"Parker Brothers, Dickens and Pastime Puzzles" Presentation to North of Boston Dickens Fellowship

February 19, 2011
Salem Athenaeum, 337 Essex St., Salem, MA

At the request of the North of Boston Dickens Fellowship, Hildegard and I brought our entire collection of Dickens puzzles, both the coaching and non-coaching, out to Salem, MA to display and discuss the importance of the puzzles in the celebration of the centennial of the birth of Charles Dickens in 1812. Many of the puzzles had been made right there in Salem at the Parker Brothers plant and marketed as Pastime Puzzles, Parker Brothers leading brand of jigsaw puzzles from 1908 to 1958 and probably the best loved brand of puzzles during that era. The meeting not only drew members of the North of Boston Dickens Fellowship, but also several members of the Boston Dickens Fellowship, members of the Athenaeum, a private library, and the general public. In all, about 60 people attending and the room filled.

After introducing myself and explaining that the collection was the result of convergence in the early/mid 1990s of two seemingly disparate interests of mine: a life-long fascination with jigsaw puzzles, and a deep admiration for the works of Charles Dickens starting with "Pickwick Papers" back in high school, I made the following points:

1. To celebrate the centennial of Dickens' birth in 1912, Raphael Tuck & Sons, London, England obtained the rights to reproduce prints of a series of 16 paintings by an artist named Albert Ludovici, Jr. and sell them both as prints and as jigsaw puzzles starting around 1910.

a. all 16 were carried in their 1910 puzzle sale catalog with serial numbers D.1 through D.16

b. all 16 prints depicted actual coaching scenes from Dickens' novels

     c. Tuck made prints and puzzles of all 16 in 2 sizes: 7" x 12" (150 p. puzzle) and 12" x 20" (400 p. puzzle)

     d. most of the puzzles were boxed in the standard Tuck box but a few were boxed in a special Dickens Centennial box

     e. Tuck sold the larger sized prints to Parker Brothers, Salem, MA who made them into their own series of 16 Pastime puzzles with approximately 350 pieces each.

f. both companies carried the series in the sales catalogues from 1910 up to the 1930s, suggesting the puzzles were a commercial success

2. Parker Brothers added another 4 puzzles featuring Ludovici's Dickens coaching scenes to the series of 16 in the 1920s. A few other puzzle makers made puzzles from some of the prints but not the entire series. Numerous non-coaching pictures painted by other artist (Cecil Aldin, Harry Eliott, Harold Copping, Frank Reynolds, J. Barnard) depicting scenes from Dickens' novels were cut into puzzles in the 1910-1930s period, many by Tuck and Parker Brothers. A.V.N. Jones & Co., London, England, Zig-Zag Puzzles, London, England and Detroit Publishing Co., Detroit, MI actually issued series of puzzles based on many of these non-coaching Dickens pictures.

3. Judging by the number of puzzles featuring prints of scenes from Dickens' novels, both coaching and non-coaching, Dickens was quite popular in the 1910s and moderately popular right up into the 1930s.

4. I then challenged the audience to identify which Dickens' novel each puzzle depicted. I also read quotes from Dickens which related directly to the puzzle scene to demonstrate how accurate the artists' portrayals were. Two members of the Boston Dickens Fellowship were able to identify virtually all of the puzzle scenes, a fine achievement. I have written an article for the AGPC Quarterly magazine to be published in the summer and fall issues and plan to deliver a similar presentation to my Worcester, MA Dickens Fellowship in December 2011.