Chad Valley - chess etc items
Aug 8, 2011Public
Photo: A Chad Valley bagatelle board and logo

The roots of 'Chad Valley' ("CV" hereafter) can be traced back to its establishment in Birmingham in the mid-C19th as a printing/s​tationery business - it's surprising how many toy/games companies started in this way. In 1897 it relocated to Harborne, outside the city, in a valley close to a stream called the Chad, and adopted the trade name 'Chad Valley'. It was a major producer of games/toys in the C20th, moving into soft toys in 1915 due to wartime import restrictio​ns: its teddy bears became a firm favourite and are collectors' items in their own right. 

A more complete - and wider - history/time-line of the firm can be found here: The only update to make is that following the demise of Woolworths in 2009, the Chad Valley brand was acquired by the Home Retail Group, and is now exclusively sold through its Argos stores/catalogue.
Photo: Statue of 'Justice' at The Central Criminal court -  aka The Old Bailey - London

Since the magazine 'Chess' had been issued in 1935, it's masthead had featured a photograph of a C20th Jaques 'Genuine Staunton' chess set. In September 1937 the magazine launched a series of adverts in which it offered for sale 'Genuine Staunton chessmen. Highest quality' which it ordered from France and imported into the UK. Jaques took exception to this and brought a legal action against Chess. Jaques succeeded at first instance [1939 3AER227], but ultimately lost on Appeal on 19 March 1940. 

The case is fascinating in its own right, but in testimony before the lower court, it was admitted by Jaques that Chad Valley had been making and selling a range of non-Jaques-made chessmen and using the word 'Staunton' to describe them for some 36 years: which would take their production back to the very early years of the C20th.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any images or descriptions of these early CV chessmen.
Photo: Royal Warrant affixed to label of a Chad Valley plastic chess set (CH319: probably late 1940's / early 1950's).

The Royal Warrant was granted to the company on 4 May 1938 by Queen Elizabeth, the mother of our present Queen.  As it still refers to her as 'The Queen' it must pre-date the accession in 1953, when the wording was changed to read "..Toymakers to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother". 

According to the Royal Archives, they cannot now determine whether the Warrant was granted for a particular product, but it is likely that is was granted for the general supply over a number of years. The CV Warant appears to have been regularly renewed - "...every year as well as upon any change in the Chairmanship of the company. The Warrant was eventually cancelled in 1978."

As I haven't seen the post 1953  wording on a CV chess set, it seems that these ceased prior to 1953.   

More information on Royal Warrants, generally, can be found here:
Photo: CH352 Draughtsmen made of Bakelite by Chad Valley

Apart from the material, these pieces (and the box) are identical in design to the firm's Arbonite draughtsmen.

Coming soon: the 'ABC' of  British plastic disk pieces!
Photo: CH352 Bakelite pieces

front, back and side views

The filler, commonly seen in Bakelite plastic, is clearly visible in the 'white' side pieces.
Photo: CH310 English plastic set of 'Arbonite' draughtsmen (US=Checkers). Probably mid/late-1930's.

  As there is no mention of the Royal Warrant on the above box, it would seem likely that this set pre-dates its 1938 grant. 

By 1951 CV is said to have boasted c.1,000 different items in its product list!
Photo: Another set of Chad Valley Arbonite draughtsmen (not owned)

Also by CV, these have a slightly different, less coloured, label and the plastic seems different to that on 'my' set (CH310). The essential design, however remains identical. I suspect that this must be an earlier set (see the hand-written prices on the boxes).

Note that both boxes say "The Chad Valley Box" & "British Made". CV certainly printed their own boxes, but I have not seen any reference that they had any plastics-making capacity, despite their having acquired many firms (CV did acquire Roberts Bros in 1954: this firm started in 1894 and were makers of the 'Glevum' toy range; it had patented an early version of the football game that came to be known as 'Subbuteo' - by 1961 this used weighted 'kelly'-style plastic pieces as the players, I had a set c1964 and loved it: it's still in the loft somewhere, together with a less-playable cricket version! I do not however believe the Roberts' version empoyed plastic men).
Photo: A set of wooden "Superior Quality" chessmen in the "Chad Valley Series" (not owned)

The pieces and the box/label are typically-seen combinations.

The chessmen are in what might be termed 'rough' Staunton pattern, but look to be closer to those typically associated with French-made sets. Did CV import these or make them in the French style?

