History of Puzzle Parleys

Introduction

Early 1994 Pagey Elliott suggested to me that we gather puzzle cutters together at a meeting to discuss mutual concerns, and that we call it a “Puzzle Parley”.  She asked me to organize it and volunteered to help.  I contacted Anne Williams who thought it was a good idea and also agreed to help which was especially important in supplying a list of cutters.  Thus was born the Puzzle Parley.

The Meetings

  1. September 10, 1994.   House of Debby Greeley, Pagey’s older sister, Maine St, Concord, MA.  Cost was $10 (including lunch).  Only puzzle cutters from the Northeast were invited.  @20 attended.  2 notable things happened:
    1. Hostess, Debby Greeley lay down after lunch and had a mini-stroke.
    2. Yours truly, who organized the meeting and was to chair it with Pagey, was lying in the Mt. Desert Island Hospital, Bar Harbor, Maine, after a serious mountain accident.  Our son, Conrad, stepped in and substituted for his missing father.
  2. April 27-28, 1996.  Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, MA.  Cost $10 (included refreshments but no meals).  Puzzle cutters from beyond the Northeast were invited.  @22 attended.  The actual meeting  was Saturday afternoon at the Museum in conjunction with Anne Williams exhibition “Cutting a Fine Figure: The Art of the Jigsaw Puzzle” being held at the museum.  The next morning, some of us went over to the AGPC convention being held elsewhere in Lexington and demonstrated cutting puzzles.
  3. October 25, 1997.  Worcester Public Library, Worcester, MA.  Cost $15 (including lunch).  Puzzle cutters from around the country were invited.  @32 attended.  Parley was in conjunction with my exhibition of puzzles at the Library, including puzzles sent me by active cutters, several of whom attended the Parley as well.
  4. February 14-15, 1999.  Seafarer’s International House, New York City.  Barry Benepe helped make all the local arrangements and he and Judith Spektor invited us to their home the day before, as did Amy Scott, well known New York City artist who cuts some of her original artwork into puzzles.  Cost $30 (including lunch).  For the first time, invitee list was expanded to include puzzle collectors and enthusiasts, and, also for the first time, we received the endorsement of the AGPC as one of their regional or specialty meetings.  @32 people attended.
  5. November 11-12, 2000.  First day was at Holiday Inn, Mt. Kisco, NY; second day was at the Katonah Art Museum, Katonah, NY in conjunction with an exhibition of jigsaw and mechanical puzzles curated by Anne Williams and Jerry Slocum and a panel discussion which included Will Shortz, crossword editor of the NY Times, as well as Anne, Jerry, Harold Raizer and myself.  Cost $50 (including Saturday’s lunch & dinner).  @60 people attended, with more showing up Sunday for the panel and exhibition.  Hildegard had a concert Saturday night but showed up for Sunday’s events.
  6. September 27-28, 2002.  National Arts Club, NYC.  Again, Barry Benepe and Judith Spektor helped make the arrangements and also invited us to their home for drinks.  Cost: $35 (including lunch on Saturday).  @38 people attended.
  7. September 10-12, 2004.  Colonial Inn, Concord, MA.  For the first time, Melinda Shebell joined me as a co-organizer and while I put on a restoration workshop Friday morning at my house, she held Open House at her place Friday afternoon.  Cost: $35/person(including lunch).  @65 attended.  Melinda designed and organized the cutting of the first of her collaborative masterpieces presented to Pagey Elliott at the meeting, clearly the high point of the meeting.
  8. April 12-13, 2007.  Holiday Inn Golden Gateway, San Francisco, CA.  Meeting was carefully coordinated with the AGPC Convention the same weekend, managed by our very own fellow puzzler, Joe Seymour.  Cost: $50/person (including lunch).  @55 people attended.  Melinda not only co-organized the meeting with me, she also designed and organized the cutting of two more collaborative masterpieces presented to Anne Williams and myself.  Speaking for myself, I was totally stunned by Melinda’s puzzle and recognition of my contributions to the puzzle world.
  9. November 7-9, 2008.  Sturbridge Host Hotel, Sturbridge, MA.  Melinda held an Open House at her home in Stow on Friday afternoon and Hildegard and I held an Open House at our home in Worcester Sunday morning.  Saturday's session included discussions on copyright laws, setting up a "mega-website" for jigsaw puzzles, personalization in puzzles, repair of Pastime boxes, the 3 incredible multi-faceted puzzles designed by Melinda and presented to Pagey Elliott, Anne Williams and myself at earlier Parleys, the Showcase puzzles made by current puzzle cutters for the AGPC Charleston, SC convention earlier in the year, how to make presentations of puzzles, and more.  For the first time, we arranged for puzzling after Friday and Saturday's dinners in a special room.  The basic charge for Saturday's session was $45 and @87 attended, our largest participation to that point.
