"Life is a big jigsaw puzzle. We are all parts of that jigsaw." – Brigadier Rice at Boston Grammar School, Speech Day, December 1954.

While The Lightbox is closed to the public and many of us are confined to our own homes, we've recruited the help of Rosemary and Richard, two of our beloved Heritage volunteers, to discuss topics relating to the home.

Most of us have a jigsaw or two lurking at the back of a cupboard, but there’s so much more to jigsaws than successfully matching those very difficult pieces of blue sky. Allow us to elaborate:

  1. Jigsaws were first known as dissected maps

John Spilsbury, a London mapmaker and engraver is credited with inventing the jigsaw in 1766 – it was a map of Europe created to teach geography. Known as a dissected map, Spilsbury used a hand-held fretsaw to cut around the country boundaries. Copies of the map in pieces were put in boxes and sold for children to put together. During the next forty years, several manufacturers copied Spilsbury, widening the scope of the designs to include historical scenes.


John Spilsbury's Original Dissected Map of Europe

  1. Originally, they were produced as educational aids

Early nineteenth century puzzles were made for the children of wealthy families as educational aids and were made of mahogany or cedar. In the late 1800s, Raphael Tuck, a German furniture dealer, now better known for Christmas card production, together with his sons, developed improved techniques. Taking advantage of printing improvements at the time, Raphael Tuck produced jigsaws that were printed on plywood or thick card and introduced boxes with picture examples of the completed puzzle.


Victorian jigsaw puzzles

  1. English literature references "jigsaws" as early as 1814

One of the earliest references can be found in Jane Austen's 'Mansfield Park', first published in 1814, where Fanny Price’s cousin teases her for not being familiar with these new school room toys.

But the heyday of the jigsaw craze did not come until the beginning of 1900s when 'jigsaw puzzle' was first officially used. The term 'jigsaw' came to be associated with the puzzle due the to use of fretsaws as the tool of choice for cutting the shapes. Since fretsaws are distinct from jigsaws, the name appears to have been incorrectly attributed, but stuck nonetheless.

  1. In the past, jigsaws have been used as marketing tools

At the beginning of the twentieth century, jigsaws were used as advertising material, especially by travel companies, although the one shown here was made for an American medicinal company.

  1. The first attempt at the world largest jigsaw dates back to 1930

The jigsaw was planned to be assembled in October 1930 for the British Empire Trade Fair in Buenos Aires, consisting of 35,000 pieces although we couldn’t find any record of it having been finished.

At present, the largest jigsaw in the 'Guinness Book of Records' was put together by 1,600 students for the University of Economics of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in September 2011 and consisted of 551,232 pieces. However, the claim is considered to be controversial as the final jigsaw had been divided into 3,132 sections, each containing 176 pieces which were individually put together before putting together the overall puzzle.

  1. The Great Depression was a very popular time for jigsaws

The 1930s saw an increase in the popularity of jigsaws with the Great Depression and jigsaw lending libraries sprung up during this time – cottage gardens being a particularly popular theme at the time.


Present-day cottage garden jigsaw puzzle

One of our volunteers remembers going to a jigsaw lending library in Chertsey Street, Guildford during World War II where wooden jigsaws could be hired for 3 or 6 days or a week according to size. Oxted also had a jigsaw library and Bexhill-on-Sea had a flourishing library advertising puzzles available to borrow for 4 days or one week with no fines for lost pieces.

  1. A preference for jigsaw puzzles runs in the Royal Family

It is said that Queen Victoria used to enjoy doing jigsaws. Nowadays, puzzles are one of HM the Queen's favourite pastimes. She does not like to see the pictures of the jigsaws on their boxes before she starts assembling one as this would make it too easy.

In 2010, an exhibition held at Sandringham House presented a custom-made 400-piece jigsaw depicting members of the Royal Family, along with scenes of Windsor and Balmoral, which was gifted to the Queen by a specialist puzzle maker in 1993.

  1. Jigsaws at The Lightbox

Our Heritage Collection houses several puzzle items, most notably a postcard-sized jigsaw of the Railway Orphanage, a jigsaw of a painting by local artist Molly Brett, and a 'zigzaw' (a puzzle that has the image in reverse on the box) of unknown content.

  1. Jigsaws as self-care objects

In the era of Instagram filters and wellbeing advertising it looks like puzzles are getting a revival, being dubbed 'self-care objects' – which has made them increasingly popular, especially among millennials.

Even if there is no current scientific data that looks into the positive effects that jigsaws can have on mental health, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that people find puzzles personally beneficial. And what better time than this to practice a bit of self-care by taking a break and having a go at putting together a jigsaw puzzle of your own?

For more ways to stay creative while at home, browse our blog.