A Brief History of Puzzles

Puzzles, or “dissected maps,” were invented in Georgian-era England, probably by a mapmaker named John Spilsbury in the early 1760s. The earliest English table games were geographical, and the publishers were often map engravers and sellers. 


Early puzzles and other table games were often beautiful pieces of craftsmanship—engraved, hand-colored, carefully mounted, folded, cut or otherwise assembled—and very expensive. The wooden boxes for the puzzles were made from mahogany or cedar, and the puzzles themselves backed with thin mahogany board.


Puzzles and other educational games in eighteenth-century England also held a gendered connotation. A mothers’ symbolic importance in their children’s education and “the importance of spending time with children both at home and outside, warning… of the irreparable harm done by leaving children to the care of a nursery maid.” Ironically, more than 200 years later, our current situation (the pandemic) has forced hundreds of thousands of mothers back into the role of teaching their children—or at least managing their distance learning.


Puzzles were also a part of the newly developed culture of gift-giving during Christmas in the early nineteenth century.  Common gifts, like “dissected maps”, were considered intellectual toys.