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Margaret H. Richardson

Cluster Puzzles of Margaret Hayden Richardson (1876–1948)


A Bad Dream, c. 1908-1910, 90 pieces, 13”H x 15”W, Plywood


A study in three interrelated parts: Part 1 A Bad Dream, Part 2 Margaret Richardson herself and Part 3 Perplexity Puzzles. Each part concentrates on one specific aspect, with references to the other two aspects peripheral. Part 1 will thus likely be of the more interest to the intended cluster puzzle reader. However, although Parts 2 and 3 can be considered secondary, their inclusion is vital to understanding A Bad Dream in the round, and so are thus included. Further, these stand as pieces on Richardson and Perplexity Puzzles in their own right, and so will be of interest to any enthusiast of her or her puzzles.


Introduction

Margaret Hayden Richardson, née Howes (1876–1948) of New York City, USA, can be described as one of the joiners of the beginning of the late 1907 jigsaw puzzle craze (the date of the beginning of the jigsaw puzzle in the modern-day sense), introducing it, or at least making it popular, from its beginning in Boston to New York, as documented in The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History. Coming from what can be called a society background, Richardson essentially began her foray into jigsaw puzzles by chance, in 1908, on the advice of a relative of her husband at the beginning of the craze. The business took off so well that she shortly after copyrighted a name, ‘Perplexity Puzzle’. And indeed the Perplexity Puzzle became a well-known and highly desirable puzzle of the day. These can be described, with one exception, as of a standard jigsaw, albeit distinguished by an unusual cutting style, cut along colour lines. The exception, titled A Bad Dream is notably different. Here, rather than each piece being a small part of an overall picture, the pieces are of a whole motif, all interlocking. Further, this is the first known instance of the type, and so historically this is this of the utmost significance. Although there are indeed precursors to the genre, various ‘liberties’ with gaps and overlaps are taken by accident or design, or the work in question is vague as to intent, and so thus remain precursors. Hence the credit goes to Richardson, albeit with a caveat. Although I credit her as the designer, it is not entirely clear if she herself initiated this puzzle; a distinct possibility is that it was by someone else, an artist of whom she associated, of which I discuss in detail below.

The puzzle itself is owned by Bob Armstrong, of the USA, obtained at an Antiques Fair in 1994.

The literature, in the round, on Richardson is scant indeed. Aside from her own writing, The Sign of the Motor Car, in which she mostly discusses her tea room of the same name, with occasional reference to Perplexity Puzzles, there are only two authors of note, Anne Williams (in print) and Bob Armstrong (web). Williams' efforts are the more notable, with extensive research. The fruits of this labour are primarily a dedicated article on Richardson/Perplexity Puzzle in Game Researchers’ Notes, 1996, and in two books: Jigsaw Puzzles. An Illustrated History and Price Guide, 1990 and The Jigsaw Puzzle. Piecing Together a History, 2004, both of a more briefer nature as regards Richardson. Without her sterling efforts, it is no exaggeration to say that Richardson would have been effectively forgotten. Any modern-day discussion is based on her research. Bob Armstrong who has also written on Richardson/Perplexity Puzzles (on his website), but this is not original research but is rather having been taken from Williams’ publications. There appear to be no other authorities of any substance; any other discussions on Richardson are merely in passing.


Part 1

 

A Bad Dream


Here, as alluded to above, I discuss A Bad Dream as an entity, with any references to Richardson and Perplexity Puzzles essentially peripheral. This includes:

Photos of the front and reverse of the puzzle 

Label

Numerating and identifying the individual motifs and assessment

A conjecture as to the designer

Dating the puzzle

Provenance

A request for more details on A Bad Dream


A Bad Dream

The puzzle itself consists of 90 pieces, in plywood, of a variety of human and animal forms. The motifs are of different scales and orientations, some instantly recognisable, some partially, and others not, best described as of an imaginary nature. No inanimate objects are included. Within a broad animal description, the puzzle is themed. As I discuss elsewhere, this type is to be favoured on account of its cohesiveness.

The quality of the figures vary, with some easily recognised in silhouette (the benchmark of quality), whilst others perhaps not quite so. However, the artist here has taken the trouble to portray the animals in a recognizable way, of an imaginary nature or of a more recognizable real-life motif, with heads, body, arms, legs and tails, where applicable. All, no matter how imaginary at times, are plausible. These are not merely a collection of abstract shapes to which animal interior designs have been added, requiring no next to no skill or imagination whatsoever. The interior designs differ in three ways:
(i) Mostly, the pieces are simply shown with line interior detail.

(ii) Curiously, eleven motifs are coloured black, for no obvious reason.

(iii) Some animals are portrayed in a more detailed manner, namely a giraffe and tiger, as well as the three humans in costumes.

As to the plywood, Bob Armstrong tells me in a March 2020 email:

...with a thin top and bottom layer, and a very thick middle layer.

Possibly, this is unusual. Investigations are ongoing.


© Bob Armstrong

A Bad Dream front, left; reverse, right

Label

The printed label is typical of the type used by Richardson, with the title, number of pieces and price added by hand, presumably by the cutter. For what it is worth, this is the only instance in this hand (as indeed are all the other known (27) labels, save possibly for one, but this is by far from certain). Could this possibly be the designer's hand?


