Celebrating the Life of Charles Dickens in Jigsaw Puzzles

Photographs and article by Bob Armstrong

Next year, 2012, will be the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Dickens, probably the greatest English novelist of all time. Yet, except for Dickens’ aficionados such as myself (I am a long-time member and treasurer of the Worcester, MA Chapter of the Dickens Fellowship, London, England), little will be done to celebrate.

Contrast this with 1912, the centennial of Dickens’ birth. Two of the leading jigsaw puzzle makers, Raphael Tuck & Sons in London, England (“Tuck”) and Parker Brothers in Salem, MA (“Parker”) cut and promoted with considerable success a series of 16 puzzles featuring coaching scenes from the novels of Dickens drawn by the artist Albert Ludovici, Jr. (“Ludovici”) from prints manufactured by Tuck. And other puzzle makers joined in and produced numerous hand cut puzzles from the many prints available then of non-coaching scenes from Dickens’ novels. A veritable cornucopia of jigsaw puzzles featuring Dickensian scenes flowed onto the market lasting into the 1930s, attesting to the popularity of Dickens.

As a fan of Dickens and a beginning collector of jigsaw puzzles back in the early 1990s, I became aware of the existence of Dickens puzzles. So, I decided to combine both interests by collecting, restoring, studying, displaying and talking about the Dickens puzzles I acquired.

Recently, I gave a presentation to the North of Boston Branch of the Dickens Fellowship in which I was able to display my puzzles, talk about the history surrounding them and challenge the audience to identify the particular Dickens novel associated with each scene. This article is an outgrowth of that presentation without the identification challenge!

D.1 Pastime, 350 pieces, The Meeting of Pip and Estella in the Inn Yard

D.2 Pastime, 350 pieces, David Copperfield Arrives in London

#1 Tuck’s Dickens Puzzles: D1-D8

Albert Ludovici, Jr. (1852-1932)

Ludovici was a member of the British Royal Academy of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers. He spent his life shuttling between London and Paris, painting landscapes and interior scenes of people at leisure in both oil and watercolor. His works were displayed in countless galleries of his time but his greatest fame resulted from the prints and jigsaw puzzles made from his pictures depicting coaching scenes from the works of Dickens. Quoting Ludovici himself in his autobiography: “An Artist's Life in London and Paris” (1926):

“I cannot help feeling sorry for the present generation, who have no idea of these good old times, and my only regret is that I did not live in the coaching days, which I have so often tried to depict in my Charles Dickens coaching series of pictures.”

Raphael Tuck & Sons, London, England

Tuck was one of the leading color lithographers and jigsaw puzzle makers in England during the first half of the 20th century. The company began operations in 1865 and essentially went out of business on December 29, 1940, when its premises, Raphael House, was destroyed in one of the biggest air raids on London during World War II.

Tuck commenced producing jigsaw puzzles in 1909 with its top line called Zag-Zaw Puzzles. On its puzzle boxes the company claimed it was “the World’s Art Service” and its puzzles were “used by Royalty, Society & the Great Public.” Today, Zag-Zaw puzzles, made between 1909 and 1940, are considered among the best large scale, commercially cut jigsaw puzzles made in England and the continent during the first half of 20th century.

To celebrate the centennial of Dickens’ birth, Tuck obtained rights to reproduce prints of a series of 16 paintings by Ludovici and sell them both as prints and as jigsaw puzzles starting about 1909. All 16 were pictured in their 1910 sales catalog with serial numbers D.1 through D.16 (#1 and #2), and “Mr. Pickwick, his friends and Mr. Alfred Jingle Depart for Rochester” (D.4 within #1) was featured on the cover. The prints were issued in two sizes: 7" x 12" and 12" x 20". Puzzles were cut from both sizes, the 7" x 12" into 150 pieces and the 12" x 20" into 400 pieces.

The Company used its standard orange/red boxes we are accustomed to seeing with small black and white pictures on the box bottom. Tuck also issued around 1912 a “Centenary Puzzle” cut the same way as the others in its series, but marketed in a special edition box.

