Something about a rather wet start to autumn that suits jigsaw puzzles. I remember a rather groovy 6 Million Dollar Man jigsaw that my sister and I struggled with on dull overcast afternoons. But we never had anything as groovy as the Victory puzzles that we, and our two boys, have been enjoying ever since we started to pick them up second hand.
Victory were an arm of a good old British company, G.J. Hayter & Co of Oxford Road in Bournemouth. There’s a bit of pride in the way the manufacturer’s name is displayed prominently on the border of some of these puzzles, and Hayter had been producing wooden jigsaws since the 1920s. Progress, though, pointed us all in the direction of cheap, disposable cardboard jigsaws and wood went into a bit of a steep decline after the Second World War. So the plywood puzzles of the 1960s & 1970s that we’ve stumbled upon were really the last rearguard action of wood in the onslaught of the newfangled flimsy puzzles.
Plywood and paper jigsaws apparently date to the end of the nineteenth century and they’re a great design. They’ve got a lovely tactile, chunky quality and they don’t do that awful bending thing that you get with cardboard. And these Victory ones are nicely educational, whether that’s in terms of spelling names of animals and recognising birds, portraying a wonderfully Blytonesque farm life, or, as with our favourites, teaching geography.
The maps are like little time capsules. Not only do we have Australia and Canada still Empire pink on the great big world map, but the Europe map has the Eastern Bloc still intact. No need to learn about all those post-Soviet states here, although they’re mostly still named, waiting for their time as nations. And it’s huge and really hard work (for a puzzle dunce like me) and, when finished, quite a beautiful thing:
Some of the historical information is downright romantic – as the article I linked to above mentioned, jigsaws reflected popular enthusiasm for rail and shipping. The Victory world map is a beguiling place in which the oceans are crossed by tangles of shipping routes to far flung, impossibly exotic places. The Atlantic looks like a motorway:
And at the hub of this connected world, of course, is Great Britain:
The mention of Stanford in the bottom corner reminds me of our time in London and browsing the lovely Stanfords map and travel book shop in Covent Garden:
And helpfully indicates ‘Principal Canals’ as well as ‘Principal Shipping Routes’ (there were more?!).
We’ve got a few of these now, all with their own charms. Europe was the first we got:
There’s nothing quite like doing one of these puzzles for realising just where places are. The south east of Europe was a blurry mystery to me until it came to finding just how Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Turkey fitted together, and how they led to the Middle East. And you’ll be pleased to know they haven’t stinted with shipping on this one either. Fancy a trip from Liverpool to Rio de Janeiro? A sea journey to Buenos Aires? Or just a short hop to Gibraltar?
From the world, through Europe, back to Britain, like how we used to write our address when little, in reverse:
With, of course, shipping routes (Liverpool to Rio again):
And what’s really nice about this one is the level of detail. It’s not often you get a smallish market town like ours on a jigsaw. But if you look carefully, you can just make out Newcastle-under-Lyme:
Finally (I resisted the temptation to take pictures of the jungle animal & farmyard puzzles), a slightly different map puzzle, and another time capsule. In bright, confident colours, this map indicates the British Isles, ‘showing industrial life in the counties and regions of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland‘. Here’s our part of the world again, the Potteries (Staffordshire):
I love the colours of this one. And I love that it’s a map where everything’s in its rightful place, where you could be quizzed on what was produced where. It’s an idealised map, like all maps are: fishing and fun on northern coasts; then coal, shipbuilding and chemicals; to farmed uplands and the pencils and glassware of Cumbria. It’s too neat of course, but it hints just about enough at a lost time, and lost industries, to possess a little poignancy.
Lovely ways to while away rainy afternoons, at any rate. And well worth a trawl of Ebay to enjoy snapshots of a mapped and imagined world. Although I am slightly worried about having to explain losing the Empire to the boys…