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The History of Jigsaw Puzzles

Posted on June 07, 2022

Whilst most of you will likely be avid, long-time jigsaw puzzlers, many of you will no doubt be newcomers following the Covid-19 puzzling craze of 2020!

Puzzles Galore have been stocking and selling puzzles for over 16 years, but it’s only been during the last few years that i have had time to seriously take up the relaxing (and sometimes frustrating) hobby at home.

Did you know the official term for a jigsaw puzzler is “Dissectologist”? Because we didn’t, and we were keen to find out more!

The term Dissectologist comes directly from the term “Dissect” which is the first recorded name for a jigsaw puzzle. Way back when in 1762 the first Dissect was created by cartographer John Spilsbury, a copy of one of his maps, which he mounted onto a piece of wood and then cut around the individual countries, thus creating the dissect. This first puzzle was gifted to his local school as a tool to aid the children in their geographical studies.

Asia in its Principal Divisions, by John Spilsbury, 1767 puzzle © British Library Board/Bridgeman Images.
Asia in its Principal Divisions, by John Spilsbury, 1767 puzzle © British Library Board/Bridgeman Images.

It is rumoured that Lady Charlotte Finch also used puzzles, or dissects as they were still known, during the late 1700’s to teach the children of King George III (yes the crazy one) and Queen Charlotte. I think it’s safe to say during this time and for many years after the humble puzzle was not so humble! Crafted from wood and painstakingly hand cut using a fretsaw, these little amusements kept upper classed families entertained and were out of reach to the working classes.

It would take until the late 1800’s for puzzles to become more mainstream, thanks to the move towards paperboard (or cardboard as we now know it) and developments in manufacturing which allowed companies to integrate specialist die cutting machines, which effectively hole punched the shapes from the paperboard in one use of the press. Essentially like a giant cookie cutter.

Jigsaw Puzzle Die Cutting Press Machine

Jigsaw Puzzle Die Cutting Press Machine

    Due to the ability to manufacture at a cheaper and more efficient rate puzzles really came into their own during the 1920’s and 1930’s as the Great Depression forced families into finding affordable ways to entertain themselves. Puzzles were not only cheap, but they were long lasting, reusable and recyclable – what’s not to love. And as well as the familiarity of housebound families choosing to pick up a puzzle during lockdown for family entertainment, these same sustainability values really resonate again today!

    The big stand out to a decade ago is the huge leap forward in technology, and to the present day laser cutting machines that manufacturers now use. Laser cutting allows for even more precision and the advantage of being able to cut any number of intricate designs, including irregularly & whimsically shaped pieces. It also means we can create puzzles from acrylic as well as cardboard, allowing for waterproof and 3D puzzles.

    We wonder what John Spilsbury would think to the evolvement of his beloved creation, would he be marvelling at one of his cartographs turned into a 3D Globe puzzle?

    Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at a globe if you haven’t already? We have an extensive range of interesting puzzles here at Puzzles Galore, we’d love you to take a look and see for yourself!

    Thanks for reading our little journey back to the start of puzzling and in the words of King George III we hope “You’ll be back” for our next post! (For all you Hamilton fans out there 😉)

    Even King George like a puzzle

    Chloe 🧩

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