Tuck continued to offer the full series in its catalogs right up into the 1930s. The early puzzles were cut in a push-fit cutting style which developed into the interlocking style of its 1930s puzzles. Standard Tuck figure pieces were spread throughout the puzzles; no color line cutting was employed in the ones I have seen. However, Tuck did produce some unusual ones: a Disguised Edges Zag-Zaw puzzle with scalloped edges and a Multiple Zag-Zaw puzzle which combined two of the smaller sized coaching scenes into a 300 piece puzzle. Examples of both are posted on my website. My Disguised Edges/Zag-Zaw depicts “Nicholas Nickleby on the Road to Dotheboy’s Hall” (e.g., D.12); my “Multiple” Zag-Zaw depicts “The Pickwickians Leave the Golden Cross for Rochester” (e.g., D.14) and “The Pickwickians Arrive at Eatanswill” (e.g., D.16).

D.3 Pastime, 350 pieces, Nicholas Nickleby’s Departure for Dotheboy’s Hall

D.4 Pastime, 350 pieces, Mr. Pickwick, his Friends and Mr. Jingle Start for Rochester

D.5 Zag-Zaw, 150 pieces, David Copperfield on his way to School

D.6 Pastime, 350 pieces, Mr. Pecksniff Leaves for London

D.7 Pastime, 350 pieces, The Election of Eatanswill

D.8 Pastime, 150 pieces, On the Road to Dingley Dell

D.9 Pastime, 350 pieces, David Copperfield Bids Farewell to the Micawber Family

Parker Brothers, Salem, MA

Parker was, of course, a game company founded by George Parker in the 1880s when he was only 16 years old. Its most famous game was Monopoly. The company started making simple children’s puzzles in 1887 and expanded to puzzles cut for adults in 1908, near the beginning of the surge in interest in such puzzles which began in the Boston area about that time. Its top line was called Pastime Puzzles which they made from 1908 to 1958. The company was sold to General Mills in 1968 and what was left ultimately wound up as part of Hasbro. The demise of this once great game and puzzle company is recounted in “Playing by Different Rules,” by Ellen Wojahn, AMACOM, New York (1988).

As the only maker of such prints, Tuck must have sold its Dickens prints, mainly the larger size, to Parker for their own puzzle making business. The 1910 and 1911 Parker sales brochures featured “Mr. Pickwick, his friends and Mr. Alfred Jingle Depart for Rochester” (e.g., D.4) on the front cover with eight puzzles in the series listed in one 1911 brochure and all 16 listed in a special promotion brochure put out by the company in 1912. Its 1910 catalog announced:

“The subjects named below are a most carefully made SELECTION from styles we have. AND CAN BE PARTICULARLY RECOMMENDED, being beautiful colored plates selected by us abroad as the best suited for PASTIME Puzzles.”

Later catalogs shortened this to “Made only by PARKER BROTHERS (Inc.) from Fine Imported Plates.” All listings refer to the larger size which the company cut and marketed as 350 piece puzzles. However, I do have a Pastime puzzle, “On the Road to Dingley Dell” (D.8) cut from the smaller size print into a 150 piece puzzle. Today, Pastime puzzles are considered among the best large scale, commercially cut jigsaw puzzles made in America in first half of the 20th century.

The series of 16 Ludovici coaching puzzles are all represented in my collection by the puzzles shown as D.1 through D.16. In the next AGPC Quarterly issue I will discuss and show four more Ludovici coaching puzzles published by Parker starting in the 1920s and examples of the many other puzzles made in the 1910 through 1930s period depicting non-coaching scenes from Dickens’ novels. My entire Dickens collection may be viewed on my website at:

D.16 Pastime, 350 pieces, The Pickwickians Arrive at Eatanswill

D.15 Pastime, 350 pieces, Tom Pinch Departs to Seek his Fortune

D.14 Pastime, 350 pieces, The Pickwickians Leaving the “Golden Cross” for Rochester

D.13 Pastime, 350 pieces, David Copperfield’s First Sight of London

D.12 Pastime, 350 pieces, Nicholas Nickleby on the Road to Dotheboy’s Hall

D.11 Pastime, 350 pieces, Mr. Pickwick and his Friends Arrive at the Blue Lion, Muggleton

