I’ve always enjoyed working on jigsaw puzzles. I find the challenge of assembling a picture from the mass of jumbled pieces satisfying. Maybe it’s my bent for organization that wants to bring order to chaos and see the task through to a tidy completion. But I faced a different challenge recently when my fellow curator Nic Ricketts and I went to Maine to pack up a collection of 7,500 jigsaw puzzles for The Strong museum.
With a history that goes back about 250 years and a place of honor in the National Toy Hall of Fame, jigsaw puzzles deserve thorough representation in the museum’s collection. Nic and I had paid a visit to collector Anne D. Williams a year earlier to see her collection firsthand and to talk with her about why it would make a wonderful addition to The Strong’s holdings. Williams spent more than 30 years amassing her exceptional collection and authored the two most respected books on the history of jigsaw puzzles. She noted in the preface to The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History, that not only was she collecting jigsaw puzzles, but also “a treasure trove of social, cultural, and economic history.” With manufactured and handmade puzzles for children and adults dating from the 1760s to the present, the Anne D. Williams Collection elevates The Strong’s jigsaw holdings to stand as the most complete representation of jigsaw puzzles in any public institution in the world.
So that’s the why—what about the how? For instance, how big a truck do you need to hold 7,500 jigsaw puzzles? The answer: a 20-foot U-Haul works quite nicely. An equally important question: how long does it take to pack 7,500 jigsaw puzzles? That’s a tougher one to answer. Anne made an outstanding head start on packing in the weeks before we came to Maine and, by the time Nic and I arrived at her house on a Monday, the entryway and kitchen were filled with almost 200 boxes in stacks that nearly reached the ceiling. We immediately swung into action and, by the end of the first afternoon had contributed our own share of boxes containing hundreds of puzzles to the ones awaiting transfer into the truck. This would be a piece of cake! I had a different impression by the end of the second day, however. Carefully filling each packing box so that puzzles and their boxes fit safely and efficiently took time, as did maintaining a detailed inventory of which puzzles went into every box.