I love sorting through bins and boxes, no matter where they’re stored. If you have ever spent time at a summer cabin you know there are comic books, puzzles, games, and paperbacks that have been loved for decades.
Recently, while trying, in vain, to downsize, I came across my first childhood puzzle from 1951, a complicated jigsaw puzzle from the late fifties, and an easier one from 1976. Finding these treasures distracted me. I took time to play with my first puzzle. I stopped to smell it, and it faintly reminded me of my mom. I rediscovered the salamander shaped piece, which I loved as a toddler.
I admit I still struggle with the precision required to place each wooden piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The depth of a wooden puzzle means the pieces link together firmly, but you must slide each piece into place directly from above, or a skinny-necked nub breaks off. I also remember the sound of wood edges rubbing against each other; that thought still makes me shiver.
Most researchers credit John Spilsbury with inventing the concept of jigsaw puzzles in the 1760s, in England. He glued a map onto a wooden board and cut it into pieces using a scroll saw. The puzzle was used to teach children geography. His idea evolved and various puzzles were developed to suit the cultural and historical interests of the times. Puzzle themes varied from nursery rhymes to war. At first, only the wealthy could enjoy puzzles; they were expensive because production was time consuming. Eventually, with the advent of die-cut cardboard and mass-production, even the poorest of families could afford to own puzzles. Newsstands offered a puzzle of the week for a few pennies, which provided inexpensive family fun during hard times.
Puzzles were used to advertise products and were given as gifts with purchase. The popularity of puzzles went down as they became more available. Then, in the early 70s two men brought back the handmade puzzles of the past. Steve Richardson and Dave Tibbetts started a company called Stave Puzzles. There were two points of interest with Stave puzzles; they had original works of art as their theme, and they were handmade of wood and cut into pieces using a scroll saw.
For decades, people have purchased Christmas puzzles to leave on a table for guests to enjoy from time to time. Many of our puzzles were given to us by my mother-in-law. Each one is signed by her, and dated. She asked me to write on the 2005 gift.
It was often difficult for me to designate an entire table, at Christmas, to the puzzle of the year, so I asked my husband to cut large boards, which I covered in felt. The boards can be lifted away from the dinner table, stored beneath a couch, and returned when the meal is over. I also have a puzzle mat, which rolls a cardboard puzzle up quite quickly.
This summer, if you find some very old puzzle treasures, you might want to see what they are worth at auction. You can ask questions, read about, or purchase old puzzles from Bob Armstrong at oldpuzzles.com. If you feel like me, when you lift the lid of a family heirloom puzzle, you won’t care what its worth to anyone else, because family memories are priceless.
If time permits, sort a few cupboards with your children or grandchildren this summer. Take them to an antique store or garage sale to look for old puzzles. We call it “going to the finding store,” and we compete to find the object with the best story.
Did you know?
You can have a family portrait made into a puzzle.
Heavy cardboard puzzles are still called jigsaw puzzles.
You can do online jigsaw puzzles at Jigsaw Explorer.
Some old puzzles sell for several thousands of dollars.
Amazon has offered a 32,000 piece, jigsaw puzzle measuring 18 feet by 6 feet.
The Puzzle Warehouse is worth a virtual visit. It is a store and history site.
Melissa and Doug make wonderful wooden jigsaw puzzles in trays. Cobble Hill makes beautiful puzzles. The Western Development Museum stocks puzzles. The Indefinite Article is an awesome place to take the kids on a hunt for objects from the past.
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