   
© Bob Armstrong
A Bad Dream Label

Numerating the Individual Animals

A variety of animals of different scales and orientations are included, some instantly recognisable, some partially, and others not, best described as of an imaginary nature. No inanimate objects are included. Within a broad animal description, the puzzle is themed. As I discuss elsewhere, this type is to be favoured on account of its cohesiveness. Listing a definitive inventory here, although appearing a simple task at first glance, with 90 distinct pieces, is next to impossible, with at times numerous nomenclature and interpretation possibilities as to any one creature. At times, I have been generous in attributing. However, as a rough and ready listing, this includes, with frequency in brackets: Imaginary Creatures (30), Quadrupeds (8), Dogs (8), Birds (6), Humans (4), Snails (3), Camel (2), Duck (2), Mouse (2), Rhinoceros (2), Squirrel (2), Tiger (2), Bear (1), Chicken (1), Donkey (1), Frog (1), Giraffe (1), Kangaroo (1), Meerkat (1), Monkey (1), Ostrich (1), Rabbit (1), Seahorse (1), Vulture (1), Unidentified (1).


© Bob Armstrong

Select individual pieces in detail


Assessment

So what to make of all this? By far, of exactly a third of the pieces, are thirty imaginary creatures, defined as recognizable as a creature of some kind, but not of a specific nature. Generic quadrupeds are also prominent, of eight. These two categories are not to be unexpected, as with such types there is more leeway as against specific animals. Of clearly identifiable animals, prominent are dogs, with eight. Birds (a motif equally suitable/easily achieved as with fish in tessellation, an easy motif, almost appearing at times by default) feature with six. Included are four male human figures, with three in costumes of some kind. Perhaps unexpectedly, three snails are seen. This then completes the main grouping, accounting for two-thirds of the listing. Other animals have just one or two instances. Perhaps surprisingly, there are no fish, a simple motif, as above.


Conjecture as to the Designer of A Bad Dream

As such, I believe that the puzzle was not designed by Richardson herself, but rather by an artist of whom she associated, and of which below I set out my belief. Typically cluster puzzles as a genre are designed by artists, so not unusually one would expect some interest or background in drawing and painting if this was indeed by her. In my investigations into if she had any artistic training, I consulted The Sign, newspapers, recorded interviews as well as asking Williams, all as below.

New York Times, March 16, 1948 p. 28, obituary 

...co-founder of the Cape Playhouse well known summer theatre... 

Mabelle Howes Eager, reminiscing on Cape Cod in a 1977 recorded history interview, mused on Richardson’s interest in the arts (and other matters): 

Mr. and Mrs. Richardson who ran the Sign of the Motor Car, a tea room in Dennis. The couple taught local children how to dance and sponsored plays for local children and adults.

Anne Williams (19 December 2016 email, preceding my seeing The Sign)

Well, most upper class women of that era were expected to at least dabble in various arts - music, drawing, fancy needlework, etc.

There is also a photo of her playing the guitar. Certainly from the above, there is thus a loose interest in the performing arts and possibly music, but no apparent interest in painting and drawing. Therefore, a single piece of artwork, of relatively good quality of execution, in the form of the puzzle, would be highly unusual, although this does not necessarily preclude her being the originator. Perhaps more tellingly as to the originator, she rented a house frequented by artists, which suggests a plausible source. In The Sign, she makes no less than five references to associations with artists, the significance of which I detail below.

(p. 3) The house was owned by a “character”, a middle aged widow who lived and ran the business on the ground floor, renting the rest of the house to young artists and venturesome souls like ourselves...

(p. 3) Our room, soon the center of the house, was invaded at all hours by many of the young and struggling artists, who borrowed butter, milk and bread...

(p. 5) My orders increased so fast that it became necessary to have a name. I called mine the “Perplexity Puzzle,” and one of the artists in the house drew a design in black and white for the cover of my boxes.

(p. 5) Through the artists in the house I heard of some young men studying in the Art League, who were glad, while climbing the steep road to fame, to ease the way with extra money earned by puzzle cutting.

(p. 5) With a young newspaper man to give intriguing names to the pictures, thirty artistic young men to cut skillfully, and fourteen young women and girls to sandpaper and finish, we became rather famous.

From this, apart from the general artist associations, it can be seen she had the label designed by one of the artists, and so if she was an artist, or had painting and drawing leanings, it seems a reasonable supposition that she would have designed this herself, all of which leads me away from her being the originator. However, a possible counter-argument was that she was too busy with business to design the label. But even so, it would not have taken too much of her time, and so I thus remain doubtful of her painting and drawing leanings. Therefore, I conjecture that one of the artistically-inclined house residents designed the puzzle, their name now likely lost forever. Given the passage of time, likely this will never be known either way. However, I may very well indeed be doing Richardson an injustice here. Whatever, as Richardson is at the very least associated with the puzzle, the credit as to the originator here goes to her.


Dating the Puzzle

The puzzle itself is not dated (as indeed are all of her puzzles), but as it is well known that she flourished in 1908 to 1910, it must surely be from that period. However, that said, it could be a little later, when she moved to Cape Cod, of the Tea Room venture, where she continued her interest, but to a markedly lesser degree.


Provenance

The provenance of the puzzle is poorly documented. The puzzle first came to my attention in October 2013, as a link to Bob Armstrong’s site on Rob Stegmann’s ‘Robspuzzlepage’ website. Stegmann links to Bob Armstrong’s oldpuzzles.com where Armstrong displays hundreds of jigsaw puzzles, including A Bad Dream. Upon asking for more details, in a February 2016 email he told me:

I bought it from Jane & Bill Leach, Greenwich CT at the July 1994 Brimfield Fleamarket for $60, box and assembled puzzle...” 

I describe the Brimfield Flea Market in notes [1].  

And there the trail ends. The Richardsons had no children, and so it is impossible to contact the immediate family. With the inevitable passage of time, the few known people from Williams’ research who knew her have dwindled, of which possibly there is now no one still alive who remembers her. Of note here is the reference to Greenwich, only 35 miles from New York, and so it appears the puzzle has stayed in the vicinity. I have not been able to find or make contact with either of the Leaches. Does anyone know of them? Are they antique dealers of some sort? Williams tells me that she was present at their stall when Armstrong purchased the puzzle. It was the only puzzle they had among numerous antiques of different types. Possibly, although unlikely, they may have some more detail on this historical artefact, and so I would thus very much like to find them.


