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.
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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.
Two Black Peter games by Willy Mayrl published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne, 1950s.
Sergeant-Major card game devised by W.G.Smith
The Story of Pepys Games by Rex Pitts
Jacob Wolfe Spear founded his company manufacturing fancy goods in 1879 near Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany
Chad Valley Co. Ltd (incorporating Johnson Brothers (Harborne) Ltd, the long-established UK brand bought by Woolworths in 1988 and now sold at Argos.
Multum in Parvo published a range of indoor games during the period from 1884-1927.
The founder of Ariel Productions, Philip Marx, was a prolific publisher of children’s books and comics towards the end of and just after the Second World War.
Kum-Bak Sports, Toys & Games MFG Co., Ltd, London S.E.11
Crazy People children’s card game illustrated by caricaturist and graphic artist Walter Trier, c.1950.
‘History of fashion’ cultural quartet game designed by Erika Werner-Nestler, 1954.
Dutch costumes quartet game designed by Gerard Huijg, 1983.
Panko (Votes for Women) suffragette card game published by Peter Gurney Ltd, c.1912.
Anonymous Snap game, 1930s.
Nederlands Stedenkwartet with heraldic needlepoint patterns by Permin, c.1970.
Lion Coffee Mother Goose card game, late 19th C.
Panto People published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Hats-Off! miniature card game published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
Zoo-Boots published by E. S. & A. Robinson, c.1930s.
The XIXth Century published by John Jaques & Son, c.1875.
The ‘Rinker’ highly amusing snap game, c.1910.
Österreichisches Trachten-quartett Nr.282 published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne.
Round the World Happy Families by Chiefton Products Ltd of Bristol, c.1950s.
“So Fängt Es An” beautifully illustrated by M. Neugebauer, published by Helingsche Verlagsanstalt, c.1950.
Abbatt Toys Animal Families, c.1970.
“Verkehrsmittel Einst und Jetzt” transport quartet game by Bielefelder Spielkarten Fabrik GmbH, 1958.
Asterix Adventure quartet game by ASS, 1989.
French for Fun instructive card game published by John Jaques & Son Ltd., c.1930s
Eurotrotter by La Ducale, c.1980s.
Schwarzer Peter no.964 published by Josef Hohlweg, Vienna, early 20th century.
Counties of Britain by John Jaques & Son Ltd. c.1930.
Radio Banker by John Waddington Ltd for Marconiphone Co Ltd.
‘Tout Est Bien Qui Finit Bien’ family card game by Dondorf.
Zwarte Piet by Dondorf for the Dutch market, 1906.
Jigstar film star card game by Murphy Games Ltd, 1936.
Black Peter card game designed by Willy Mayrl for Piatnik.
Bull fighting card game publshed by Naipes Comas, 1969.
“Countries of Empire” published by John Jaques & Son Ltd, c.1930s.
Majas Alfabets Spel beautifully illustrated by Lena Andersson, 1980s.
Gulliver in the Land of Dwarfs quartet published by Verlag für Lehrmittel, Pößneck.
Puss in Boots card game manufactured by H. Fournier, 1981.