Turnhout – city of playing cards

And what a delightful little town Turnhout turned out to be! Nice friendly port, with cheap beer at the club house; nice sized town with large central square with lots of bars and cafes and generally a welcoming atmosphere.

And some interesting things to see.

The Harbour Meester told us we MUST visit the playing card museum. Didn’t exactly inspire us but it really was good!


Turnhout is a centre of graphic industries with its most well known product being playing cards with a production capacity of approx 600,000 decks per day. It is the most important exporter of playing cards in the world, maintaining a centuries old local tradition. Earliest known reference to cards is apparently a bill of sale from the duke of Brabant dated 14th May 1379!

The museum houses an impressive array of printing presses and describes the different methods used over the centuries and how the manufacture of playing cards was developed alongside the technical developments of the presses – from simple presses o the huge, noisy steam machines. Strongly reminded me of my college days when one of the crafts we had to learn printing, using little Adana presses and how these could be adapted to provide particular movements for patients! I even used printing in one of my early jobs in Milton Keynes. Memories!

Another aspect of cards shown was how old cards were recycled. Paper was expensive and so old cards were used in all sorts of ways – shopping lists, invitations, menus, letters / notes. There is a whole area of exhibits that one collector has displayed, describing what each exhibit shows and where and how he obtained it. One that particularly moved me simply said ‘ née premier avril, pas baptimée’ (born 1st april not baptised) a card tucked into  baby’s shawl when she was left outside a convent.


We both agreed with the Harbout Meester that the playing card museum was indeed a ‘must’!

We also visited the Beguinage (which I shall talk about in a separate blog), St Peter’s Church, the market place, a car boot sale and the Castle of the Dukes of Brabant.

Unfortunately the latter is now used as the courthouse so it is not possible to go inside. And we finished off our visit to Turnhout with dinner at a local hostelry with Jo & tim from Maria of Zandam who were also moored there. It was really good to catch up with them before we each headed off in different directions on Monday morning. Will next see them in October in Bruges.



Author: mistyjf

I have been boating in Europe since 2009 when I shipped Misty Morning to France. Time & life move on! Adrian, my new partner, & I bought Piedaleau in 2015 to continue and expand our European boating adventures.

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