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.
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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?
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