Jigsaw Puzzles to Banish the Blues

When Wall Street Crashed in 1929, the Cheap Jigsaw Came Into Its Own

Are you considering what to buy for a gift? A jigsaw puzzle is economical and fun, and even a cheap jigsaw keeps the solver absorbed for hours. Or you can make your own jigsaw puzzle.

There’s a lot to be said for jigsaws, especially when finances are strained. They’re free on a computer, and even from a shop, many are available for under £5. You can buy even superior quality jigsaw puzzles for around £20. And for so little, you get so much.

Christmas and birthdays come but once a year – which is quite often enough when times are hard. But there are things on which people will spend money in a recession. In the 1930s, cinema enjoyed a boom, as did chocolate – and jigsaw puzzles became a mania.

Easily explained, of course. Unable to afford big purchases, people looked for inexpensive ways of taking their minds off their troubles. Now, in the COVID-19 recession, everyone seeks distraction once more, and no one wants to spend much. So why not turn again to the jigsaw? A jigsaw puzzle might be just what the doctor ordered.

The Wood Jigsaw Puzzle

The first jigsaw puzzles on record were the work of London mapmaker John Spilsbury. Around 1760, Spilsbury glued one of his maps to a wood sheet and cut around national borders with a marquetry saw. The end product he saw as essentially educational – a means of teaching geography.

The early puzzles were known as dissected maps, and it was with such a map of Europe that jigsaws made their literary debut. In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, one of Fanny Price’s cousins is amused by her inability to “put the map of Europe together”. It wasn’t poor Fanny’s fault. Her own family was not well off, and the wooden jigsaw puzzle was expensive.

The Cheap Jigsaw: Make Your Own Jigsaw Puzzle

Jigsaws would remain expensive for most of the nineteenth century, but technological advances, in addition to improving their quality, gradually made them more affordable. Improvements in printing made the pictures better, cutting methods became more efficient, and, crucially, the wood jigsaw puzzle gave way to cardboard.

Towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, jigsaws became something of a craze on both sides of the Atlantic, but the Wall Street crash of 1929 gave them their biggest boost. Inexpensive entertainment was much in demand, and the cheap jigsaw, made of cardboard, was phenomenally successful.

Since the Second World War, the jigsaw has faced stiff competition from such creative hobbies as Airfix kits and Lego. But one advantage which it enjoys is that it is not difficult to make your own jigsaw puzzle.

All that is needed is to paste a picture to a sheet of cardboard and to cut it into suitable pieces with a Stanley knife (US utility knife). For a touch of class, it is even possible with care to make a wooden jigsaw. A home-made Christmas jigsaw puzzle might make a more interesting present than most.

Online Jigsaws

With the coming of the home computer, jigsaws can be enjoyed online, where the cheap jigsaw has become free. To the purist, online jigsaws are almost sacrilegious, but they do have their advantages: it isn’t possible to lose any of the pieces, and there’s no clearing up to do.

Because the pieces are all correctly oriented and cannot be rotated, the puzzles are somewhat easier than the real thing. The pictures on offer are not especially exciting, but by uploading a picture of choice, you can make your own jigsaw puzzle.

Wasgij Jigsaws

Another interesting recent development has been the invention of the Wasgij (no prizes for guessing the derivation of the name). With Wasgij jigsaws, the solver does not know how the completed puzzle will look because, while the picture on the box gives clues, it is not the one that you will piece together. Typically, the solver has to create the view seen by one of the characters in the box picture.

A Wasgij jigsaw might be a particularly good gift jigsaw puzzle, something to keep all the family guessing while they digest the turkey.