Portrait of Jacob Wolf Spear, founder of the company (Circa 1885) by unknownGerman 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 (1889) by J.W. Spear & SöhneGerman 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.
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.
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.
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".
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".
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" Road safety education game "Achtung" (Circa 1935) by Verlag J. W. Spear & SöhneGerman 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 (1938 - 1945) by Porst, Hanns, Spear-Spiele-FabrikGerman 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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