Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaw Puzzles


The demand for jigsaw puzzles soared globally during the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming a regular activity for those enduring the restrictions of various lockdowns. Absorbing, mindful and screen-free, the humble jigsaw puzzle acts as a balm during uncertain times. When nothing else seems to makes sense, getting one piece to fit with another becomes more than usually soothing.

So, where did jigsaw puzzles come from?

In the 18th century, jigsaw puzzles were created by painting a picture onto a flat, rectangular piece of wood, then cutting it into small pieces.

John Spilsbury, a London cartographer and engraver, is credited with commercialising jigsaw puzzles in 1760. His design took world maps, cutting out the individual nations, using a marquetry saw, in order for them to be reassembled by students as a geographical teaching aid. This became a popular jigsaw application; and indeed, the "Geographical Puzzle" was the first ever wooden puzzle produced in 1891 by Ravensburger, the world's leading puzzle maker.

Cardboard jigsaw puzzles appeared in the late 1800s, but were slow to replace wooden ones because manufacturers felt that cardboard puzzles would be perceived as low-quality, and the profit margins on wooden jigsaws were better.

Jigsaw puzzles soared in popularity during the Great Depression, with manufacturers producing over 10 million puzzles a week. It was at around this time that jigsaws evolved to become more complex and appealing to adults. They provided people with a cheap, long-lasting, recyclable form of entertainment.

They were also given away in product promotions and used in advertising, with customers completing an image of the promoted product. For example, in the 1920s, Great Western Railway in the US made a puzzle of their steam engine to advertise their railways and destinations. 

Sales of wooden puzzles fell after World War II as improved wages led to price increases, while improvements in manufacturing processes made paperboard jigsaws more attractive. The die-cutting machine for a jigsaw puzzle maker is like a giant metal cookie cutter that cuts out the pieces using very sharp edges and about 1,100 tonnes of pressure.

The shape  of each piece has a name, but there really isn't a standard naming convention. The proper term for the rounded tab on a puzzle piece is "interjamb", while the hollowed-out space is called a "blank".

And did you know that 1000 piece puzzles don't contain exactly 1000 pieces? Most contain 1008 or 1026, the number required to make the correct shape.

Finally, and of relevance to REMORANDOM as a regular user and fan, the logo of Wikipedia is a globe made out of jigsaw pieces, the incomplete sphere symbolising the space to add new knowledge. How apt.




1. Woman with Jigsaw Puzzle
2. Puzzle by John_Spilsbury, 1766
3. John Spilsbury
4. Ravensburger Puzzle
5. Great Western Rail Puzzle
6. Wikipedia Logo

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