A request for more details on A Bad Dream

Does anyone know more of A Bad Dream? There are so many aspects left unresolved. I would dearly like to know more here, although it seems highly unlikely that any new detail will surface. No detail is too small to mention.



Part 2


Margaret Richardson


Here, as alluded to above, I discuss Margaret Richardson as an entity, with any references to A Bad Dream and Perplexity Puzzles essentially peripheral. This includes:

Details of Richardson

The Sign of the Motor Car (memoir)

Photos

A conjecture as to her handwriting purporting to be on a puzzle label said to be from her

Timeline

A request for more details on Richardson


Details of Richardson

Details of Richardson, of all aspects, are at a premium. It is fair to say that history has largely forgotten Richardson and her brief memoir, The Sign of the Motor Car (the latter especially so). Indeed, without the extensive investigations of Anne Williams, widely recognised as THE authority on jigsaw puzzle history and other related matters in general, and who brought her to prominence in books and articles, much would have remained unknown. Indeed, it was only after her pushing and promptings that effective details of The Sign emerged, as late as 1996, being buried deep in a local history archive. Matters of research are hindered in that there is no known surviving ‘Perplexity Puzzle archive’ from the times as such. Indeed, it is only from an anonymous report on the jigsaw craze in the New York Times is it known when the business started, in March 1908. Much remains unresolved. Presumably, papers must have existed at one time, but if so, they are lost.


The Sign of the Motor Car (memoir)

The definitive source on Richardson is by herself, with a self-published memoir, The Sign of the Motor Car, of 1926, of 16 pages. This is a decidedly obscure publication, not easily obtainable! The somewhat curious title is a reference to a latter-day tea room business of the same name, in Dennis, Cape Cod, which she ran with her husband, Hayden Richardson. The tea room venture essentially followed on from her jigsaw interest, although there was a partial overlap. The memoir mentions her Perplexity Puzzles, of which the success led to the financial means to purchase the tea room, although of course the main substance is on the tea room itself. Incidentally, no individual puzzle is mentioned by name. Nonetheless, it contains much useful background detail (with implications as to matters of A Bad Dream). Incidentally, Richardson writes delightfully and beautifully, with derring-do tales of her husband's seafaring (and calamitous) treasure hunt venture; I warm to her. Without the sketch, the background story of Perplexity Puzzles could hardly have been told, with the only other first-hand reference of note a brochure included with one of the puzzles providing brief detail.

   
The Sign of the Motor Car - front cover and title page


Photos

Photos of Richardson are at a premium, at last in terms of being readily available. What little there are with friends and relations, and even here there are just three, and furthermore not all are clear. For those who are interested, these can be seen at the Strong. There are no known photos of her concerning Perplexity Puzzles. The only known photo of her in the public domain (on Ancestry.com) is a passport photo, with her name in her own handwriting. I'm sure there must be more.

Margaret Richardson

Richardson’s handwriting purported on a label - a matter of dispute

In her GRN article, p. 5566, Williams shows a label taken from a specific puzzle Mary and her little Lamb, and asserts that this purports to show Richardson’s (neat) handwriting. However, I believe that this is not so; a signed passport photo of Richardson as well as the application and her signature on another photo is clearly of a different hand. However, I believe that this was an honest mistake on her part, having been assured of this ‘fact’ in person (in an October 1996 visit) by Jim Carr, librarian of the Pauline Wixon Derick Library, Dennis, and who knew Richardson for many years during his time on Cape Cod. He states in an 18 March 1996 letter to Williams:

In the ‘30s I lived at The Sign of the Motor Car and did odd jobs for Margaret Richardson.

I believe that Carr simply seems to have erred in the attribution. However, we disagree here. Williams strongly disputes this conjecture, preferring Carr’s account. Indeed, it has all the advantages of a first-hand account. However, I have reservations of a recall from around 60 or so years ago! I can hardly believe that he would have specifically recalled her handwriting, unless it was in some way it was particularly striking, and even so of such an intrinsic unimportant aspect. The claimed label is not striking (or neat for that matter), and is the only one in this hand, and for what it is worth, is notably different from the other instances we have. I much prefer the evidence (primarily the passport) to a recall of so many years ago! Sadly, Carr has died, and so it is not possible to ask for clarification. Whatever, it is not a point of undue importance.


The Sign of the Motor Car Tea Room

In short, the tea room venture can be described as the defining non-family achievement of Richardson, of a long-held ideal of hers, so much so that it inspired her to document the story in The Sign. In truth, Perplexity Puzzles only occupied her intensively for no more than three years, albeit she did continue in tandem with the tea room, but this must have been to a markedly lesser degree; likely this dwindled quickly after the ending of the craze. The picture shows the tea room, with at the left side the actual sign hanging outside the tea room. The second picture shows the grounds.

Photo Credit: Dennis Historical Society Digital Archives.


Timeline

1876. Born in Orange, New Jersey, USA*.

1906. Marries Hayden Richardson, as he is more commonly known (son of famous architect H. H. Richardson), 23 June, at Boston, Massachusetts.

1908. Begins (March) making jigsaw puzzles in New York City, titled ‘Perplexity Puzzle’.

1910. Moves to Dennis, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, Cape Cod. Began another career with her husband as proprietors of the tea room ‘The Sign of the Motor Car’, although Perplexity Puzzle continues, albeit to a markedly lesser degree. The tea room is the first bed and breakfast establishment at the Cape.