  10. August 13-16, 2010.  Hawthorne Inn, Salem, MA.  Events were spread over 4 days, starting with a visit Friday afternoon to Jim Ayer's workshop where he demonstrated how he cuts wood puzzles using a waterjet.  Friday evening after dinner featured Mary Albitz describing her "Jigsaw Java.  From Dream to Fruition", a neighborhood coffee gathering spot featuring lots of jigsaw and mechanical puzzles to assemble and/or buy, followed by a giant "Yankee Swap" and then a swap among the cutters.  Saturday morning featured "Cutters' Conversation", Dee Rogers demonstrating a magnificent 3-D puzzle in which figure pieces lying in the puzzle could stand up in the puzzle and link together to form structures, and Anne Williams' speaking on "How Did They Do It? Parker Prothers' Pastime Puzzles".  Saturday afternoon featured Dana Haviland showing her "Bluebird Collection" via power point, Rob Jones demonstrating a prototype of a new website designed to allow anyone to display their puzzles to the world via the internet, Show & Tell, and table sales.  Saturday evening's program after dinner featured John Stokes describing his 100 puzzles project, the last puzzle of which had sold recently on Ebay for $25,100 and was on display at the meeting all day Saturday.  Sunday morning's program featured Melinda Shebell giving pointers on "Using Photoshop to Make Artwork for Replacement Pieces" and Bob Armstrong showing his power point presentation, "Pictures in Puzzles."  On Monday, those who stayed over drove up to Anne Williams' house in Lewiston, ME and viewed probably the greatest collection of jigsaw puzzles in the world.  Attendance broke all known jigsaw puzzle records with 117 people participating at one time or another in the various events. The charge for the 4 days of meetings and puzzling including Saturday's lunch was $50/person.  For the first time, we used an events planner, Kelly Taylor, who was absolutely terrific, as was the Hotel throughout.
  11. July 19-22, 2012.  Hawthorne Inn, Salem, MA.  Again, events were spread over 4 days, beginning with an Open House up at Anne Williams' home in Lewiston, Me on Thursday afternoon.  Anne is, or course, the leading collector, author, historian and lecturer of American jigsaw puzzles with a collection of thousands of puzzles and puzzle-related items.  Then, on Friday afternoon, John Cabot sponsored an Open House at his unusual home across town in Pride's Crossing.  After dinner on Friday featured a "White Elephant Swap" for most attendees organized by Kathleen Pigeon followed by puzzling for most of us in the Hotel library, and the Pagey Elliott Puzzle Exchange for the cutters organized by Anne Williams.  Saturday's attendance swelled to approximately 120 people and featured in the morning the "Cutters' Conversation" in which several of the cutters who had exchanged puzzles the night before  presented their creations to the audience.  Joe Seymour followed detailing the history of the scroll saw.  The afternoon began with Collector's Corner in which Graham & Kay Curtis talked about how they started collecting jigsaw puzzles 20 years ago, quickly evovling into making replacement pieces and cutting new puzzles as well.  Ann Eddins followed with an account of buying a collection of over 1000 wood puzzles from the estate of Ann Bohner and how she is now organizing it and selling many of the puzzles on Ebay.  Rob Jones concluded the session with an update of the "mega-website" project.  Show & Tell followed and the afternoon ended with Table Sales.  After dinner that night, Chris Wirth of Liberty Puzzles described how he developed his business of making laser cut puzzles, and then organized the audience into teams to compete assembling copies of a puzzle cut specially for the competition.  The winning team was composed of John Stokes, Ginda Fisher and Phil Snyder.  Sunday morning, I chaired a panel discussion about puzzle restoration which included Lisa Lee, Kathleen Pigeion, Karen Morris and Melinda Shebell, all making replacement pieces.  Awards were handed out and the last event at the Hotel was a screening of the 2010 Argentine feature film, "Puzzle", with sub-titles.  Finally, for those who could stay Sunday afternoon, Jeanne Speizer held an Open House at their home in Rockport, MA overlooking the harbor.  A more complete description of the events is contained in the Fall 2012 issue of the AGPC Quarterly.  Registration costs: $145 for the 4 days including Friday and Saturday night dinners and Saturday lunch; $50 for Saturday day session including lunch.
