Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jigsaw Puzzles and why we need them NOW!

Recently, I put together a jigsaw puzzle—a first for me.  It turns out it’s a first for a lot of us stuck-at-homers.  According to the president of Ceaco, one of the largest jigsaw puzzle companies, sales have surged more than 300% compared to a year ago. Another company ran out of an eight month supply in five days.
Puzzles were deemed non-essential, forcing factories to close, and this has created a shortage. The "non-essential" part might get an argument from some mental health experts. Not only does working jig-saw puzzles relieve stress, it also improves memory and overall brain function.    
Margaret's current challenge
That's not all; I can personally attest that searching for the piece with the cat’s tail or chimney top requires concentration, and is a great way to take one’s mind off the pandemic.
Of course there's nothing new about any of this. Jigsaw puzzles have been around since 1767.  English cartographer, John Spilsbury is said to have made the first jigsaw puzzle by mounting a map on a sheet of wood and cutting it with a saw.  He donated it to the local school to help students with their geography education.  His idea was a hit and jigsaw puzzles were on their way to becoming part of family life.
They weren’t called jigsaw puzzles in those early days. They were called “dissected puzzles” or “dissections”.  The word “jigsaw” didn’t come into play until 1909 when the jigsaw was invented and used to cut pieces.
Not every piece interlocked. Most manufacturers added tabs and blanks to border pieces to establish the frame. Inside pieces were cut along simpler, curved lines.

Since the puzzles were made of wood, they were mainly the pastime of the wealthy. This changed during the Great Depression when cardboard puzzles began to appear, making them more affordable.  Some manufacturers, however, were reluctant to switch from wood. Labor costs were similar and so wood puzzles offered higher returns. 

Another big change occurred in the 1930s. Photos were added to box covers for the first time. Up until then, it was considered cheating to know the picture before completing the puzzle.
The use of photos soon turned jigsaw puzzles into advertising tools. Train and ship companies found that jigsaw puzzles were a cheap way to promote travel destinations. Cunard created postcard jigsaw puzzles to sell as souvenirs and other companies soon followed. 

It's easy to understand why Jigsaw puzzles grow in popularity during pandemics, wars and depression.  Whenever the world falls apart, countless generations have found comfort in putting pieces together.  

That's probably something John Spilsbury never imagined when he came up with his simple idea all those centuries ago.

Have you or your family recently worked a jigsaw puzzle?  How did it help?

New this month!


  1. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles, although not as much as my husband who is an absolute whiz! We generally have a puzzle going at all times (even before the pandemic). My mom has recently gotten into them too. I have definitely improved in my abilities with the puzzles since first starting them.

    1. Hi Linda, I've improved my abilities, too. Now I know to start with the frame!

  2. We haven't done puzzles, as I am still working and there are things I'd rather do with my free time than a puzzle, like READ! I have thought about it, though. There sure are some beautiful ones! Thanks for the post.

    1. Hi Connie, I know what you mean. I always thought jigsaw puzzles were a waste of time, but now I see the advantages. They're a fun family activity.

  3. My Grandpa was adamant that it was cheating to use the picture on the top of the box. :-)

    Our daughter is on her 3rd puzzle of the hunkering down season. They are great study breaks!

  4. Hi Lisa, I can't imagine trying to put a puzzle together without using the picture. Wow! Your grandfather was a whizz.