1920. The census of that year still lists her residence in Dennis, Barnstable, Massachusetts.

1923. Travelled abroad for four months, to France, Italy, England and Spain.

1927. Co-founder, with husband, of the Cape Playhouse (a summer theatre).

1929. John Cole Hayden Richardson, husband, dies of cancer, July 16, 1929, aged 53.

1930. The census of that year lists her occupation as a ‘Proprietress’, and industry ‘Inn and Tea Home’ in Dennis, Barnstable, Massachusetts.

1940. The census of that year lists her occupation as a ‘Realety [sic] Broker’, in Dennis, Barnstable, Massachusetts.

1940. Town official, of the planning board of Dennis.

1948. Dies of a heart attack, March 12, 1948, aged 71. Buried in the Friends’ Cemetery, South Yarmouth (along with husband).

* Findagrave.com gives East Ayrshire, Scotland, but this is erroneous.


Request for more details on Richardson

Can anyone add to the story on Richardson? No detail is too small to mention.




Part 3


Perplexity Puzzles


Here, I discuss Perplexity Puzzles as an entity, with any references to A Bad Dream and Richardson herself essentially peripheral. This includes:

A list of like named Perplexity Puzzles by other people, to avoid confusion

Logo

Label

An advert

A table of known puzzles, with analysis 

Request for more details on Perplexity Puzzles


A list of like named Perplexity Puzzles by other people, to avoid confusion

Note that the puzzles are not to be confused with other jigsaw makers of essentially the same or like name. There are at least seven other instances, some of the same time, and others a little later:

‘Perplexity Picture Puzzle’, by Edwin E. Lewis.

‘Perplexyu’ by E. I. Horsman (which appears to have been so named to resemble Richardson’s title and reputation as to quality.)

‘Perplexite’, a premium puzzle maker in France.

‘The Perplexity Puzzle’ by Richard M. Shaffer is in the context of a sliding puzzle.

‘Perplexity Picture Puzzles for Grown-Ups and Children’, by D. S. Kennedy, US 1930s

‘Perplexity Picture Puzzle’, by J. Frank Pierce, 1930s

Some generic Perplexity Puzzles (not by Richardson) c. 1908–10 (an instance in the Strong Museum collection).


Logo

The logo shows a seated man with a puzzle in his lap on a tray holding and staring at a puzzle piece in mid-air, in an apparent state of perplexity as to where to place. This was not drawn by Richardson herself, but rather by an artist in the house. She states in The Sign, p. 5: 

...one of the artists in the house drew a design in black and white for the cover of my boxes.

Unfortunately, the artist is not recorded, and very likely they are lost to posterity.

The logo, in black and white is admirably suitable, and very nicely drawn it is too!


© Bob Armstrong

Label

Below I show a generic label, At the Fancy Dress Ball.

Patent Reference Curiosity

In The Sign, p. 5 a reference is made to a patent:

We had to patent our name [Perplexity Puzzle], as some of our rivals, realizing our vogue, tried to copy it. We even had a lawsuit.

However, this does not show up in a patent in the normal sense, although it is indeed mentioned in this context in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 135, 1908, p. 448, below, as a label. This can be seen to have been filed on June 15, 1908, and registered July 14, 1908. The essentially same announcement also appears elsewhere, in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents, 1909 and Commissioner of Patents Annual Report, 1909. Undoubtedly, this is what Richardson is referring to here.

'Patent' reference


Advert for Perplexity Puzzle

Advert for Perplexity Puzzle in St Louis Post-Despatch, Tuesday Evening, November 17, 1908. Incidentally, this is the only newspaper advert I know of. Are there others? In this regard, I have searched numerous newspaper archives without success. Millions of papers are now searchable, just for a single archive, for instance from newspapers.com, as here. Other archives are just as extensive, and yet this is the only one found. The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that the puzzles sold by word of mouth, coming to prominence in Bretano’s bookstore.


Brochure

Further to promotional material, there is also a brochure. However, much remains unclear here; there is only a single instance known! This was found in the box of Christmas Eve. As such, it is speculation as to whether these were included in all (or most) of the boxes. Of a guess, I would say yes, but if so, none have been found, which goes against this supposition. Be all as it may, it makes for interesting reading. Who wrote the text is not known.

© Anne Williams


Table of Known Puzzles by Richardson

This includes, where known, the title, number of pieces, size, label, material and source. Puzzles with Bob Armstrong credited as the source are viewable on his website. Of interest, in an attempt to glean even more from such scanty detail, is to compare background details of the puzzles, namely with the number of pieces, dimensions, named label, and material. To this end, I have completed a table to permit easier assessment and below I discuss aspects arising from this. Where detail is not known, each cell is left vacant.

 


Title

Pieces

Size (W x H)

Label

Material

Source

1

Among the Heather

413

17” x 11”


Solid Wood

Armstrong

2

As the Sun Goes Down

448

11¾” x 15¾” 


eBay, per ADW

3

At the Fancy Dress Ball

189



Bailey, eBay

4

Bad Dream, A

90

15” x 13”

Plywood

Armstrong

5

Christmas Eve

176

9” x 12”

Solid Wood

Williams, eBay

6

Christmas Tree, The

140



Williams, eBay

7

Countess Patrovka

139

7” x 9”


Armstrong

8

Crepuscule/Dusk*

682

28” x 14”


Solid Wood

Williams

9

Dazzling Splendor

635

19” x 15”


Solid Wood

Armstrong

10

End of a Good Gallop

250

9” x 12”



Armstrong

11

Episode of the French Revolution, An

432

17 ½” x 12”



Bailey, Worthpoint

12

Evening Report, An

425

17” x 10”


Per ADW

13

First of the Season, The

132

9” x 11”

Solid Wood

Armstrong

14

Geraldine

156

9” x 11”


Solid Wood

Armstrong

15

Gleaners, The

406

15½” x 12”

Solid Wood

Williams

16

God Rest You Merry Gentlemen

176

10” x 12”


Solid Wood

Armstrong

17

Happy Home, A

567

20” x 16”

