Mystery Puzzle Update!

Mystery Puzzle Municipal Bldg. NY
Municipal Bldg. NY – Pastime Puzzles – 1600 pieces

Remember this beauty? Big news! I wanted to find out more information on our fantastic puzzle if possible, and contacted Bob Armstrong, one of the leading US experts on vintage wooden puzzles. He did a bit of research and also got me in contact with Anne D. Williams, author of The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History, and one the foremost experts on US jigsaw puzzles who maintains a listing of all known Pastime puzzles. I spent much of the day on Friday taking pictures, sending emails, looking things up, being very excited, and spending lots of time on the phone with mom to relay all the information I was getting! I’m thrilled to pass along the information they’ve given me.

Once I sent pictures to Bob Armstrong, he said he believed the puzzle to be one from the Picture Puzzle Mart lending library, run by Josephine Flood in NYC. It was a very exclusive library, as Ms. Flood only had the best cutters cut her puzzles which were unusually large and well crafted. At 1600 pieces, mine is quite large for a Pastime – and well crafted doesn’t even begin to describe the fantastic quality.

According to Mr. Armstrong the pieces were clearly cut by top-notch Pastime cutter. I heartily agree! They’re stunning and unbelievably well made. Additionally, very few Pastime puzzles used photographs for their images; those that were used were usually for commissioned puzzles. Mine seems to be one of a kind!

When I heard from Anne Williams, she agreed that it is most definitely a Pastime puzzle cut by one of their best “Pastime Girls” – Parker Brothers only hired women to cut puzzles. Their commonly used explanation was that men lacked the fine motor dexterity needed to make the small and intricate shapes; and because women already knew how to use sewing machines it was easier for them to learn the use of the treadle saw used to cut puzzles. Many of their competitors used men to cut their puzzles though, and most likely Parker Brothers used women because they were able to pay them much lower wages.

Ms. Williams even had a name for me – cutter #12, Eva Audet Gagnon – one of the most skilled Pastime Girls. There are examples of the pieces Eva designed in The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History, and they look very much like many of the pieces in my puzzle! When mom and I started sorting this puzzle I used Ms. Williams’ book as a reference and it was what first led me to believe that this was a Pastime. At this point there’s no way to be certain that Eva Gagnon cut this puzzle, but I would love to think that she did. According to Mr. Armstrong the figure pieces in my puzzle are of a higher quality than those in most Pastime puzzles, and they were clearly designed and cut by one of the best.

Municipal Bldg. sky

Ms. Williams disagreed about the Picture Puzzle Mart lending library though, as she was able to further pinpoint an approximate age range of the manufacture of this puzzle. Both the image and cutting style suggest that this puzzle was cut sometime in the first two decades of Pastime puzzles, between 1908-1927. As the Municipal Building in NYC was built from 1907-1914, and the coloring of the photograph also helps to date it, she believes this puzzle to be pre-1925. The lending library that Ms. Flood ran was only active between 1929-1950, so according to Anne this puzzle was most likely not one of those.

I can’t even explain how excited about all of this information mom and I are! We are so happy to be able to say without doubt that it’s a Pastime puzzle, and even more so that it almost certainly is a commissioned one of a kind puzzle that is potentially over 100 years old. 😍

According to Anne, Parker Brothers did list some extremely large puzzles in their pre-1915 promotional materials (1500-2500 pieces), but for the most part they rarely made puzzles over 1200 pieces. At 1600 pieces, this beauty is a rare and wonderful find – and I am over the moon that I took a chance on that random box of pieces! Anne says that she’s kicking herself that she passed it up (she apparently saw the listing and decided against it) and that it would unquestionably go for “very big bucks” if I wanted to list it for sale online; and Bob says he’s definitely a potential buyer if I ever decide to sell. WOW.

Both mom and I had the same feelings about this – we both want to assemble the puzzle again! 😉 First, we’re both a little sad that the assembly is over, and wish we had another mystery puzzle box to work on. Second, knowing what we do now about this puzzle and it’s rarity we’d both like to work with these amazing pieces again. This is truly a once in a lifetime find, and even if we found another box of pieces online somewhere it would most likely not be of the same caliber as this one. I am so thankful that the joy of assembly and spending time with one another was our goal when we assembled it, because you can never get back the wonder and excitement of the first time. What a treat that we had that experience together!

This puzzle is being added to the list of known Pastime puzzles that is maintained by Ms. Williams. What an unbelievable find! I’m so glad I decided to try and learn more about this puzzle, finding all of this out has been such an adventure! I know my fellow puzzlers understand. 🙂

Many thanks to Bob Armstrong and Anne D. Williams for taking the time to correspond with me regarding this puzzle and helping to identify it. The puzzle community is a group of fantastic and giving people and I am proud to be a part of it.