Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany. Nuremberg had been a centre for toy and printed goods manufacturing for 600 years and was especially famous for its dolls houses and tin toys. Bavaria was also famous for its lithographic printing process which had, by the 1870s, become world famous for its quality since its invention in the early 1800s. There were many famous toy makers in Nuremberg such as Stief and Gebrüder Bing.
No doubt inspired by the success of John Jaques & Son in this area, Spears began producing the well known Happy Family and Snap games sometime around the 1880s and these continued in production for many years. See list of games →. A Quartet game using flowers, composers and poets as families was published in 1903. This was followed with topographical German ‘beautiful cities’ and countries games with black and white photographs.
B Dondorf, which had been manufacturing card games as well as their famous playing cards since the late 1800s, had by the 1920s suffered a huge drop in sales and was sold in 1929. The company was split into six parts and each part was sold off to the highest bidder. Spears bought the Games department and continued to sell some of the card games that had been produced by Dondorf. All they had to do was put their logo on the card backs instead of the BD logo and change the name on the box. They also continued to issue the animal, bird, flower series of quartets (as ‘Happy Families’).
In the 1930s during the recession Britain imposed import duties on foreign goods. As Britain was Spears largest market and they didn't want to lose any of it, they sent Richard Spear over to the UK to set up an import business here and left his brother Hermann in charge of the factory at Nuremberg. Richard was lucky enough to find a suitable empty factory in Enfield and he set up a manufacturing business there in 1932. During the course of the Second World War things became increasingly difficult for the Spears family because they were Jews. The factory was eventually bought from them at a knock down price under threats.
Even after the war was over Spears Nuremberg factory wasn't returned to them until 1948 and only returned to production in 1950. One condition which applied to the two factories once the German factory was restored to the family was that the English factory made no German goods and the German factory made no English goods. It never returned to the volume of output that there had been in the 1920s. By 1984 the German factory was closed but the Enfield factory was still working.
There was a revival to some extent when Spears gained the licence to produce the American game Scrabble and it sold very well in the UK and Germany being made in each country for its own market. By the 1980s sales were down again and they decided to sell the Nuremberg factory and continue production only at the British factory.
In 1994 Spears was bought by Mattel, the American giant, for £62 million. Since then the failed Woolworth chain were licensed to name some of their children's games as Spears. That, of course, must have lapsed now.
Member since January 30, 2009
Rex's main interest was in card games, because, he said, they were cheap and easy to get hold of in his early days of collecting. He is well known for his extensive knowledge of Pepys games and his book is on the bookshelves of many.
His other interest was non-standard playing cards. He also had collections of sheet music, music CDs, models of London buses, London Transport timetables and maps and other objects that intrigued him.
Rex had a chequered career at school. He was expelled twice, on one occasion for smoking! Despite this he trained as a radio engineer and worked for the BBC in the World Service.
Later he moved into sales and worked for a firm that made all kinds of packaging, a job he enjoyed until his retirement. He became an expert on boxes and would always investigate those that held his cards. He could always recognize a box made for Pepys, which were the same as those of Alf Cooke’s Universal Playing Card Company, who printed the card games. This interest changed into an ability to make and mend boxes, which he did with great dexterity. He loved this kind of handicraft work.
His dexterity of hand and eye soon led to his making card games of his own design. He spent hours and hours carefully cutting them out and colouring them by hand.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Queen of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
Pack conceived by Berthold Conradi, commemorating the 700th anniversary of the granting of town righ...
Dondorf Jägerkarte Nr. 465 playing cards dedicated to the theme of hunting, c.1930.
Katie Abey’s rainbow-coloured designs using crazy animals to convey motivating phrases.
On-line offsite data backup publicity playing cards produced by The Bunker, United Kingdom, c. 2004....
54 different dinosaurs, both large and small, illustrated by Cecilia Fitzsimons.
Commemorative Olympic Playing Cards produced by Waddingtons exclusively for Stanley Gibbons Antiquar...
Publicity pack for the East German furniture industry, with designs by Werner-Hans Schlegel.
Complete pack of 36 hand-painted and silk-inlaid playing cards with French suits made in Germany.
Clamcleats playing cards for sailors designed by Celia Allison, New Zealand, 1986.
“Around the world in 54 cards” hand-coloured transformation pack produced by Peter Wood, United King...
Jessel’s Bibliography of works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming describes “The first book on P...
Characters from The Broons and Oor Wullie comic strips on their 75th anniversary.
A catalogue in 54 cards of some of the treasures held within the Museum of London collections.
Review of “Trzes’ Moorish Deck” facsimile published by Ulrich Kaltenborn, Berlin, 2023.
The first company to register Bezique materials with Stationers’ Hall was Josh Reynolds & Son in Sep...
Complete contents of a sample book of advertising cards by De La Rue
Photographs of flowers, herbs and vegetables by leading photographer Tessa Traeger.
Two sets of conjuring cards published by G. Martin, 6 Great St Thomas Apostle, London, early 19th ce...
Promotional pack for a German steel hardening business, with designs by Costante Costantini.
Calendar events and visitor attractions to be found in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.
The 19th Century saw the production, by all of the major companies, of pocket guides or “mini-books”...
National Railway Museum with drawings by Stuart Black, United Kingdom, 1993.
Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.
In 1926 Will’s issued a set of 25 cigarette cards on Auction Bridge, presenting a range of hands ill...
George Bell & Sons produced ‘The Club Series’ of books each specialising in one or more of the popul...
Hoyle’s name is associated with the rules by which many games are played, particularly card games B...
Cribbage Patience or Cribbage Squares, produced by Messrs Edward Mortimer, Halifax and London.
Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769) was an English writer who made his name by writing on whist and a selection...