Solid Wood

Williams

18

Holly and Mistletoe

340

13” x 14”


Williams, eBay

19

Home Sweet Home

261



Bailey, eBay

20

In the Nursery

302

10¼ x 11”


Williams

21

In Venice*

944

22” x 18½” 



Williams

22

Jerked Down

239



eBay, per ADW

23

Kentucky Belle

908

16½” x 24½” 

Solid Wood

Williams

24

Little Dutch Girls

138

9” x 7½” 


Williams

25

Mary and her Little Lamb

357

11¼” x 15½” 

Solid Wood

Williams

26

Masquerader, The

157

10” x 10”


Solid Wood

Armstrong

27

Month of May





dajavous

28

Napoleon Dancing

458




Bailey, Worthpoint

29

Oath of Office, The

180

12” x 8½” 


per ADW

30

Playing Band

108




dajavous

31

Real Thing

100




Armstrong

32

Refreshing Beverage, A

145

7¾”  x 11½” 

Solid Wood

Williams

33

Reproach - The Emperor's Suit

379

21½ x 13¼”

Solid Wood

Williams

34

Rocks - No Rocks

221

15” x 9”

Solid Wood

Armstrong

35

Roman Girl at the Fountain

210

9” x 12”

Solid Wood

Williams

36

Romeo and Juliet at the Window

1171

28½” x 20 ½”

Solid Wood

eBay, per ADW

37

Sleeping Beauty

265



eBay, per ADW

38

Stung





per ADW

39

Tragedy of Little Sue, The

106

10” x 7”


per ADW

40

[Two Mothers]

392

11” x 16”


Solid Wood

Armstrong

41

Venetian Fishing Boats

261

10” x 13”


Solid Wood

Armstrong

42

Venice [illegible]

662




Bailey, eBay

43

Waiting at the Pier

520


Solid Wood

Williams

44

Wedding Reception*

247

12½” x 9”


Solid Wood

Williams

45

Where are you Going

586

25” x 17”

Solid Wood

Williams

46

Ye Olde Mint

534

20¼” x 14”


Solid Wood

Williams

47

Yuletide Carollers*

218

10” x 11”



Armstrong

 

* Queried by Williams (8), (21), (44) and Armstrong (47) as to maker. 


Further, contemporary newspapers mention two very large Richardson puzzles, of 1,600 and 2,700-piece puzzles, for the Duchesses of Manchester and Marlborough respectively, but the puzzles themselves, including the title, are not known. Richardson herself also mentions the 2,700-piece puzzle for the Duchess of Marlborough in The Sign, p. 6.


Table Analysis

Each entry begins with a few generalities, before a discussion is made in relation to A Bad Dream.


Titles

The titles, as given on individual labels, seem to vary between descriptive and cryptic, to varying degrees. The titles are likely not given by Richardson as perhaps might have been expected, as she credits an unidentified person, in The Sign, p. 5:

With a young newspaper man to give intriguing names to the pictures. 

In relation to A Bad Dream, the title is not particularly descriptive. Presumably, the title alludes to the nightmare scenario of such an unlikely situation of interlocking figures in a variety of scales and orientations.


Number of Pieces

These vary considerably, with a minimum of 90, interestingly of A Bad Dream, to a maximum of 1,171, of Romeo and Juliet at the Window. For the entire range, with the pieces in batches of 100s, the puzzles include: 0-99 (1), 100-199 (11), 200-299 (6), 300-399 (5), 400-499 (4), 500-599 (4), 600-699 (3), 700-799 (0), 800-899 (0), 900-999 (2), 1,000-1099 (0), 1100-1199 (1). Not unexpectedly, the lower numbers predominate 0-199, but not to a concerted degree; there are still numerous puzzles of 200+ pieces that can be seen.

In relation to A Bad Dream, I see little that can be taken from this. Likely this was because of the differing nature between the respective puzzles, as A Bad Dream is limited to a relatively low number of pieces, due to considerations of the practicalities of a custom design, whereas other puzzles do not have this restriction.


Dimensions

Here, the investigation is a little restricted, as the size is known for just 14 of the puzzles. These vary from 9” x 7½” (Little Dutch Girls)” to 28½” x 20½” (Romeo and Juliet at the Window), large. A Bad Dream is 15” x 13”. In short, there is a strong correlation between size and number of pieces.

In relation to A Bad Dream, I see nothing that can be taken from this. It is comfortably mid-range.


Labels

27 of the 47 puzzles have known labels, or more precisely on the box having survived. These are shown in a variety of hands, no one of which appears to be the same, with the title, the number of pieces and price. Presumably, these were added by the cutter. The labels generally state:

Made by Mrs. Hayden Richardson

Sold By

Brentano’s

5th Avenue And 27th Street

New York City

There are also two other labels, (i) without mention of Brentano (ii) Cape Cod. Likely these were before the association with Brentano, and then, more obviously, after the move to Cape Cod. There are also minor differences in typescript.


Material

An open question is to the wood used. The puzzles are generally described by Armstrong as of ‘solid wood’, of which such a broad, catch-all description I am not entirely happy with. I would much have preferred to have a more specific naming. It is not entirely clear if the type of wood is known, hence this broad description is typically used. Armstrong gives nine instances of ‘solid wood’, and one of plywood, the latter, interestingly, A Bad Dream. Confusingly, he also earlier refers on his website to A Bad Dream as solid wood. He also tells me in a 9 March 2020 email, in which I asked about clarification as to A Bad Dream material:

I have owned about 20 Perplexity puzzles in the last 25 years and only 2 were made of plywood. 

However, he has since reassured me, in the same email, that it is indeed plywood: 

It’s plywood, with a thin top and bottom layer, and a very thick middle layer.

