Pastime Puzzles

Parker Brothers, a large game manufacturer in Salem, MA from the 19th century, didn't get started in the puzzle business until late in 1908. Almost immediately, its sales of puzzles, especially its top line, Pastime, took off and the Company ceased making games entirely in 1909, shifting all its facilities to the production of hand cut wood puzzles. Over the next 3 years they adopted several techniques which made their puzzles into the best of the commercially cut puzzles for the next 50 years and the prevailing style of color line cutting, mainly for the larger color areas. Within color areas, they incorporated numerous pieces shaped like recognizable objects such as silhouettes of animals, flowers, letters, numbers and geometric shapes which we call "figure pieces". Their standard was 12 figure pieces per 100 puzzle pieces. The Company hired only women to cut puzzles; the common rationale being men lacked the manual dexterity needed to cut small pieces, and most women already knew how to use sewing machines. But probably the real reason was that they could pay the women (called "the Pastime girls") lower wages than men in the Salem area. They could "get away with this" because they ran the department like a craft shop in which each worker had autonomy and control. The best cutters would make their own designs and were able to cut some of the best puzzles made during the first half of the 20th century. The Company distributed its Pastime puzzles nationwide by mail order direct to the customer and through department and stationary stores, as well as through branches in London and Paris. By 1958 the Company had closed its Pastime line.

Faust and Marguerite-Apparition
500 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1912c.

Scene from Act I of Faust by Charles Gounod, with Mephistopheles conjuring up an image of Marguerite to enthrall Faust in his "bargain with the devil".  Image of the devil here is superb! Cut along color lines with 60 figure pieces. 

300 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1928

Most difficult restoration project ever undertaken by me.  Puzzle was received in its original box as a pile of warped, delaminated and broken plywood pieces; one piece was broken into as many as 15 fragments.  I had to reconstruct and refit 150 pieces, rebuild 40 knobs, and touch up extensively the picture.  After spending nearly 100 hours over the 1997 Christmas holidays, I developed a true "love/hate" relationship with "Gloria"!  Cutting of both the 36 figure pieces and the in-between areas and knobs and swirls is the most intricate I have ever seen.  Puzzle even includes color line cutting.  Artist's signature is unreadable, but has been identified as John Knowles Hare, an American glamour and calendar artist (1884-1947).

In Old Pompeii
401 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1940c.

1928 Pastime sales catalog lists this rare round puzzle in its 500-piece section ("Price: $7.50") describing it as "A Round Picture-Very unusual". We can find no other listing for a round Pastime in any Parker Brothers' catalog. While unusual, however, this puzzle is not "unique" as other Pastimes of this scene have surfaced and other makers have made round puzzles since the 1909 era.  Cut along color lines with 48 figure pieces. Artist is Vasarri (1909). 

Invasion of Judah
760 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1930

Wonderful colors and a "grand scene" but we have a companion puzzle displayed next which shows what happened to this invasion.   Cut along color lines with 88 figure pieces.  Artist' signature is unreadable. 

Love Call
642 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1940/50's

We have 4 native American grandchildren who are members of and live next to Red Cliff Reservation, Chippewa Tribe, Ojibwa nation in Northern Wisconsin.  It has been difficult finding well cut puzzles featuring native Americans who look native American; most depict lovely Caucasian women with skimpy native American clothing (e.g. pinups!)  We stumbled upon this lovely puzzle in our inventory of unassembled puzzles recently.  Color line cut with 82 figure pieces.  Artist is the famous listed Taos Native American Indian artist Eanger Irving Couse (“E.I. Couse”).  Print was listed for sale on recently for $999.        

Madame Butterfly
760 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1925c.

Probably the beginning of Act II of Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini in which Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly) sleeplessly awaits the return of Pinkerton.   Cut along color lines with 90 figure pieces.  Artist: unknown but his colors are superb! 

Nursery Book and Fairy Tale Folk Meet Upon the Ice
205 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1940c.

Parker Brothers would make Pastime puzzles from artwork supplied by customers and acknowledge this with a special label inside the box cover reading for this puzzle: "Puzzle has been especially made from picture submitted by Miss Harriet Kirk, Waterbury, CT". Miss Kirk certainly selected an appropriate magazine cover.  Excellent color line cutting around many of the "Folk" in the scene as well as 24 figure pieces.  Can you identify the nursery tale each “folk” depicts?  Artist is A. Groves Raines (1939). 

One Foot Up the Other Down
78 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1932

known artist, Jessie Wilcox Smith.  I am not too old to want to join right in with these children (although doing so is another matter)!  I especially like the little girl in the middle trying so hard to keep up.  Cut along color lines with 12 figure pieces.  Note enhanced figure piece in upper center, uncommon in Pastime puzzles.

Retreat from Judah
600 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1930's

If you like action shots, you will love this puzzle!  Extensive color line cutting; 72 figure pieces.  Artist: unknown.  Judah was invaded many time during the biblical period. I remember the Hittites from my reading of Hurlbert’s Stories of the Bible as a very young boy.

Where Dreams Are Made
305 Pieces
Parker Brothers , Salem, MA , 1938c.

This appealing (adorable?) scene by Victor C. Anderson is one of our favorites. Puzzle was cut 1938c. along color lines by Pastime cutter #757 (they never disclosed names of workers), with 37 figure pieces. While not considered "art" by museums, we find much of the art used in puzzles very attractive and appealing.