D.10 Pastime, 350 pieces, Mr. Pecksniff and the Misses Pecksniff’s Return from London

#2 Tuck’s Dickens coaching puzzles: D.9 -D.16

The series of 16 coaching scene puzzles discussed and displayed in the last Quarterly proved so successful that Parker began issuing in the 1920s an additional four puzzles featuring coaching scenes by Ludovici also in the large size (350 piece) and promoted them as a “Dickens Series” in a 1931 catalog with pictures of all four. (e.g. #17-#20) I don’t know where these last four prints came from as any copyright or printer mark has been cut off by the puzzle cutters on every puzzle I have seen. Tuck is a distinct possibility, although I have not seen any of these pictures in a Tuck puzzle.

#17 Pastime—David Copperfield Leaving Margate (1931); 350 pieces

#18 Pastime—The First of May (1921); 350 pieces

#19 Pastime—Mr. Pickwick Received by the Ladies of Bath (1930); 350 pieces

#20 Pastime—Nicholas Nickleby Introducing Old Squeers to his Mother (1933); 350 pieces

Parker continued to produce the original 16 and the additional four as puzzles in the large size right up into the 1930s, although they appeared less and less often in their sales catalogs. The earliest versions had little color line cutting and few figure pieces (e.g., D.4 and D.7) but soon both were increased with the color line cutting becoming quite extensive and the figure pieces reaching the Pastime rule of 12 per 100 puzzle pieces.

By the 1930s the color line cutting had become less extensive, as with other Pastime puzzles. Parker used its standard boxes of the time, usually white but sometimes colored before 1920. Unfortunately, the Company did not invest the same quality in its boxes as it did in its puzzles, so many have not survived or are in deplorable condition today.

Of the 16 pictures in the first series, six involve scenes from “Pickwick Papers”; four from “David Copperfield”; three from “Martin Chuzzlewit”; two from “Nicholas Nickleby”; and one from “Great Expectations.” Of the four pictures added later by Parker (see below), one each comes from “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Pickwick Papers,” “David Copperfield,” and “Barnaby Rudge.” Why so many from “Pickwick Papers?” The story is filled with coaching scenes as Samuel Pickwick, joined by members of the Pickwick Club, travel around England observing life but in reality, getting into all sorts of humorous situations.

Other Artists, Makers, Dickens Scenes

Additional Ludovici Dickens coaching scenes keep showing up, especially in prints. And other artists painted their own Dickens’ coaching scenes which were cut into puzzles. Examples are displayed on my website. Finally, there are numerous non-coaching pictures painted by artists depicting scenes from Dickens’ novels which were cut into puzzles during the 1910-1930 period. I have found none by Ludovici who seems to have restricted his Dickens to coaching scenes. The artists on the pictures used for these puzzles were among the leading artists of the time: Cecil Aldin, Harry Eliott, Harold Copping, Frank Reynolds, and J. Barnard. Many were made by Parker and Tuck. Known Dickens puzzle series are:

  1. Pastime sale lists between 1913 and 1916 list eight titles under “Cecil Aldin’s Dickens Pictures” in the 300 piece size. The label on the box for one of my puzzles, “Bardell v. Pickwick,” (#21) refers to a “Sam Weller Series” (although Sam is not involved in the scene) but the puzzle is listed among the eight titles in the “Cecil Aldin’s Dickens Pictures” series. I can find no reference in Pastime sale lists to a Sam Weller series and suspect the box reference is simply not correct.
  2. A.V.N. Jones & Co. of London, England issued two series of 100 piece puzzles in the 1930s, called “Characters from Dickens” from original paintings by Frank Reynolds. One was a 12 puzzle series in attractive boxes with small pictures of the series puzzles on the box bottom. The other was a 6 puzzle series in attractive boxes with small pictures of the series puzzles on the cover. #22 shows the twelve puzzle series listing.
  3. Zig-Zag Puzzles of London, England published a set of 12 puzzles around 1912 featuring Mr. Pickwick and scenes from Pickwick Papers, by Cecil Aldin, with all 12 titles listed on the box.
  4. Detroit Publishing Co. issued a series of 100 piece puzzles around 1912 called “Dickens Series” as “Library” Picture Puzzles, with the artist, J. Barnard. I have not found a list of puzzles in the series but at least four different titles are known to exist.