However, there is indeed a more exact report. The Los Angeles Sunday Herald, January 3, 1909, in 'Puzzle Pictures', gives:

Made on thin poplar board... 

Williams told me:

All the ones I have studied are backed with poplar, an easy to cut white wood with little grain   

Therefore, it would indeed appear to be poplar, to the great extent.

Williams states in Jigsaw Puzzles, Piecing Together a History, p. 58:

With wooden puzzles the type of wood used indicates age. During the nineteenth century only solid wood was used. After 1920 virtually all wooden puzzles were made with plywood (thin layers of wood laminated together). From 1900 to 1920 both solid wood and plywood are found, with solid wood predominating until World War I.

From this essentially nothing can be drawn; the date for Richardson’s puzzles sits between the period of both solid wood and plywood being used.

In relation to A Bad Dream, yet another curious feature is the material, namely plywood, is again essentially an outlier, with only one other puzzle also of this material, albeit the sample size is relatively small. However, what, if anything can be gleaned from this is unclear. It may simply be of no significance; perhaps the plywood was simply lying handy; it could easily just have been made from generic solid wood or poplar.


Source

As to the source, this is described in two ways, as according to the person having seen and studied the puzzle in person or simply from a knowledge of it. These include Anne Williams, Bob Armstrong, David Bailey, and ‘dajavous’ (Jackie Armstrong, no relation to Bob). If seen and studied in person, I simply show the surname, whilst if of knowledge, such as seen on eBay, only I use ‘per’, with the initials of the person.


Conclusions

In the round from the above as regards A Bad Dream, little can be drawn. It is an outlier in terms of the number of pieces, the fewest, but as detailed above, this is a consequence of the custom design, and so no inference can be drawn from this. It is also an outlier in material, one of only two known instances of plywood, although again, no inference can be drawn from this. In short, all this does not really progress the inquiry. Relatively little has been gleaned from the table and its subsequent analysis, and what little there is, is entirely peripheral.

 

Request for more details on Perplexity Puzzles

Does anyone know of more puzzles? Even of the present day, new instances are still appearing, typically on eBay. Or indeed, anyone who can add to the story of this section. No detail is too small to mention.



Map of Richardson Locations, Barnstable, Dennis, Cape Cod and New York

Given that most of the locations mentioned in the above account are likely little known to those outside of the US (as they were to me), below is a map to better put these in context.


Google Maps


References

Included as distinct categories are books, newspapers, articles, brochures and the web. As ever, can anyone add to this listing? No detail is too small to mention, especially so here given the relative paucity of detail on Richardson. Transcripts of select publications are shown later on in the page. No mention is made of A Bad Dream anywhere, save for a mention in passing by Virginia Luehrsen.


Books

Six instances (albeit of which three essentially repeat) are found. Are there others?


Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 135, 1908, p. 448


Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents, 1909, pp. 630 and 1029


Commissioner of Patents Annual Report, 1909, p. 630


Richardson, Margaret H. The Sign of the Motor Car. Dennis, Massachusetts, 1926.  Privately printed autobiography. Pauline Wixon Derick Library, Dennis, 16 pp.

Of required reading. Essentially about the tea room, albeit with a dedicated discussion on Perplexity Puzzle, pp. 4-6.



Williams, Anne D. Jigsaw Puzzles. An Illustrated History and Price Guide. Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1990. 

References are made to Richardson, pp. 12, 37, 149, 153. Page 37 is a dedicated, relatively detailed section. No mention is made of A Bad Dream.


————. The Jigsaw Puzzle. Piecing Together a History. Berkley Books, New York, 2004. References are made to Richardson, pp. 55-57, 59, and one of the unnumbered plates, ‘plate 8’.


Newspapers

Eight instances are found. The first recorded instance is of July 1908. Are there earlier instances and others?


‘Stick to It and You May Solve a Puzzle Picture’. The New York Times, July 26, 1908, part 5, p. 11.

Although the piece mentions the Perplexity Puzzle, it does not state Richardson by name, although it must surely be her.  See below for a transcript.


Advert. ‘The Fad of the Year! “Perplexity Puzzle”. St Louis Post-Despatch, Tuesday Evening, November 17, 1908.

Although Richardson is not mentioned by name, Perplexity Puzzles in passing are, in connection with Brentano’s, and so the correct attribution is certain. See below for a transcript.


‘Puzzle Pictures. The Latest Craze Indulged in by Smart Society’. Los Angeles Sunday Herald, January 3, 1909 (Feature Section).

On the jigsaw craze in general. Although Richardson is not mentioned by name, Perplexity Puzzles in passing are, in connection with the Fifth Avenue store, which is a reference to Brentano’s, and so the correct attribution is certain. See below for a transcript.


‘Ladies’ Letter’. The Northern Whig, Tuesday, December 7, 1909.

Reference is made to an unknown 1,600 piece puzzle, albeit not titled. An intriguing reference is to the Duchess of Manchester. See notes.

Incidentally, this is the only UK paper that mentions Perplexity Puzzles/Richardson. See below for a transcript.


‘Seek $150,000 for Cape Cod Hospital’. The Boston Globe, August 1, 1925, Saturday, p.1

Nothing more than a namecheck in regards to fundraising for the hospital.


Obituary. ‘Mrs. Richardson, 71, Theatre Co-Founder’. The New York Times, March 16, 1948, p. 28.

Mentions her role in the tea room and Cape Playhouse amid other matters, but not of the Perplexity Puzzle.


Obituary. ‘Mrs. Hayden Richardson’. The Yarmouth Register, Friday, March 19, 1948, p.?

Mentions her role in the tea room and Cape Playhouse amid other matters. Two brief mentions as to puzzles, but not stated as jigsaws as such. No mention is made of the Perplexity Puzzle.


‘News you can use’. The Advocate-Messenger, Monday, April 1, 1991.

A question and answer page. A brief, general query on an unidentified Perplexity Puzzle, unambiguously relating to Richardson. The piece was syndicated to numerous other newspapers, too many deemed necessary to list.  


Articles

Only two instances, both by Williams, are known! Are there others?


Williams, Anne D. ‘Fantastic Finds: The Rest of the Pieces’. Game Times, 31, p. 14, September 1996.

On the thrill of finds per se, rather than of a dedicated piece on Perplexity Puzzles/Richardson, of which Perplexity/Richardson is mentioned essentially as an exemplar. Romeo and Juliet at the Window is mentioned. 


————. ‘Perplexity Puzzles’. Game Researchers’ Notes, 24, 5564-5568, October 1996.

On Richardson’s Perplexity Puzzle, with details sourced from her autobiography, The Sign of the Motor Car, and other people. The most detailed treatment, of an insightful analysis, and required reading.


Brochure

‘The Perplexity Puzzle: The Fad of the Year’. Circa 1908.

Further to promotional material, there is also a brochure. However, much remains unclear here; there is only a single instance known! This was found in the box of Christmas Eve. As such, it is speculation as to whether these were included in all (or most) of the boxes. Of a guess, I would say yes, but if so, none have been found, which goes against this supposition.


Web

Nine instances are found, albeit some here are decidedly peripheral. Are there others?


Bob Armstrong’s Old Jigsaw Puzzles

https://www.oldpuzzles.com/buy-puzzles/sale-list/bad-dream

https://www.oldpuzzles.com/node/1404 (six puzzles by Richardson, with commentary)


Town of Dennis, Massachusetts, 1940 Annual Reports

https://archive.dennishistsoc.org/bitstream/handle/10766/2251/1940.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

Minor mentions of Richardson in her capacity as a town planning officer, pp. 3, 116-117


Dennis Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 20 No.4, April 1997

https://www.dennishistoricalsociety.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/Apr1997.pdf

‘Puzzling Perplexities’. On the acquisition of the original sign of ‘The Sign of the Motor Car’ hung outside the tea room and Perplexity Puzzles, amid other Society matters.


Dennis Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 23 No.11, December 2000

https://www.dennishistoricalsociety.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/Dec2000.pdf

On the Dennis Christmas Tree. Minor reference to Richardson, with the piece mostly on her husband, Hayden, who held an annual Christmas party for the village children. Not unexpectedly, there is nothing of any consequence here.


Dennis Historical Society Tea Room Photos

https://archive.dennishistsoc.org/discover?rpp=10&etal=0&query=sign+motor+car&scope=/&group_by=none&page=1

Twenty photos of the tea room can be seen on the historical society's site.


Office for Women’s Affairs Indiana University Bloomington Newsletter, October 2006 Vol.21, No.1.

1908: Margaret Richardson Opens Puzzle Business by Virginia Luehrsen

http://institutionalmemory.iu.edu/aim/bitstream/handle/10333/1285/MROct2006%5B1%5D.pdf?sequence=1

A minor rehash of Williams’ account, with two pictures taken from Armstrong’s site. Shows A Bad Dream and God Rest you Merry Gentleman


Mabelle Howes Eager (1898–1983) Interview, April 1954

https://archive.org/details/EagarMabelleHowesTalesOfCapeCod54

Richardson reference begins at 13.58 minutes, with a brief discussion of the Tea Room, with further occasional mentions up to 25 minutes. There is no known transcript.


Gravestones

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53203035/margaret-richardson

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53187088/john-cole_hayden-richardson

Pictures of the gravestones of the Richardsons. Contrary to the assertion in the introductory text on the page that Richardson was born in Scotland, this is erroneous.


Transcripts

A select listing of the more important newspaper texts, with occasional commentary and speculations.


‘Stick to It and You May Solve a Puzzle Picture’. The New York Times, July 26, 1908, part 5, p. 11.

There is one factory in this city where the so-called “Perplexity” puzzle is made, the history of which may be taken as typical of the sudden and startling rise of the picture puzzle industry in New York City, and of its amazing popularity. This “factory” began work last March. At the start its working force consisted of one solitary puzzle-maker. Its weekly output aggregated three, sometimes four, puzzle pictures.

Now there are employed at the “factory” a dozen men and women–cutters, pasters, checkers, sandpapers, and so on. 

It has turned out within the last three months more than 1,000 puzzles. In addition to a steady shop trade, it does a big business filling orders sent to it direct by private individuals. At times the “factory” has received in one day as much as $85 worth of such private orders. 

Although the piece mentions the Perplexity Puzzle, it does not state Richardson by name, although it must surely be her. Some indication as to the incredible financial success can be seen that $85 in today's terms equates to about $2,500.

As an aside Richardson in Sign states:

To my great amusement I was headlined in one of the New York papers featured as the “Puzzle Queen”.

However, it does not appear to be of the Times, as she is neither mentioned by name or as a ‘Puzzle Queen’. Does anyone know of his ‘unknown’ paper?


Advert. ‘The Fad of the Year! “Perplexity Puzzle”. St Louis Post-Despatch, Tuesday Evening, November 17, 1908.

The Fad of the Year! 

“Perplexity Puzzle” 

Made by Mrs. Hayden Richardson

For the Wm. Baar Co. (sole agent in St. Louis). Only other places at which the Perplexity can be bought are Brentanis [sic], New York, Washington and Paris and Marshall Field & Co., Chicago. The “Perplexity” puzzles are made in various sizes. You must try the “Perplexity” – not until then will you know the reason why this compelling puzzle craze is sweeping the country. The “Perplexity” Puzzles are made in various sizes, from 75 to over 1000 pieces. Prices range from 75c to $14.00. On sale in Stationery Section, Main Floor.