The dating of these sets is unknown - can they be taken as typical of the CV pieces referred to in the Jaques v Chess legal action?
Photo: A Chad Valley chess 'set' (from photo's kindly supplied by the eBay seller Aug.2011).

The actual eBay display included a common Regence set of chessmen. I have not noticed any CV set before containing such men, and tend to think they were neither original nor made/marketed by CV.

The chessmen box is for CV 'Superior Quality' wooden pieces as shown in the previous image.

Neither the board nor the box labels refer to the CV Royal Warrant (granted in 1938), and so are likely to pre-date this.

The roundel on the board is of the supplying retailer: 'Sage' - which refers to Charles A. Sage (who were certainly at 6, Lynn Street in 1913 & 1914 per invoices and publications from those years I have seen - see next image). 

It mentions 'West Hartlepool' in the address; this was a separate town from Hartlepool until the two formally merged in 1967 into a single town. Previously, the two had been known as 'The Hartlepools'.
Photo: Charles A. Sage - (I became interested!)

Sage was clearly more than a stationers/booksellers ; they sold games - incl. a Jaques croquet set with their label I've seen - and published books & pamphlets.

West Hartlepool was an important international trading port, and Lynn St. contained the consular buildings from many different countries. 

We are used to thinking that WWI was mainly terrible for the armed forces of this country abroad, but the 'German Raid' book shown above recounts how four German battleships shelled The Hartlepools for 45mins on Dec.16 1914, during which 119 people were killed - mostly civilians, although one soldier killed was the first such victim on the English mainland in WWI (and, somewhat weirdly, the first military victim of WWII also occurred in this area) - see: The book was published to raise funds for the victims and their families although it apparently had an important, and positive, impact on military recruitment.
Photo: A Chad Valley "Services Set" of plastic combined chess/draughts disk pieces.

During WWII the company's factories were put to use manufacturing 'essential goods' under government contract, although one factory did continue making a limited range of toys and games including "....jig-saw puzzle's, chessmen and dominoes to be used by armed forces and military hospitals all over the world." * I don't know whether these included 'real' chessmen or only the plastic disk sets such as the above.

The disks to this set are similar - if not identical to - those found under other brand names see: and are generally thought to be made of crystalate.

* ex:
Photo: Chad Valley set being sold by Chess of Sutton Coldfield - ad. from Chess No. 105 dated June 1944.

No details of material used (probably wood) or size given. No image available.

The use of the word 'rough' may not refer to the quality of the pieces, but, rather, their proximity to the Staunton design.
Photo: A red & black painted wood set that appeared on eBay recently (June 2012); the seller described it as being in a Chad Valley box but, unfortunately, I could not get him to let me have better images, especially of the box label.

This could fit the description in the 1944 Chess advert shown in the previous image. The simplicity of the design/execution and colour scheme could easily fit that era.
Photo: Another version of the set in the last image, clearly showing the Chad Valley label.

K = 6cm
Photo: A Chad Valley injection-moulded plastic set  (CH319) - from top left:

Box - showing the Royal Warrant: this dates the set between 1938-1953 (see earlier image re this) although I suspect it is more in the post-WWII period. Although these sets frequently appear, I can't recall ever seeing one with the post 1953 Royal Warrant.

Interior of a piece -  all are unweighted and have the moulding 'CHAD VALLEY ENGLAND'.

Main pieces and knights.

This is quite an attractive - if simple - set, and can, today, be picked up for a very small sum - damage to the pieces seems rare.

It is interesting that the chessmen shown on the box look more like traditional Staunton pieces.

A set of these plastic pieces in a wooden box with a simplified (possibly cut-out?) label can be seen here: . It potentially raises a number of questions on these sets.
Photo: CV plastic chess set (not owned, seen on eBay)

Date unknown - but, based on the attire, 1960's perhaps? There is no sign of any Royal Warrant reference on the box.

The cover, at bottom right, states: 'MADE IN ENGLAND. CONTAINS SOME IMPORTED PARTS' - possibly the chessmen?

Yet another incorrectly set-up chess board!
Photo: A modern CV chess/draughts set with wooden pieces and board. This set is still on sale through Argos at £9.99 (or two for £15! cheaper than the above set seen on eBay) - not too bad for an introductory set!

Not of any especial interest - the chessmen again look French in character. At least the CV brand and chess are still together in an age when chess seems to be of less interest to children.