  12. August 1-3, 2014.  Events were spread over 3 days, with several new events and approximately 112 people participating at some time.  Liz Platais, Carlisle, MA chaired the meeting this time, assisted by a committee of  Melinda Shebell, Stow, MA, Anne Williams, Lewiston, ME and myself.  Kelly Taylor from the KelJoy Group, Durham, NC again served as events planner. Friday included an open house at Melinda Shebell's  home in Stow, MA., cutting lessons back at the hotel given by several experienced puzzle makers to about 15 beginners (a Parley first), and a tour of the First Salem Church to view its magnificent stained glass windows.
    Friday night featured my presentation of a short history of the puzzle parleys, a giant Yankee or "White Elephant Swap" and the Pagey Elliott Puzzle Exchange with 16 puzzle cutters swapping their own special creations.  The evening ended early so that most of us were able to adjourn to the Hotel Library for puzzling, with a record 9 tables and 30 puzzles being worked on simultaneously.
    Saturday morning featured  Paul Berger (Paul's Puzzle Boxes) discussing his research into Pastime figure pieces, Graham Curtis (Glenwood Puzzles) focusing on the selection and location of figure piece, and Anne Williams recounting the history of the Par Company, the "Rolls-Royce of Jigsaw Puzzles".
    Saturday afternoon featured a panel chaired by John Stokes (Custom Puzzle Craft) with participants Ron Moore (Turtleteasers Puzzles) and Paula Tardie (Stave Puzzles) and focusing on how to sell puzzles in the Internet age.  Melinda Shebell chaired a cutters' roundtable which included David Beffa-Negrini (Fool's Gold Puzzles) putting on a lively demonstration of trying to cut a 3' x 3' puzzle, Melinda  herself discussing several methods to cut multi-way puzzle pieces,  and Jay Hollis (Bogart's Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles) describing how he has refined the practice of printing directly onto wood.  The rest of the afternoon consisted of Show and Tell focusing on the theme "Dozens," and ended with Table sales.  After dinner that evening, Steve Richardson (Stave puzzles)  described the 10 major mistakes he made since founding Stave Puzzles in the 1970s followed by more puzzling in the Hotel Library.
    After breakfast Sunday, Carol Ottenberg described a "Woodies" group of puzzlers at her Seattle area retirement community which she had founded and nurtured and the impressive number of puzzles they have been assembling, all while losing only one piece!  Bob Armstrong put on a demonstration of how to repair a Pastime puzzle box, working on an actual Pastime box in front of everyone.  Lisa Lee (Forgetmenot Puzzles) concluded the program with a description of her restoration techniques.  The formal sessions ended with Andrea Farnham (Thingamajigsaw Puzzles) receiving the Best in Show award for her stunning "Sherlock Holmes" puzzle and Sophie Olle Laprune (Puzzle Michelle Wilson) the award for coming the farthest: all the way from Paris, France.
    Sunday afternoon, Saul & Paulette Bobruff (Here to There) sponsored an open house in Beverly, MA, displaying both jigsaw and mechanical puzzles.  Also, Sunday afternoon, for the first time, a Puzzle Fair organized by Ann Eddins and Susan Marcell was held at the Hawthorne with the public invited.  Local publicity generated a lot of attention and dozens of people came to view, buy and assemble puzzles.  This event exceeded all expectations.  And the entire 3 day weekend was another great success.  Registration fee for the 3 days was $160 which included Friday and Saturday nights' dinner, Saturday noon lunch, and Sunday morning continental breakfast.  For just Saturday's daytime sessions with lunch: $60.

Conclusion

  1. Meetings have grown over the years in attendance to unprecedented levels in the jigsaw puzzle field, probably reflecting the growth in puzzle interest, especially cutting new puzzles.
  2. Puzzlement Google Group and my mailing lists were big helps, initially.  Now,we have our own website at: www.puzzleparley.org, maintained by Melinda Shebell.
  3. For the first time, the Parley was run by a committee which included Liz Platais (chair) and Anne Williams, Melinda Shebell and myself.  This worked well but Liz can't do this again in 2016, so we will be looking for a new chair.
  4. Please contact Melinda (melinda@jardinpuzzles.com), Joe (jsandkt@sonic.net) or Bob (raahna@oldpuzzles.com) to assist.  Kathleen Pigeon and Ann Eddins provided major assistance by handling individual events; we need others to do likewise.
Event Series: