A 90 Year Old Cricketing Mystery Solved - Owzthat!

For nearly nine decades aspiring cricketers and cricketing fans throughout the world have enjoyed playing the diminutive classic game Owzthat! - two small hexagonal dice in a little blue tin with a single sheet of rules that all packaged together could easily fit in a matchbox.

A Standard Pre-War Set of Owzthat
A Standard Pre-War Set of Owzthat

But until now, nobody knew who’d invented the game, who had produced it or when.

The Australian Sports Museum have a set at Melbourne Cricket Ground and they don’t know the details. Oxford University’s Bodleian Library also draws a blank. Even the MCC Museum at Lords, the home of cricket, has been stumped.

Today I can reveal that we have Norman Cook of Manchester to thank for this sporting classic. He Patented and Trademarked Owzthat in 1932, just in time for England’s famous Bodyline Ashes Tour of Australia. It was launched for Christmas that year and was an immediate success.

With the latest Ashes starting on Wednesday the 8th of December, the revelation couldn’t be more timely.

Norman Cook and Co of Exchange Street Manchester were a company specialising in producing parts for the spinning and weaving industry. Cook and Co held Patents for a Ring Spindle Oiler, a Shuttle Trimmer and a Roller Leather Stripper amongst many others. The tins used to packaged their Ring Travellers are highly collectable but Owzthat is even more so!

In the intervening 90 years lots of myths have grown up about the game and even keen collectors can be misled by tales such as those of Tommies playing the game in the trenches of World War One, nearly 20 years before the game as we know it was invented! One dealer has even tried to “prove” to me that the game dates to 1908. They did so conflating by an unrelated Registered Design Number with the official Registered Trademark number.

Quite why Norman Cook shunned publicity is not known but his silence provided a golden opportunity for many myth makers and imitators to try and capitalise on his invention. A global oil company even tried to claim the game as their own by subtly changing the spelling to ‘Howzat’. There have been many legitimate versions produced by different companies too.

Some of the many sets of Owzthat, Owzat, Howzat, and Howzthat in my collection. I don’t yet own a copy of ‘Zat but I live in hope!
Some of the many sets of Owzthat, Owzat, Howzat, and Howzthat in my collection. I don’t yet own a copy of ‘Zat but I live in hope!

As a former private guide in London and life-long games and cricket fan I’ve used the spare time created for me by Covid and my own circumstances to really get to grips with the history and details of Owzthat. I’ll be producing a series of blog posts to coincide with the Ashes games detailing all my findings, the different versions, imitators and licensees, the possible antecedents and what to look out for in a “good” and original set whilst avoiding obvious forgeries and the numerous dubious portmanteau sets that are available.

For those of you who knew me as a guide, well my circumstances have changed and I don’t imagine I’ll be doing any guiding in the foreseeable future. I am not very mobile any more but that is fine and I am very happy and fulfilled. I have very good memories of all the tours and of the good people who joined me on them - thank you each and every one. Now the next chapter begins, without any fuss.

Anyway I am reorienting my blog to write more about little known London histories and focussing in 2022 on cards and games that feature or are in some way connected to London. I will also write on other games and subjects that appeal to me such as Owzthat. The intention will be, as ever, to write about things that make me curious and that haven’t been fully covered elsewhere.

In 2022 I’ll also be launching my own online shop stocking fine, authentic examples of vintage cards and games along with rare London ephemera, maps and books. At the moment I am testing my ideas on ebay as peterberthoud.