Early jigsaws were known as ‘dissected puzzles’ and were prints mounted onto wood and then hand cut into interlocking pieces. Dissected puzzles from the 18th century were devised as teaching aids to children rather than toys, and featured educational subjects. Their purpose was to make learning fun. The first dissected map puzzle for children was created by John Spilsbury, a London map maker and engraver, in the 1760s.
This puzzle, “Wallis’s New Map of Europe, divided into Empires, Kingdoms & etc …..” published September 14th 1789, was made by John Wallis (died1818), a book, print and map seller, who was also a prolific producer of children’s board games in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The business was continued by his sons. It is typical of the early type of puzzle and was used to teach geography.
The map at Storiel features Europe, but with Iceland, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily missing. An identical map is held by the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London.
Cardboard puzzles appeared during the late 1800s, but were slow to replace wooden ones. The term ‘jigsaw’ referring to the fretsaw used to cut the pieces, was used from the 20th century. From the 1930s, jigsaws evolved to be more complex and appealing to adults and their popularity increased. After the Second World War improvements in manufacturing made paperboard jigsaws more accessible. The popularity of jigsaw puzzles has increased during the recent lockdowns.
A cube puzzle including an image of this map is available in Gallery 4.