The Chad Valley Co., Ldt. was founded in 1849 by two brothers, Joseph and Alfred Johnson. Their father, Anthony Bunn Johnson had established a printing and book binding business in 1823 in Birmingham, England and taught his trade to his sons. The younger Johnsons originally called their printing company Johnson Brothers Limited. Among other products the brothers developed a line of various card games aimed at the rapidly growing “educational toy” market that was developing during the period.
In 1897 the brothers built a new factory in Harbone near Birmingham, England and renamed their company Chad Valley due to its location near the Chad Brook. In the 1910s they began to expand their product line to include other toys such as plush animals. Latching on to the Teddy Bear craze they began to offer bears and other animals. With the advent of WWI Chad Valley was already in a good position to answer the British government’s call to provide toys for the children of England and its Commonwealth countries. The British Industries Fair was established in 1915 as a means of showcasing British products and stimulating war-time trade. Chad Valley would participate in these industry fairs right into the mid-20th century. Chad Valley Teddy bears gained in popularity as German-made bears were rejected by a patriotic English public.
In 1917 the company added dolls to their line. In these early years they offered some dolls with heads made of what appears to have been a heavy composition material as well as offering stockinette dolls. These cloth dolls were available in a wide range of styles. Most were aimed at the wealthier WWI era consumers of the time. Some had painted eyes, some had “veined glass” eyes, the very best models had hand woven, combable, mohair wigs. About 1920 the company name was changed to Chad Valley Co., Ltd.
In 1924 Chad Valley began to produce dolls with pressed felt faces on velvet, velveteen, or cotton bodies. This same year they took out a British patent for a method of putting glass eyes into felt or fabric heads which were stiffened with shellac or starch. This was also the year they started using an hexagonal hang tag on their dolls which read: CHAD VALLEY // HYGIENIC // FABRIC TOYS. They exported their dolls to South Africa, Canada, and Australia and in the late 1920s Louis Wolf was their distributor in the U.S.A.
As the company’s business grew, the owners continued to bring in new toy items, often by buying other existing small companies and adding their products, expertise and manufacturing facilities to the Chad Valley family. Through the 1920s and ’30s plush animals, cloth dolls, celluloid toys, wooden puzzles and vehicles, and tin toys would be sold bearing the Chad valley label.
During WWII the company turned to manufacturing goods to support the war effort but returned to toy making after the war. Through the next three decades Chad Valley continued to expand and to earn a well-deserved reputation for high quality toys. By the early 1970s the economy began to catch up with the company and little by little it began to close down or sell off segments of its operation. In 1978 the Chad Valley name was sold to Palitoy. In 1988 the name was sold on to Woolworth’s, who in turn sold it to Home Retail Group in 2009. Today dolls and toys are still offered under the Chad Valley name although they have little relation to the company established and built by the Johnson brothers in the waning years of the 19th century. What we do still have, are the wonderfully designed and well-made toys from the glory days of the company which are sure to continue to delight collectors for generations to come.
Author – Linda Edward
Dorothy S., Elizabeth A., Evelyn J. Coleman The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Dolls Vol. II. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1986
Linda Edward Cloth Dolls From Ancient To Modern. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 1997
Mary Hillier Dolls and Dollmakers. New York: G P Putnam’s Sons, 1968
Pollocks Toy Museum Pollock’s Dictionary of English Dolls. London: Robert Hale Ltd., 1982
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