The honor of inventing the jigsaw puzzles is said to fall to British mapmaker John Spilsbury, who created the first such puzzle in 1767 as an educational tool. However, inventing and popularizing are two completely different things. By 1908, materials were more readily available for people to make their own puzzles — and the novelties were soon found in households across the country.

Christmas puzzles: Ingenious homemade games for holiday gifts

The picture puzzle fad has received a new lease on life, which promises to make this coming Christmas a puzzle Christmas. The craze of men and women of many ranks of life, but chiefly fashionable people and brain workers, for putting together the picture puzzles began last winter — and by spring, the fad was well underway. Private individuals, largely through the exchanges for women’s work, made good incomes from their jigsaws, the puzzles selling as high as $3 or $4 apiece. Everyone had picture puzzles and sent them to friends.

All summer long in mountain and seaside cottages, the picture puzzle craze raged. Its devotees were found on hotel piazzas, and no one went abroad without half a dozen picture puzzles to while away time on the steamer. Bridge whist suffered, and solitaire had its nose put out of joint entirely.

The interest has continued until the puzzles have become wonderfully elaborate and difficult, having as many as one thousand pieces. There are beautiful marquetry puzzles of colored wood from Holland, and the latest and most expensive there are silver puzzles which cost $33 and have designs etched or engraved upon both sides, making the solution much more difficult.

A perfect holiday gift

For Christmas gifts, the puzzle which one makes oneself will be most in favor, for to it can be imparted that quality of appropriateness, which is the chief charm of a gift. The work requires more skill than might at first be supposed, and involves considerable expense.

The little jigsaws are inexpensive in themselves, but they break easily, and must be handled with care, and the work is tedious if done entirely by hand. The footpower jigsaw answers the purpose better, but is somewhat costly. One woman who is making some extremely clever puzzles purchased one of these saws secondhand, and paid $20 for it.

For the boards upon which to mount the puzzles, the thin poplar strip can be obtained of the woodman, and everything in the way of cigar boxes, the thin wooden boxes in which a jeweler sends silver by express — anything in the nature of a piece of wood which comes in the delivery from any of the shops — is treasured if it can be utilized for puzzles. It must have the quality of cutting like cheese, with no tendency to split, and it must at the same time be tough and durable. It is heartbreaking after the picture has been mounted and the work is half done to break a piece and ruin the entire puzzle.

Choosing the picture

Selecting the picture is a source of great amusement and a matter of some difficulty. Already the women who are making their own puzzles are having trouble in finding the kind of pictures they want, and the prices for those in greatest demand have gone up. The illustrations from the French periodicals have done service for many puzzles, and a French picture, with a title, is interesting when put together. Some of these French picture puzzles are a trifle outré in appearance before they are put together, and may give the friend to whom they are sent as a gift a slight shock. A shapely ankle appears here and a decollete bodice there — but in the complete picture, there is nothing more dreadful than lady of the ballet as she might appear upon any billboard.

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Christmas supplements in colors, of which there are many in the English papers, furnish delightful puzzle pictures. There are Japanese prints which are artistic, but lack the “human interest” element. Black and white pictures are sometimes used, and posters are admirable.

“Can’t you get me that poster, three black cats sitting on a yellow fence?” wrote one woman, out of town, to a man friend. She knew that the masses of black in the animals and the large deep ground of yellow would make a puzzle effective when together.

The pictures are pasted upon the poplar board with great care, and in some instances, varnished. When dry, the jigsaw is put to work, and this requires infinite patience. On a colored picture, some of the workers, following a certain method, cut out the different color first — and the smoothness with which design is followed does much to make a good effect when the puzzle is together. One woman follows architectural designs and scrolls in her work. This gives an added zest to the worker and may help or hinder the one who puts the puzzle together. All the pieces have the edges carefully sandpapered after they have been sawed.

Puzzle exchanges

Exchanging puzzles has been another development of the puzzle craze, and now a woman, after she has put a puzzle together so many times that it no longer presents difficulties, exchanges it with a friend for one which is new to her. Regular puzzle exchanges have been formed, and one puzzle may go the rounds of an entire circle of friends.

It has been said that a young girl in Boston started the puzzle craze, but that is denied by people who have followed it from the beginning, and there is every reason to believe that it received its first impetus in Newport last winter, among the people who spend the cold months there.

The story is that a little boy in Providence, a shut-in, began to make puzzles with his jigsaw to occupy his long, weary hours. Some of the Newport people heard of the child and took the puzzles at first for his benefit, but before the winter was over, they became deeply interested in the puzzles themselves. Now the craze is at its height in New York City, and many women are busily engaged making puzzles for Christmas stockings.

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About this story

Source publication: New-York Tribune (New York, NY)

Source publication date: November 15, 1908

Filed under: 1900s, Christmas, Culture & lifestyle, Discoveries & inventions, Newspapers

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