Jigsaw Puzzle History
It is generally agreed that the first jigsaw puzzle was produced
around 1760 by John Spilsbury, a London engraver and mapmaker. Spilsbury
mounted one of his maps on a sheet of hardwood and cut around the borders
of the countries using a fine-bladed marquetry saw. The end product was an
educational pastime, designed as an aid in teach British children their
geography. These puzzles became know as jigsaw puzzles, although they were
actually cut by a fretsaw, not a true jigsaw.
Cardboard puzzles were first introduced in the late 1800's, and were
primarily used for children's puzzles. It was not until the 20th century
that cardboard puzzles came to be die-cut, a process whereby thin strips of
metal with sharpened edges - rather like a giant cookie-cutter - are twisted
into intricate patterns and fastened to a plate. The "die" (which refers to
this assembly of twisted metal on the plate) is placed in a press, which is
pressed down on the cardboard to make the cut.
With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, puzzles for adults
enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, peaking in early 1933 when sales reached
an astounding 10 million per week. Puzzles seemed to touch a chord, offering
an escape from the troubled times, as well as an opportunity to succeed in a
modest way. Completing a puzzle gave the puzzler a sense of accomplishment
that was hard to come by as the unemployment rate was climbing above 25
percent. With incomes depleted, home amusements like puzzles relaced outside
entertainment like restauraunts and night clubs. Puzzles became more affordable
too. Many of the the unemployed architects, carpenters, and other skilled craftsmen
began to cut jigsaw puzzles in home workshops and to sell or rent them locally.
During the 1930's craze for puzzles, drugstores and circulating libraries added
puzzle rentals to their offerings. They charged three to ten cents per day
depending on the size of the puzzle.
The autumn of 1932 brought a novel concept, the weekly jigsaw puzzle.
The die-cut "Jig of the Week" retailed for 25 cents and appeared on the news
stands every Wednesday. People rushed to buy them and to be the first among
their friends to solve the week's puzzle. With the competition from the free
advertising puzzles and the inexpensive weekly puzzles, the makers of hand-cut
wood puzzles were hard pressed to keep their customers. Yet the top quality
brands like Parker Pastimes retained loyal following throughout the depression,
despite their higher prices.
After World War II, the wood jigsaw puzzle went into decline. Rising wages
pushed up costs substantially because wood puzzles took so much time to cut. As
prices rose, sales dropped. At the same time improvements in lithography and
die-cutting made the cardboard puzzles more attractive, especially when puzzle-maker
Springbrok introduced high quality reproductions of fine art on jigsaws. In 1965
hundreds of thousands of Americans struggled to assemble Jackson Pollack's
"Convergence" billed by Springbok as "the world's most difficult jigsaw puzzle".