A family history of games

Portrait of Jacob Wolf Spear, founder of the company, unknown, Circa 1885, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Young and from a humble family, Jacob Wolf Spier emigrated to the USA in 1852. He got married, became an American citizen and changed his name from "Spier" to "Spear".

Advertisement for Spear Spiele in a mercantile directory in the late 19th century, J.W. Spear & Söhne, 1889, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

After his return to Germany in 1861, he settled in Fürth, where he founded an import and export business in 1879. Soon, the first board games appeared among J.W. Spear's product range.

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
Move to Nuremberg
Until its closing down in the 1980s, the newly-built Spear's factory in Nuremberg produces games and toys.
Spear's Games table tennis set, J.W. Spear & Sons, Bavaria, Circa 1905, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Table or board?
Among them were such unlikely examples as table tennis: J. W. Spear & Söhne popularised it as a parlor game in Germany. It remained a fixture in the Spear's Games product range until the 1970s.
Halatafl / fox and geese variant from WW1, "Festungs- und Belagerungsspiel", J.W. Spear & Söhne, 1915, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Games of war
But soon, the First World War began, which is also reflected in the product range: Spear's Games also joined the ranks of game manufacturers who reframed classic games such as halatafl with war-themed game designs.
Goose game: Juego de la oca, J.W. Spear & Sons Ltd., 1925 (ca.), From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Localisation for European markets
Many Spear's Games were fully localised for other European markets very early on - no small investment. Even the company trademark was translated. On this Spanish goose game it reads "Juegos Spear".
Board game: Magnetisches Angelspiel :Spears lehrreiche Ausgabe mit Beschreibung der Fische, J.W. Spear & Söhne, 1933/1941, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Success with classics
By 1930, J. W. Spear & Söhne was one of the biggest and most successful board game publishers in Germany, known for classics like "Magnetic Fishpond" or "The Flying Hats".
Letter from the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, appointing Hanns Porst as director of J.W. Spear & Söhne, Deutsche Arbeitsfront, 1938, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Aryanisation
With the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, however, the Jewish family enterprise was increasingly exposed to anti-Semitic agitation. In 1938, the company was "aryanised" and handed over to Hanns Porst, a well-known Nuremberg entrepreneur. Twelve members of the Spear family were murdered in concentration camps.
Road safety education game "Achtung", Verlag J. W. Spear & Söhne, Circa 1935, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Under new management, games were infused with Nazi ideology and redesigned. For example, the traffic game "Achtung" became "Augen Auf!"; both versions can be compared in the detail view of this object.

Travelling game: Im Fluge durch Großdeutschland, Porst, Hanns, Spear-Spiele-Fabrik, 1938 - 1945, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

Travelling games turned out to be ideal propaganda tools: Moving borders on paper and making those new borders playable helps construct and stabilise real borders in the minds of players.

Draft for an announcement: factory opening in Enfield, London, J.W. Spear & Söhne, 1930, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Spear's Games in England
The London subsidiary had mainly been founded for fiscal reasons in 1932, but turned out to be a veritable lifeline for those family members who managed to escape in time.
The destroyed Spear's Games factory in Nürnberg-Doos, unknown, 1945, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

The Nuremberg factory was left destroyed after the war. It took until the mid-1950s before the factory was restituted to the Spear family, rebuilt and producing games again.

Richard Spear and James Brunot officially launch Scrabble on the British market, unknown, 1954, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Scrabblemania
With the acquisition of the Scrabble manufacturing and publishing rights for Great Britian and Ireland, Spear's Games made their comeback among the most important game manufacturers in Europe. 
Various international editions of Scrabble, Deutsches Spielearchiv Nürnberg, 2017, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

In 1968, the J. W. Spear & Sons Ltd, now listed on the London Stock Exchange, held the worldwide production and marketing rights for Scrabble - with the exception of the USA, Canada and Australia.

"Our Games Don't Need Any Plugs". Advertisement for Spear's Games, J. W. Spear & Sons, 1979, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

In the 1970s, Supermarkets changed distribution structures and video games
emerged - the industry became subject to ever shorter-lived trends. In 1984, the Nuremberg factory was closed down.

Newspaper clippings on the bidding clash over Spear's Games between Hasbro and Mattel, unknown, 1994, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

In 1993, with no successor to Francis Spear in sight, the family business went up for sale. Mattel outbid its opponent Hasbro with a last-minute offer in 1994.

Hazel and Francis Spear at the Spear's Games Archive in Ware, Hertfortshire County, Spear's Games Archive Enfield, 1996, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
The First Spear's Games Archive
Soon after Hazel and Francis Spear left the company, Mattel ceased production in Enfield. Its legacy lived on in the Spear's Games Archive on their rural estate near Ware, County Hertfordshire.
The new Spear's Games Archive in Nuremberg, Stefan Meyer, 2018, From the collection of: German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
The Spear's Games Archive in Nuremberg
In 2017 Francis and Hazel Spear donated their collection to the Nuremberg Toy Museum, so it can be preserved for future generations. The German Games Archive (Deutsches Spielearchiv) became its new home, in the city where the history of Spear's Games began in 1879.
German Games Archive, Nuremberg Municipal Museums
Credits: Story

Deutsches Spielearchiv Nürnberg (German Games Archive)

Spielzeugmuseum Nürnberg (Nuremberg Toy Museum)

Helmut Schwarz und Marion Faber: Die Spielmacher, J. W. Spear & Söhne, Geschichte einer Spielefabrik. (English Translation: "Games we Play")

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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