Aurelia Turnhout collector set - edition of 2000
Set c.1974 by Aurelia Books of Brussels
Cards c. 1935
As with so much of the information that can be found online there's a lot of murkiness around this particular playing card set. I will briefly lay out what is in the set first, and follow with more detailed background on the cards.
The set contains 2 very different decks, each in paper wrappers, along with a booklet about the history of playing cards in Turnhout, Belgium. All is contained in a custom wooden box, with the edition number of the set on the front of the booklet. (The archival paper that lines the inside of the box in the picture was placed there by me. The sets do not come lined and the wrapper was quite dark on one side where, my guess, it had been pressed against the wood of the box for years.)
The Turnhout set was produced by Aurelia Books in Brussels, with a write-up in the enclosed booklet that was penned by Dr. Eugeen Van Autenboer, Conservator of the National Playing Card Museum in Turnhout. The Conservator, writing in September of 1974, talks about the upcoming anniversaries of:
- 1976 - 150 years since Brepols printed the first Turnhout playing cards
- 1979 - 600 years since the first mention of playing cards in the region of Belgium.
The Great Mogul deck is an example of the cards that were sent to India for use by the British, and that were adopted by the Indian people themselves. It's a full deck of 52 cards.
These were made with both single-headed full length courts and with the double-ended courts seen in this set. According to Dr. Eugeen Van Autenboer double-ended courts were popular in Calcutta while in Bombay full length courts were the fashion.
The backs of the cards appear to be a smooth printed paper that has been glued to the sheet of thick rough card stock before the cards are cut apart. This is a guess on my part, to explain the marked difference between the 2 sides of the cards.
The ace of spades design, commonly used by Belgian makers of the time, resembles the "Old Frizzle" duty ace of English cards and always seems to feature the words "DIEU POUR TOUS" (God for All).
The second deck of cards is a kind of Chinese Chess deck known as Four Colour Cards - Si Se Pai. ("Chinese Chess" is actually XiangQi, or Jeung Chi in Cantonese, meaning "Elephant Chess")
The symbols on the cards are from Elephant Chess characters, but the play of the cards has nothing to do with Chess and is often more like Rummy. This deck has 56 cards, 2 sets of 7 cards in each colour, a form that was commonly played with in South-East Asia. (Forgive me for the photographs, rather than scans, but arranging all those little cards on the glass of the scanner would have driven me bonkers )
The organgutan on the wrapper indicates that this deck was made for sale in Indonesia, home of the orangutan. The yellow backs are smooth and glossy, and the cards are much thinner than the Moguls.
Here is where we part from the information that comes in the booklet, and from the general info about the card forms.
I purchased my first Aurelia set from an eBay dealer who had listed it as a set containing facsimile decks made for the 150th anniversary of Brepols' printing the first playing cards in the Southern Low Countries.
For months I simply thought I had 2 particularly nice facsimile decks. Even the Fournier Museum catalogue lists the Turnhout Moguls as a facsimile (though the catalogue does contain other errors as well). On recently re-reading the booklet that came with the set, I noticed no mention of facsimile or reproduction, but did notice this statement as an introduction:
"A fascinating tale told by the 19th century playing cards which you bought and which are two of the very last remaining packs."
THAT was interesting. Were these 2 decks actually from the 1800s?!?
Since it was a question of facsimile or original I thought of the web site http://www.plainbacks.com/ where the author of the site, Paul Bostock, talks specifically about facsimile decks and how to distinguish them from originals. I emailed him and he kindly responded. He thought the cards were probably originals and he told me "...there are a lot of these still around, like a dozen at a time in boxes, in absolutely brand new condition still unopened in their wrappers." I was thrilled to think that I may have original decks, whether they were rare or not.
I wanted to post this interesting find here in the Worldwide and expanded my search for info on the Aurelia set. A few sellers did, and still do, have decks which appear to be exactly the same as this Great Mogul, and the varying dates given for the deck, outside of the Aurelia set, are around 1900. Further searching brought me to Ken Lodge's Blog and an article that showed the exact same cards but gave the date as being in the 1930s.
**While researching the Great Moguls I came across, and bought, my second Aurelia set, this time with a blue wrapper and an old illustration in the lid. The blue wrapper contains the exact same Mogul deck, with the same yellow backs, as the red wrapper - I was hoping for an alternate back.
I contacted Paul Bostock again to see if he could help nail down the date for the Moguls and he put me in touch with Ken Lodge directly. The following info came from Dr. Lodge. What is not in quotes is paraphrased and/or expanded on, by me, for clarity in this context:
- Just prior to the merger of the Turnhout card makers, Biermans, Brepols, and Van Genechten, into the new company Carta Mundi in 1970, huge quantities of old stock were sold off. It is probable that Aurelia Books was either among the purchasers of those cards, or bought their stock from a third party.
According to Filip Cremers, current curator of the National Playing Card Museum in Turnhout, vast quantities of cards were exported to India for use as temple offerings. In 1939 a very large consignment was ready to be shipped out, but World War 2 intervened and all of the stock remained in Belgium. This made up a lot of what was sold off around 1970.
Directly from Ken Lodge, about the Great Moguls:
"...they are the same as a pack I have, which was made by Van Genechten in the 1930s. The court cards are a copy of De La Rue's redrawing of Goodall's bridge-size cards (all turned in this particular example) and these were not introduced until about 1921, so they couldn't be late 19th century. I suppose that, as they were not intended to be played with [temple offerings were often burnt - dazzleguts], it didn't matter that they were printed on rough, thick card and had no indices. This, of course, makes them look old. In any case, the Belgian makers made a lot of old-fashioned cards, including single-figure courts, right into the 20th century. Without actually handling them, I would say that yours were originals not facsimiles."
Here are a couple of the De La Rue/Goodall cards Dr. Lodge mentions above, in direct comparison with the Great Mogul equivelents. I like that the Moguls are a little roomier in the design, since the cards are wider, and the faces and hands are more natural and expressive in the redrawing.
You can see the rest of the British Kings and Queens by going to the Ken Lodge blog, page #12, here:
On the World Of Playing Cards web site, http://www.wopc.co.uk/belgium/van-genechten/, it is stated that the Celebrated Eagle Brand trade mark used on the wrapper of the Great Mogul was registered by Van Genechten in 1904, making any earlier dates impossible.
That wrapper is further proof that the Aurelia Turnhout set likely holds original Great Mogul cards made in the 1930s. Not in the 1800s as the booklet suggests, 1900 as sellers suggest, nor in the 1970s as facsimiles. Even though these cards are about 80 years old they still exist in rather large numbers and you should be able to have an interesting original historical piece, with the look of an even earlier card style, for a reasonable sum of money.
Many Thanks go to:
Mr. Paul Bostock who was supportive of my thoughts about the Aurelia set containing original decks rather than facsimiles, and who put me in touch with Ken Lodge. His website titled "Plain Backs" is very informative, and useful in distinguishing facsimile decks from originals. "Plain Backs" is one of the links included in the Worlwide Time Machine's "Resources" thread.
Dr. Ken Lodge for generously providing research and reasoning behind the authenticity of the Great Mogul deck of this set, as well as providing a scan of the De La Rue/Goodall cards. His blog features numerous articles covering many playing card subjects. You can find his blog in the links area of the "Resources" thread, along with the books he has published in the "Reference Books List" of that same thread. One of those books was written in collaboration with Paul Bostock.