JW Spear & Sons was founded in Germany in 1879 and developed from modest beginnings into one of the world's leading producers of toys and games including “Scrabble,” for which it is most famous.
A factory was set up in Enfield in North London in 1932 to manufacture all the products for the English speaking countries of the world.
Brickplayer was introduced by JW Spear & Sons to England in 1938, shortly before the Second World War. However it did not become a success until after 1945. It would seem that at that time, constructing model buildings from bricks and mortar appealed to the toy buying public as it mirrored the reconstruction of many of the towns and cities ravaged by the war. Brickplayer became one of the most popular construction toys throughout the Fifties until its demise in the mid Sixties.
Copying the tried and tested Meccano marketing strategies, Spear announced design and building competitions with substantial prizes and publicity for the winners. Whilst none of the plans for these have survived, there are several photos of the winning entries in the Spears Archive. I have several publicity leaflets and entry forms for the original competitions in my collection.
Many Brickplayer models were designed to complement ‘O’ gauge model railways. Designs for all the usual railway buildings were produced, including stations, signal boxes, engine sheds and goods platforms.
With the widespread introduction of Hornby and Triang ‘00’ and TT-gauge railways, the popularity of Brickplayer declined. It was superseded by less complex toys made of plastic, for example Lego.
The kits were basically miniature bricks in three standard sizes which were cemented together with a mixture of flour, chalk powder and water forming a paste. The finished models could be soaked in water and the components re-used. Initially the windows and doors were pressed metal, followed by die cast metal and finally injection moulded plastic. Roofs were constructed from printed cardboard to represent tiles or concrete. A set of ground plans and a trowel were included in each kit.
The early pre-war kits B5 and B7 were made in limited numbers and featured a castle, church, cottage, signal box and railway station. These are probably the rarest of all Brickplayer kits. Few were made and even fewer will have survived the intervening seventy years or so. One of my future projects is to attempt to re-create these models from the pictures on the box and a copy of a trade catalogue I have from that era.
The early post war Kit 1 featured, not only 1/48th scale models, but also a number of 1/27th scale models with pressed steel windows and doors. The single road engine shed is a particular favourite of mine.
We then move to what are the most common Kit 3 and Kit 4 sets which were produced in vast numbers. All the models in these sets are 1/48th scale and are designed to complement tinplate Hornby ‘O’ gauge model railways.
A series of model designs and kits were produced for the American market. Several of these models however were just Americanised versions of established designs.
There was also a Farm kit which is my own personal favourite with its unique range farm buildings.
Finally an attempt was made to modernise and update the product by the introduction of the Contemporary Brickplayer kits in 1959 to reflect the architectural trends of the time.