The world’s first commercial jigsaw puzzle was a map puzzle made in the early 1760s by a young London mapmaker named John Spilsbury (1739-1769). He mounted a map of the world onto a hardwood board and carved out the shapes of the countries to create what he called a ‘dissection’. This innovation proved highly popular and he went on to create dissected maps of England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Europe, Asia, Africa and North America in what turned out to be a successful business venture. Unfortunately John Spilsbury died in 1769 but his widow Sarah continued with the business, later marrying Spilsbury’s former apprentice Harry Ashby.
Dissected maps were considered to be educational tools rather than toys or pastimes until the 1820s, when subject matter other than maps had become popular. However it was not until the 1880s - over 100 years after they were invented - that these ‘dissections’ began to be known as ‘jigsaw puzzles’.
At this stage puzzles were made exclusively of wood. As a result they were very expensive, and were aimed primarily at wealthy adults rather than children. It would not be unusual to find puzzles as a pastime at upper-class parties and on weekend country retreats.
But wooden puzzles were out of reach for most ordinary working people, so at the end of the 19th century some manufacturers started producing cheaper puzzles for children made from cardboard. Jigsaws became even more accessible as the die-cut method of mass production developed in the early 20th century. As a result these cardboard puzzles became hugely popular during the Great Depression in the 1930s when a cheap puzzle provided hours of family entertainment.
Nowadays jigsaw puzzles continue to offer great value for money. For a relatively small outlay they give many hours of enjoyment and challenge whether working alone or with companions, and when you are finished with a puzzle, you can simply pass it along to family or friends so they can enjoy it as new!
Map puzzles offer all the above, plus the added benefit of learning about the world. By purchasing a map jigsaw puzzle you are also – in a very real way - making a connection back to the very first dissected maps made by John Spilsbury over 250 years ago.