Superior Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles

Written by Charles Peacock
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If (like many people) you have gone your entire life thinking that geography and jigsaw puzzles were totally unrelated things, I am sorry to inform you that you are mistaken. How could this be, you ask? What could simple jigsaw puzzles possibly have to do with geography, and, believe it or not, cartography? In fact, these two--or rather, three--things are irrevocably intertwined.

Jigsaw puzzles, in point of fact, were actually invented by an English cartographer, and were originally intended for use as a tool in teaching geography. In the 1760s, John Spilsbury (who conveniently had experience both in cartography as well as the hand-crafting arts) got the idea to mount some of the maps he had made to thin pieces of wood. He then used a thin jigsaw to cut around the borders of countries, creating the first jigsaw puzzle.

The History of Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles were a perfect tool for teaching children about geography. They were fun to play with, and in the process of putting them together, kids could familiarize themselves with the shapes and positions of different countries. They were such a successful tool, in fact, that for 60 years after their invention no one even considered using jigsaw puzzles for anything other than teaching geography.

As England moved into the 19th century, its political and intellectual influence grew around the world. At the same time, jigsaw puzzles began to reflect themes other than geography as puzzle makers began cutting puzzles from other kinds of prints and drawings. Jigsaw puzzles soon spread throughout the empire, and have remained popular around the globe ever since.

As mentioned, jigsaw puzzles in the past used to be made out of wood--not the cardboard commonly found in use today. Puzzles were usually cut by hand, and were for obvious reasons were extremely labor intensive and thus quite expensive. It wasn't until the 1930s that puzzle manufacturers began to cut puzzles out of cardboard using mass-production industrial presses.

Jigsaw Puzzles: Past, Present and Future

While cheap cardboard models made jigsaw puzzles affordable to the masses (thereby increasing their popularity even more), a certain degree or quality and craftsmanship was lost with the new manufacturing methods. In the past, puzzle makers used to cut each puzzle differently, and would often include pieces called "whimsies" that were cut into a specific recognizable shape. A classic wooden puzzle may have contained dozens of whimsies, many of them reflecting the theme of the puzzle with their shape.

In the old days, if you purchased a steam train puzzle, you may have been delighted to find several pieces that were actually shaped like trains. Because the intricate shapes and designs of whimsy pieces were fragile, they didn't translate well into the age of cardboard puzzles. By the end of the 20th century, most puzzle manufacturers had in fact dropped the idea of whimsies altogether.

Fortunately, there are a few specialty puzzle makers out there who have revitalized the puzzle industry by creating classic wooden puzzles that are just as good--and in some ways better--than those made in the olden days of puzzling. These manufacturers only use high-quality wood in their puzzles, and they have also brought back the idea of including whimsy pieces. If you love puzzling and are looking for something challenging, unique and beautiful, these classic puzzles are a great way to go.


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