The British company Jaques is the oldest games company and sports manufacturer in the world. Passed down from father to son for six generations, Jaques have been responsible for inventing many well known games, such as Croquet, Ping Pong, Snakes and Ladders, Ludo, Tiddley-Winks, The Staunton Chess Set, Happy Families, Snap and many more.
Thomas Jaques was a farmer’s son of French Huguenot descent, born in 1765. At twenty-one, Thomas married the niece of his employer Mr Ivyand when he died, Thomas took on the business and established himself in 1795 as “Thomas Jaques, (Manufacturer of Ivory, Hardwoods, Bone, and Tunbridge Ware)” in Leather Lane, London. His son John was apprenticed at age 15 and five years later partnered him in the firm, now “T. and J. Jaques, Wholesale Ivory Turners”. But by this time, their materials now included hardwoods; Lignum Vitae was the unique wood which was to become the signature material for Jaques croquet mallets-boxwood was used for balls.
The family expanded into additional premises at 102 Hatton Garden, with an enterprising, comprehensive range of products and materials, and as the father and son partnership prospered, so the family grew. John married, and had a son: John Jaques II. He too was apprenticed and showed a remarkably fertile mind, inventing Happy Families, Tiddley-Winks, Ludo, and Snakes & Ladders. The company’s stand at the Great Exhibition in 1851 included Croquet, which then spread throughout the world. The Staunton Chess set was introduced by Jaques in 1849, and since 1934 has been adopted as the world standard pattern. They introduced Table Tennis to the world in 1891 under the name Gossima, a version of the popular game Wiff-Waff; renamed and trademarked Ping-Pong, it swept the country in 1902. The trade name Ping-Pong was sold to Parker Brosabout 1920.
Jaques jumped on the Mahjong bandwagon in the early 1920s, producing medium quality sets, chiefly bamboo tiles in wooden boxes; their logo is very similar to Gibson and Parker Bros, but their signature is a faux ‘chop’ with 3 sinograms.
In 1941 the Jaques factory in Hatton Garden was demolished in the blitz, leaving only a burnt safe containing the original Pattern Book of designs from 1795 to 1870. John Jaques IV re-established the factory at 361 Whitehorse Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey.
During WWII, the British Intelligence Ministry MI9 employed Jaques to make prisoner of war escape kits in the form of many games, including cribbage boards with secret map compartments. In the post-war era, Jaques sold Chinese Bakelite, Acrylic, Polypropylene, and Japanese Urea sets in faux leather zipper or attaché cases, but pure lyasa sideline to the mainstream games business. Today, Ben, Emmett and Joe Jaques run the family business (now Jaques of London) and they offer 3 types of high-end, hand-carved bone & bamboo sets housed in solid wood presentation cases.