Around the World in 5 Jigsaw Puzzles

By Wayne Kett

One of our current documentation projects is to complete an audit of our amazing toy collections at Strangers’ Hall. This in essence means I am literally being paid to play with toys, which I think is something my 6 year old self would be mightily impressed with.

The toy collection is extensive and covers everything from alphabet blocks to yo-yos. There are also 18 boxes containing 131 jigsaw puzzles. I recently started working my way through these boxes. I was surprised to find jigsaws puzzles from as far back as the 18th century. Being naturally curious, I utilised the font of all knowledge (Google) and discovered that jigsaw puzzles were first sold commercially in 1760 by the cartographer John Spilsbury.

His puzzles were all maps, cut along national boundaries and were intended as an educational tool.


John Spilsbury – Europe Divided into its Kingdoms (1766)

Whilst we do not have any of the original Spilsbury puzzles in our collection, we do have a selection of map based puzzles from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The map of Europe (below) was produced in around 1810 by John Wallis a noted publisher of children’s games and based in Ludgate Street, London.


NWHCM : 1922.93.5: A Map of Europe agreeable to the latest Authorities, John Wallis (1810)

We have maps covering the rest of the world including this one (below) of Africa.


NWHCM: 1922.93.3: Africa Divided into its Several Regions, Robert Sayer (1772)

There is a vast swath of land in the middle of the continent of Africa classified simply as ‘unknown country’. It was of course before Africa had been fully explored by Europeans.

We also have maps covering the continents of Asia and North America.


NWHCM : 1922.93.2: A New Map of Asia, John Wallis (1790)


NWHCM:1922.93.1: A General Map of America, North and South, and West Indies, Robert Sayer (1772)

Closer to home we have a map featuring the counties of England and Wales. My geography skills were fully tested here as I needed to assemble this puzzle in order to get a photograph for its Modes record. With a little help, I was eventually able to slot the pieces into their correct positions.


NWHCM: 1922.93.4: England and Wales, with the principal Roads, and Distances of the County Towns from London, R.Rowe (1810)

There are sadly a few pieces missing. Is anybody able to fill in the blanks and guess the missing counties?

There are many more jigsaw puzzles in our collection. Why not have a look for yourself via our Collections online website

Follow our Collections Management department: @NMSCollMan


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