Besides puzzles in series, several makers made non-coaching Dickens puzzles. Again, Tuck and Parker led the way but other makers, some still unidentified today, cut and sold their own Dickens puzzles. Puzzles #21-#30 will give you a sense of these puzzles, mostly smaller than the large sized coaching puzzles issued by Parker and Tuck in their coaching series. #27 is unusual in that it is a Message Zag-Zaw with “Happy Birthday” spelled out in figure pieces. Astunning exception to the smaller sizes is the 750 piece “Rose Garden at Gad Hill” made by Madmar Co., Utica, NY in the 1930s. [#23] Gad Hill was where Dickens lived from 1857 until his death in 1870.

Like the Ludovici coaching series, many of the non-coaching puzzles focus on actual scenes from Dickens rather than just depicting characters. It is most satisfying to be able to match the appropriate language in the book with the scene depicted in the puzzle. Some particularly good examples are:

  1. “Sydney Carton” (#24), a Pastime puzzle showing Sydney Carton in “The Tale of Two Cities” mounting the guillotine in Paris during the French revolution to be behead and uttering those immortal words, “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Unknown artist.
  2. “Oliver Twist” (#25), a Zag-Zaw puzzle showing Oliver Twist approaching the master of the work house early in “Oliver Twist” and asking “Please, sir, I want some more.” Artist: Harold Copping.
  3. “Bardell v. Pickwick” (#21), a Pastime puzzle showing Samuel Pickwick during his breach of promise trial in “Pickwick Papers” at the moment the plaintiff’s attorney, Sargeant Buzfuz charges Pickwick: “‘Of this man Pickwick I will say very little; the subject presents but few attractions; and I, gentlemen, am not the man, nor are you, gentlemen, the men, to delight in the contemplation of revolting heartlessness, and of systematic villainy.’ Here Mr. Pickwick, who had been writhing in silence for some time, gave a violent start. . .”
  4. “The Pickwick Club” (#26), a Zag-Zaw puzzle depicting Pickwick addressing The Pickwick Club at the beginning of “Pickwick Papers,” “. . .as a simultaneous call for ‘Pickwick’ burst from his followers, that illustrious man slowly mounted into the Windsor chair, on which he had been previously seated, and addressed the club himself had founded. What a study for an artist did that exciting scene present!

#21 Pastime—Bardell v. Pickwick (1909); 300 pieces #22 A.V.N Jones—Gabriel Varden (1930s); 100 pieces

#23 Madmar—Rose Garden at Gad Hill (1930s); 750 pieces

The eloquent Pickwick, with one hand gracefully concealed behind his coat tails, and the other waiving in the air, to assist his glowing declamation; his elevated position revealing those tights and gaiters. . ." For a puzzle collector and Dickens fan, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Why Dickens in Jigsaw Puzzles?

I submit Dickens was an ideal subject for jigsaw puzzles back to 1908 and lasting into the 1930s. As fellow AGPC member Anne Williams discusses in her two books, jigsaw puzzles have a long tradition of educating and entertaining young people going back to John Spilsbury, London, England mapmaker in 1760s with his maps. Then in 1907, for the first time, an unidentified woman began advertising and selling puzzles cut for adults at craft shows around the Boston area and the great puzzle mania called the “1908-1910 craze” began. These puzzles featured scenes appealing to grownups and were cut into hundreds of smaller pieces and devilishly difficult to assemble. We are talking hand cut wood puzzles, usually solid wood (gumwood and mahogany were used extensively) and expensive, limiting the market primarily to wealthy, educated, upper class buyers.

Nearby Parker quickly picked up on the idea in July 1908 and started making its famous Pastime puzzles. The craze spread across the Atlantic to England in 1909 where Raphael Tuck which was already beginning to produce the Ludovici Dickens coaching prints in preparation for the centennial of Dickens birth started cutting its prints into puzzles. With an educated customer market most of whom had undoubtedly read Dickens and the prints at hand, Dickens puzzles were a natural market for Tuck. And all Parker had to do was buy them from Tuck for its own line of puzzles to take advantage of the Dickens centennial here in the states.

