The large numbers of attractive and affordable puzzles published since 1900 have made the 20th-century jigsaw very collectable.
Early pre-1900 jigsaws were known as 'dissected puzzles', and had
hand coloured pictures mounted on wood, which was cut laboriously by hand-saw. After
1900 the development of the mechanical jigsaw, the cutting die and chromolithography led
to mass production of more complex and colourful jigsaw puzzles.
Cheaper materials such as plywood and cardboard were introduced.
Manufacturers realized that jigsaws need not remain an educational pastime of
privileged children, but could be an enjoyable hobby for all ages at all levels of society.
In the 1920s, Raphael Tuck made jigsaws a fashionable adult pastime with a series of 'Picture Puzzle Postcards'. Enclosed in a sealed folder, these postcard-sized puzzles could be
addressed and sent by post. They were also used or 'Progressive Puzzle Parties', where
guests competed to finish the puzzles fastest.
Puzzle mania spread to the United States, and
one of the most successful American manufacturer of the early 20th century was Parker
Bros. They came to be known as 'the Tiffany of the Games Business', and their 'Pastime
Puzzles' were tremendously popular in the
I 920s. By the 1930s they were selling overseas. Their well-made puzzles are still loved by
collectors for their ingenious cutting technique They included all sorts of shapes, such
as animals, arms and legs. They also included tricks which made the puzzles much more
difficult to solve, such as using straight edges within the puzzle, and cutting the pieces along the
edge of a colour or pattern so that there were no interlocking clues.
Also prized by the collector are the exclusive custom-made puzzles of Frank Ware and John
Henriques, an American partnership which cornered the market for luxury puzzles.
Fine silk-screened pictures were mounted on five-ply mahogany, and the pieces were
cut into unusual shapes, often including a seahorse which became their trade-mark. The
puzzle were supplied in plain black boxes and often had intriguing cryptic titles.
Ware and Henriques accepted commissions from many famous customers, for example the Duke of Windsor, who always had pieces cut in the shape of his Cairn terriers, and the Duchess who had her initials, 'W.W.', incorporated in the cutting. Each puzzle came with a specified par time for completion and they eventually became known as 'Par Puzzles'.
In the 1920s and 1930s, jigsaws reached their height of popularity and were a real craze, particularly during the years of the Depression when people had time on their hands and sought distraction from their problems. They have remained a popular hobby and found a new lease of life when large numbers of cardboard die-cut puzzles were produced in series in the 1940s and 1950s.
Old jigsaw puzzles are fascinating on many levels. They are certainly a valuable pointer to what people were interested in earlier this century. To the modern eye, the images often look rather static as though
derived from old oil paintings - as many were. More recent puzzles tend to go for a rather livelier use of colour.
Puzzles made in the 20th century are more easily acquired than antique dissected puzzles
which are now becoming very rare. Among the main manufacturers of wooden puzzles are
Victory, Tower Press, Ponda, Chad Valley, J Salmon, Beraton, AVN Jones and Waddington's the toy-makers. Tower Press
and Waddington's also produced cardboard
puzzles, as did Good Companions.
Collectors often specialize in puzzles by a particular manufacturer, of a particular subject or theme, or by series. A number of specialist dealers sell jigsaw puzzles and may help you track down puzzles from a series.
Wooden puzzles tend to be more valuable than cardboard ones. Ironically, though, wooden puzzles, being more durable than cardboard, are much more likely to have survived intact.
The value of an old puzzle is very much determined by its state of completeness and the condition of the pieces. Prices will be lower where pieces are missing, replaced, broken or with repaired tags. Puzzles are always more valuable if they are still contained in their original, undamaged box with the original guide picture.
Some of the more unusual puzzles produced in this century include circular puzzles, vertical puzzles, crossword jigsaws, solid silver jigsaws, and the extremely difficult plain white puzzle! Sometimes jigsaw puzzles were sold with a book, for example the Harrap Jig-Saw Mysteries. A mystery story included a
150-piece jigsaw containing a clue to the solution. Some manufacturers will still hand cut puzzles for special commissions. These curiosities and craftsmen's work may very well be the collectables of the future.