J. W. Spear and Sons was an important manufacturer of (board) games during the 20th century. The firm was registered in 1879 in Fürth, Germany and made products such as waste-paper baskets, table mats and photo frames.
By the turn of the century however, games had become the main product and output gradually expanded until Spears became one of the best-known international manufacturers of games and children's activity kits, employing up to 600 people.
Jacob Wolf Spier was born on the 23rd of April 1832 in Germany. His parents were Jewish and worked as soap makers. His mother died when he was four years old so he was brought up by his father. At the age of 20 Spier emigrated to America, along with many others who left their native Germany during this period. In 1857 he married the German born Sophie Rindskodft. Jacob and Sophie Spier were granted American citizenship in 1860 and changed their name to Spear which was more recognised than Spier. They had the first two of their ten children, Ralph and Joseph, that same year.
The Spear family moved back to Germany in November 1861 due to the outbreak of the American Civil. In 1869 Spear moved his family to Sonneberg an area know for toy manufacturing. He joined the firm C. Harwig & Son as a partner. The company was founded in 1825 and had grown over the years. By 1865 it had broadened its range to include goods such as dominoes, money boxes, cribbage, board and racing games.
In 1932 they set up a factory in Britain and with rise to power of the Nazis and the Spear family being Jewish, production was gradually moved to Britain. The Nuremberg factory survived most of World War II under Nazi control until the Royal Air Force bombed it. In 1872 the company was registered under a new name Harwig, Spear & Bergmann. At the time this was seen as a very unlikely partnership as Harwig was a Protestant, Spear was Jewish and Bergmann was a catholic. The new company produced paint boxes, money boxes and games which sold in England, France and Germany.
In 1953 J. W. Spear & Sons launched the popular game Scrabble in the UK. J. W. Spear & Sons acquired the rights to sell the game in other countries excluding the USA and Canada in 1968. The UK factory switched to military production during the war and then returned to making games. In 1954 the company acquired the rights to produce and market Scrabble for markets outside North America. As well as board games they made the Brickplayer construction toy.
The company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1966 and was taken over by Mattel in 1994 after a bidding war with Hasbro. Mattel closed the UK factory and while it still produces Scrabble, most of the traditional Spear's Games are no longer made.