The Armstrong Collection

I am partial toward 350 piece Pastime puzzles because they have color line cutting as well as figure pieces whereas Tuck puzzles have only figure pieces. As a result, I have focused on collecting the 20 coaching scenes (16 published by Tuck and Parker in the early 1910s and four published by Parker in the 1920s) in the large size Pastime version. So far, I have 18 in this version, one in a small size Pastime version, and one in a small size Tuck/Zag-Zaw version. The initial 16 scenes are represented in D.1-D.16 in the last Quarterly, the last four in this Quarterly (#17-#20).

While Parker did not use the Tuck D.1-D.16 system in its catalogs or on its labels, I find the system handy to keep track of which is which. Unfortunately, the titles were affixed at the plants and do not necessarily match. Examples are D.3 called “Nicholas Nickleby’s Departure for Dotheboy’s Hall” by Tuck and “Squeers Meets Nicholas Nickleby and Family at the ‘Saracen’s Head’” by Parker Brothers and D.5 called “David Copperfield on his way to School” by Tuck and “Little David Copperfield Weighs Down the Coach” by Parker Brothers. Even within the same company, minor variations in title were common.

I also have more than a dozen of the 16 coaching scenes in the Tuck versions (large and small), but am focusing on picking up my missing large size Pastimes for D.5 and D.8. This is proving increasingly difficult to do in today’s eBay world, as collectors in England and the U.S., whether as a result of my website display or a growing appreciation of fine old puzzles, will inevitably outbid me to (in my opinion) outlandish levels, even if the puzzle is damaged!


When puzzles cut for adults became available and popular during the 1908-1910 puzzle craze, puzzles depicting scenes from the novels of Charles Dickens held strong appeal to the educated, affluent buyers of the time and were part of the puzzling experience. The series of 16 Dickens coaching scenes painted by the artist, Albert Ludovici, Jr. played a significant role in the puzzles offered by leading commercial puzzle makers in England and the United States, to wit: the Zag-Zaw puzzles from Raphael Tuck & Sons, London England, and the Pastime puzzles from Parker Brothers in Salem, MA. Parker added another four Ludovici coaching scenes to its series of 16 and other makers joined Tuck and Parker in making series and individual puzzles of non-coaching Dickens scenes. This strong interest lasted into the 1930s.

Today, Dickens puzzles simply are not made so if you want to own any, you will have to order your own or join the stiff competition bidding for them on eBay For those interested in ordering their own, AGPC member Melinda Shebell has the entire series of 16 Ludovici coaching prints and a few others scanned into her computer. It was Melinda who in 2007 tracked down and obtained, digitally, the series in prints and then designed and cut, along with 13 other cutters from around the country, the truly magnificent 3200 piece “Full of the Dickens” double layered, two-sided puzzle presented to me at the 2007 Puzzle Parley held in San Francisco in conjunction with the AGPC convention that year. Figure #30 depicts this incredible puzzle today, proudly displayed over the fireplace mantel at our home in Worcester, MA. Note: frame for puzzle was designed and built by fellow AGPC member and current president Joe Seymour.

#24 Pastime—Sydney Carton (1928); 100 pieces

#27 Message Zag-Zaw—Barkis is Willin'(1930s); 200 pieces

#28 Pastime—Tea With Mrs. Jarley (1932); 305 pieces

#30 Jardin Puzzles—Full of the Dickens(2007); 3200 pieces

Above: #25 Zag-Zaw—Oliver Twist (1930s); 91 pieces

Left: #26 Zag-Zaw—The Pickwick Club (1930s); 165 pieces

#29 Pastime—Bob Crachit’s Christmas Dinner (1916); 153 pieces


“Jigsaw Puzzles: An Illustrated History and Price Guide,” Anne Williams, Wallace-Homestead Book Company, Radnor, PA (1990).

“The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together A History,” Anne Williams, Berkley Books, New York, NY (2004).

“British Jigsaw Puzzles of the 20th Century,” Tom Tyler, Richard Dennis, Somerset, England (1997).

“An Artist’s Life in London and Paris,” Albert Ludovici, Jr. (1926)