Joint effort: Completing a jigsaw by Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, which can be framed, inset
Piece by piece we’re trying to make sense of our lives during the lockdown, hoping that a clear picture will emerge by the end of it.
But that’s nothing new for dissectologists — as jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts are known – who are well-practised in quietly assembling a pretty picture that leaves them with a sense of achievement, something in which they can, however fleetingly, take pride.
Pretty as a picture: Wentworth Wooden Puzzles can be framed. There is still a big difference in price between wood and cardboard puzzles
Trouble is that demand is so great that stocks of jigsaws are running low during lockdown.
Rummaging in the loft or in the back of a cupboard might be the best way of getting your hands on these now prized puzzles, which, according to a medical study conducted at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S., help fight off conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
This is thought to be because jigsaws exercise both the creative right and analytical left side of the brain, which might explain the robust mental health of the Queen, who at the age of 94, remains as sharp as someone half her age.
She’s a paid-up member of the Jigsaw Puzzle Library (annual subscription of £135, british jigsawpuzzlelibrary.co.uk), which gives access to some 3,000 hand-cut wooden puzzles.
Apparently, Her Majesty always has a puzzle on the go, especially at Sandringham.
‘She has a table with a jigsaw laid out, and guests can just wander past, put in a piece and walk on,’ says Robert Hardman, author of Our Queen.
some other famous enthusiasts include billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former U.S. President George W. Bush.
‘When we are all spending so much time looking at screens, it’s a wonderfully relaxing but also exacting thing to do,’ says Nicky Rawlence, a psychotherapist who lives in the Isle of Wight.
‘It’s my daily mindfulness exercise because you have to concentrate and it requires great attention to detail.’
The novelist Margaret Drabble is a life-long dissectologist. She has a house full of jigsaw puzzles and has donated quite a few to her local community centre.
‘Jigsaws can be friends of solitude and isolation, but they also can be very sociable,’ she says. ‘You can chat and tell stories as you go. And they are not competitive … it’s a joint effort. Jigsaws are for company, not for winning prizes.’
According to a medical study conducted at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S., puzzles can help fight off conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease
The origins of jigsaw puzzles go back to the 1760s, when European mapmakers pasted maps onto wooden boards and cut them into small pieces.
John Spilsbury, an engraver and mapmaker, is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767, after which they became essential educational tools for children, typically as ‘dissected maps’ in geography lessons.
The collectable interlocking sets that we recognise as jigsaws today did not arrive until puzzles for adults were introduced around 1900.
These were only made possible after the invention of the jigsaw tool ten years earlier, from where the jigsaw puzzle name was coined. They were especially popular with the wealthy, who had time on their hands both here and in the U.S.
Today, as we follow the rules about staying at home, most of us have time to spare and jigsaws are enjoying a resurgence.
Relatively new to the market is artist and designer Kitty Arden (kittyarden.com), whose wooden jigsaw puzzles add a bright and cheery atmosphere to any interiors — once completed, of course.
‘People seem to love jigsaws at this difficult time,’ says Arden. ‘I’ve had mothers tell me how they do them with their children, and then redo them again and again. I’ve also got one that’s a surprise because there’s no image on the box, so you’ve no idea what it will end up looking like.’
It was due to austerity in the post-war era that jigsaw puzzles started to be made of cardboard rather than wood. There is still a big difference in price between wood and cardboard puzzles. For Steph Merton, a wedding florist who lives in South-West London, it has to be wood.
‘It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it. In fact, when I get down to my last 30 or so pieces I get quite emotional and don’t want it to end.
‘My husband and I always take a puzzle with us on holiday because it’s such a relaxing and entertaining thing to do.’
The firm Wentworth Wooden Puzzles is based in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. It was founded by Kevin Wentworth Preston in 1991 and produces more than 150,000 puzzles a year.
What your home really needs is… a Lloyd Loom chair
Your home really needs a Lloyd Loom chair because its styling blends with any decor, and some versions can be used outside
One of the most enduringly fashionable designs of the 1920s — that other time of uncertainty — is the Lloyd Loom chair, which is not made of rattan, but of a woven material that is a mix of twisted paper and steel.
The lightweight chair served as the passenger seating on Zeppelin airships — the era’s ill-fated version of the thrill ride — and also on that other less perilous form of transport, the ocean liner. The glamour of the Jazz Age still surrounds the Lloyd Loom chair.
They’re perfect for those of us who wish to recline gracefully, pretending we are a character from a Poirot detective tale, or a Great Gatsby partygoer reaching for another cocktail.
Your home really needs a Lloyd Loom chair because its styling blends with any decor, and some versions can be used outside.
Draped with a throw, it will turn a bedroom into a second sitting room, a refuge in the lockdown days of 2020.
Prices range from £195 to £299. Heritage Edition Lloyd Loom in Westminster blue, £299, pictured (lloydlooms.co.uk).
Lookalikes include Ikea’s Agen (£35, ikea.com) and The Range’s Padstow (£59.99, therange.co.uk).
‘We are struggling to keep up with demand,’ says Sarah Whatson, the company’s managing director. ‘Normally it’s the run-up to Christmas which is our busiest time of the year.’
Wentworth’s even offers a service whereby if you can’t bring yourself to break up a puzzle after it has been completed, the company will frame it for you so you can hang it on the wall as a piece of art.
‘We also offer a personalised service whereby you can send us a photograph and we’ll make a puzzle from it, but sadly we can’t do this at the moment because of the health crisis,’ says Whatson.
The most popular range at Wentworth’s are 250-piece puzzles, which cost £29.95. A 500-piece one costs £58.95 and a 1,000 piece puzzle comes in at £105 (wentworthpuzzles.com).
There’s also a market for antique puzzles. The record price paid for a jigsaw is £22,000 in 2005 for a handmade, 467-piece wooden set made by the then 92-year-old Rachel Page Elliot, who died in 2009. It featured a picture of a golden retriever playing in a field with puppies.
It will be interesting to see if jigsaws survive the lockdown and flourish or if they will just be regarded as useful pastimes that helped to get us through it.