Lenssen has only commissioned and published decks, but that the actual printing was done by a Belgian or German manufacturer.