Incorporating Johnson Brothers (Harborne) Ltd
In around 1830 Anthony Bunn Johnson founded a printing and bookbinding business in Handsworth, Birmingham, where he made games for children. In 1860 his two sons, Joseph and Alfred, branched out on their own, setting up a similar business, “Johnson Brothers” operating from George Street, Birmingham, England.
Later they moved to Rose Road, Harborne on the outer-edge of Birmingham. The new building was named the “Chad Valley Works”, located in the valley of the River Chad. They traded as Messrs Johnson Brothers (Harbourne) Ltd. and issued their first catalogue. This building became the firm’s headquarters for almost seventy years.
During the 1910s the Johnson family expanded their business with new types of toy to complement their successful range of paper and card-based products. A strong emphasis on the printed word was aimed at affluent families and well-educated children. Popular artists and illustrators of the day, such as Max Pollock and Linda Edgerton, were commissioned to design sets of card games such as Snap and Happy Families, and Walt Disney allowed them to reproduce some of their characters on a Snap game.
In 1920 the name was changed to The Chad Valley Co Ltd. The name Chad Valley first appeared on toys in around 1920. Chad Valley produced the games for Flutter Met Games in the 1930s: St George and the Dragon • Mother Hubbard Mystery • Knock Knock • Cardomino • Deuce.
Royal Warrant of Appointment
In 1936 the Chad Valley Company was granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment: Toymakers to H.M. The Queen. In 1952 when King George VI died the Royal Warrant was amended to Toymakers to H.M. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. The Royal Warrant was cancelled in 1960.
In 1950 The Chad Valley Co Ltd became a public company: The Chad Valley Group. In 1954 the firm of Roberts Brothers Ltd, Gloucester (Glevum Brand) was taken over and the Glevum Works were closed in 1956. (Earlier, in 1904 the children’s games had been acquired from Woolley & Co by Robert Bros and now were inherited by Chad valley).
After losing its direction in the 1970s following factory closures, in 1971 the Group was taken over by Barclay Securities and the next year acquired by British Northrop Ltd. In 1983 Woolworth Group (Kingfisher) bought the name for their own toys and games until their demise in 2008. Since then it has been exclusively owned by the Home Retail Group who distribute Chad Valley toys through their Argos stores.
Chad Valley’s Double Dummy Bridge & Whist Board
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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.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme covers from 1956 to 2016 published by Winning Moves UK Ltd.
Images from the Ministry of Defence Cape Wrath Training Centre, Sutherland, Scotland. Published 2010.
Celebrating the work of Andreas Vesalius in the quincentenary year of his birth.
Portuguese proverbs in combination with special courts and suit-signs published by Apenas Livros, Lisbon.
Great Britains’s Olympic gold medallists from 1964 to 2004 published by the British Olympic Association.
Celebration of the work of David Kindersley, stone letter-carver and typeface designer. Published by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop, Cambridge, UK, 2015.
Set of caricatures and cartoons in aid of a Polish children’s charity. c.2000.
Pack celebrating the rugby world champions of 2003. Produced by MMcardz.
Standard French designs adapted for children. Made by France Cartes for La Grande Récré, c.2016.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
Hall & Son
Two Black Peter games by Willy Mayrl published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne, 1950s.
Comic Fortune-Telling Cards published by Reynolds & Sons, c.1850.
Comic Question & Answer cards by Josh. Reynolds & Sons, circa 1850.
Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.
Hand-drawn Transformation cards, c.1870.
PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History
Sergeant-Major card game devised by W.G.Smith
We are deeply saddened by news of the passing of Anthony Rex Pitts (1940-2021).
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.
Geschichte des Buchgewerbes illustrated by Ludwig Winkler, published by Verlag für Lehrmittel Pößneck.