Wachusett Old Car Club Talk (Round 2)

December 13, 2002

For the second time in 4 years I was asked to speak to the Christmas meeting of the Wachusett Old Car Club re jigsaw puzzles. This time, I chose to focus my presentation on how the older puzzles were cut with an actual demonstration. Besides representative puzzles, I brought along examples of a coping saw, a hand jigsaw and an authentic late 19th century treadle saw used to cut puzzles in the early 20th century. After summarizing the history of jigsaw puzzles into 3 eras (1760s to 1900, 1909 era, and the 1930s) and explaining the dominant role women played in cutting the first puzzles for adults, I set up the treadle saw and attempted to do some actual cutting of previously mounted but uncut pictures. Unfortunately, unlike the early women cutters of the 1909 era, I have trouble using my feet to power the cutting arm at a steady speed while feeding the wood into the blade. In other words, to quote a phrase used to criticize then President Gerald Ford back in the mid-1970s, I was "unable to walk and chew gum at the same time!"

I then invited members of the audience to try their hand (and feet) at cutting. One woman who had experience many years ago on a treadle sewing machine responded, only to find it just as difficult. A broken blade finally ended the cutting demonstration (and the formal presentation), and the audience was invited up to view the treadle saw more closely. No one fell asleep (after drinks and dinner) or walked out during the presentation, so I assume it was a success despite our inability to do any serious cutting on the treadle saw!