Card games by the game company J.W. Spear & Söhne

Quartet cards "Dichter" (Poets) and "Mineralien" (Minerals) by J.W. Spear & Sons, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Card games - A staple at Spear's Games

Founded in Fürth, Germany at the end of the 19th century, the game publisher J.W. Spear & Söhne had a tremendous influcence on the German and international game market until the 1990s. Its product archive represents a unique treasure trove of 19th and 20th century gaming history.

First page of the oldest known illustrated German product catalogue, Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, 1904, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

J.W. Spear & Sons can look back on almost 100 years of history. In addition to board games, the company published interesting and visually striking card games as early as 1904.

Quartet "Minerals", Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, 1910, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Quality and variety of topics

Spear's card games stood out above all due to their high production value: They were usually lavishly illustrated or provided with photographs. Especially the quartet games offered by the company were characterized by a great variety of themes. Even more than 100 years later, they tell their own stories visually and thematically.

Quartet game cover "Meisterwerke der Malerei" (Masterpieces of painting), Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, After 1926, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

It is noteworthy that - in contrast to board games - quartet games usually gave full credits to the artist who illustrated and designed the game or the person who developed its content. In addition, the boxes emphasized the educational character of the games: The design of some quartet cards is more reminiscent of textbooks than of games.

Quartet "Famous Women", Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, After 1926, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Until the First World War, the game design remained stable, but the subjects became increasingly diverse. They reflect their time and are valuable sources for popular culture of the time; they range from progress in transportation or feminism at the beginning of the 20th century to Grimm's fairy tales or a trip around the world with the Graf Zeppelin.

Spear's Games Card game "Old Maid", J. W. Spear & Sons, After 1904, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

There is probably a little less feminist inspiration behind the "Jolly Game of Old Maid", known in German-speaking countries as "Schwarzer Peter". You lose if you're the one holding the "Old Maid" card when the game ends.

Card game "Schwarzer Peter" by Spear's Games, J.W. Spear & Söhne, After 1931, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

The game "Schwarzer Peter", on the other hand, literally translated as "Black Peter", often served to depict stereotypical representations of black people and may be seen as an expression of the blunt everyday racism of the time. Other "Schwarzer Peter" games feature images of chimney sweeps, black tomcats or black sheep.

Set of cards of the Dutch "Wereldreis Kwartet" (World tour quartet)., Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, 1920-1930, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Spear's card games, like the rest of the company's product range, are also released as localized versions - even for less profitable markets such as the Netherlands, Switzerland or Denmark.

Spear's Alphabetical & Zoological Card Houses, J. W. Spear & Sons, After 1903, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Teaching through play
Ever since the concept of childhood itself has been formed, play and educational value have been seen as intertwined. These card houses were meant to teach the alphabet through free play. 
Card game "Snap", J. W. Spear & Sons, After 1926, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

But there is also room for the comical and the absurd, as this game of "Snap" - made in Nuremberg and exported to England - testifies.

Card game "Happy Families", J. W. Spear & Sons, Around 1920, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

A popular version of the quartet game in Great Britain was the game of "Happy Families", its main audience also being children. The forerunners of this game date back to the late 16th century. The first British Happy Families game was released in 1851. The quartet consists of 11 families, each with 4 family members to collect.

Card game "Kikeriki", Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, 1933, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

"Kikeriki" uses completely different game mechanisms - it is an action game in which the players have to imitate animal sounds. It was a great success, especially because of its elaborate illustrations.

Set of cards "Nagetiere" (rodents) of the quartet "Fauna", Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, 1933, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

These high-quality playing cards were illustrated and produced by the traditional Frankfurt company Dondorf, which Spear bought in 1929 and whose products range they continued to sell until the Second World War. From 1938 onwards, the elaborately produced card games disappeared from the company catalogues - after the confiscation by the Nazi government, they were deemed too expensive and not well suited for ideological purposes.

German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Credits: Story

Deutsches Spielearchiv Nürnberg

Spielzeugmuseum Nürnberg

Helmut Schwarz und Marion Faber: Die Spielmacher, J. W. Spear & Söhne, Geschichte einer Spielefabrik.

English translation "Games we Play" available.

Nürnberg: W. Tümmels Verlag, 1997
Schriften des Spielzeugmuseums Nürnberg, Bd. II
ISBN 3-921590-50-7

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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