Although Richardson is not mentioned by name, Perplexity Puzzles in passing are, in connection with Brentano’s, and so the correct attribution is certain. No mention is made of A Bad Dream, nor indeed any other named puzzle.


‘Puzzle Pictures. The Latest Craze Indulged in by Smart Society’. Los Angeles Sunday  Herald January 3, 1909 (Feature Section).

...From the beginning of the puzzle craze the makers of the “perplexity puzzle”, whose sole output is in the hands of one of the well known booksellers in Fifth avenue have been unable to fill their orders and are now working night and day with a large force of employees. The plant has practically doubled since August, and instead of one machine first in use there are now nearly twenty, with a corresponding number of people to work them, but the demand is still in excess of the supply and shows no sign of abating. An entire loft has been engaged in the adjoining house for the accommodation of the workers [illegible] to increase the apparatus and materially enlarge the various departments within the last month.

A brief conversation with the manager and an inspection of the workroom reveals some interesting information as to the making of the “perplexity puzzle”, which is by all odds(?) the best on the market. Made out of thin poplar board, the design is pasted on and the work of cutting out is done by a scroll or jig saw, worked by hand, and with considerable skill in manipulation, as, strange to relate, the making of the puzzle is not quite so easy as it appears...

On the jigsaw craze in general. Although Richardson is not mentioned by name, Perplexity Puzzles in passing are, in connection with the Fifth Avenue store, which is a reference to Brentano’s, and so the correct attribution is certain. No mention is made of A Bad Dream, nor indeed any other named puzzle.


‘Ladies’ Letter’. The Northern Whig, Tuesday, December 7, 1909.

The jig-saw puzzles are keeping their hold on smart society, and Anne Austen is busy purveying them. The Duchess of Manchester went to her the other morning and bought one of sixteen hundred pieces, a “Perplexity” puzzle, cut by Mrs. Richardson, the American lady who first started this form of amusement. Another large one has been cabled for to America. 

Interesting at many levels. Reference is made to an unknown 1,600 piece puzzle, albeit not titled. An intriguing reference is to the Duchess of Manchester. See notes.

Incidentally, this is the only UK paper that mentions Perplexity Puzzles/Richardson.


Notes

Given that this is a US puzzle, and with other US-related discussions, there are many seemingly household background references that are obscure or unknown to those outside the country, including me in the UK.  Therefore to clarify the intricacies here, and avoid cluttering the text, I here give background details as a series of notes. And conversely, for US readers, some UK background details where they are deemed ideal. In general, some of matters here seem decidedly peripheral to the investigation, but I have decided to include them nonetheless for the sake of exactness.


1. Brimfield Flea Market

As an aside, I had never heard of the Brimfield Flea Market, or Brimfield itself. However, it is well known as a major event in the US. This is described on their website as:

Antique dealers and collectors travel from throughout the United States and abroad to attend the world famous Brimfield Antique Flea Markets. Considered the oldest outdoor antiques events running for over 50 years, they are held three times each year, in May, July and September for a six day period...The Brimfield Flea Markets are actually comprised of about twenty individually owned show fields that have specific opening times, contact information and admissions.

It is estimated by State Police that over 50,000 people attend the Brimfield Antique Flea Markets and the exhibitors who set up booths number in the thousands.


2. Dennis (Wikipedia)

Dennis is a town in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, United States, located near the centre of Cape Cod on the northeast coast. From 1910 to 1940 the year round population hovered around 2,000. Summer population was much higher due to tourists seeking a seaside respite from inland heat. The town encompasses five distinct villages, each of which has its own post office.


3. Tea Rooms

Tea rooms were very popular in America in the first half of the 20th century, both as places for women to go and as businesses for women to run. They had a variety of exotic names such as The Copper Kettle, Northampton, Massachusetts; The Whistling Oyster, Ogunquit, Maine, and The Sign of the Green Kettle, Hartford, Connecticut. Some echo the nature of Richardson’s Sign of the Motor Car, with The Sign of the Golden Orange, Miami and The Sign of the Green Kettle, Hartford, Connecticut.

http://www.janwhitaker.net/events.htm

https://destinationtea.com/the-rise-of-the-american-tea-room-serving-womens-rights-with-a-cup-of-tea/


4. Brentano's

Brentano's was a noted American bookstore in Richardson’s time and had numerous locations in the United States and had stores in Paris and London. Brentano's was founded as an independent bookstore in New York City in 1853 by August Brentano, who established a newsstand in front of the New York Hotel. The first branch store for the company was opened in Washington, D.C., in 1883. Their logo stated ‘Booksellers to the World’. After a series of takeover and amalgamations, they were defunct as a name of 1983, albeit the business still continued to operate under the Borders brand until 2011, where in the face of internet competition they closed.


5. Art League

It is not entirely clear to what ‘Art League’ Richardson is referring to here. Whilst there is a famous institution ‘The Art Students League of New York’, which seems a plausible candidate, this is not necessarily what she was referring to. Whatever, the matter seems peripheral to the investigation.


6. The Duchess of Marlborough

Gladys Marie Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (née Deacon; 7 February 1881–13 October 1977) was a French American aristocrat and socialite. She was the mistress and later the second wife of Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough.


7. The Duchess of Manchester. 

Interestingly, and intriguingly, The Duchess of Manchester is also referenced essentially contemporary in another paper, The Western Times, Wednesday, December 1, 1909, p. 4 (and also repeated in Aberdeen Press and Journal on December 2 1909, p. 9) with:

The Duchess of Manchester has bought the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world. It consists of 2,600 pieces, each piece being shaped like an animal and will take about a month to work out.

This would appear to be a cluster puzzle! Could it possibly be by Richardson?!    


8. The Northern Whig Newspaper

The Northern Whig (from 1919 the Northern Whig and Belfast Post) was a daily regional newspaper in Ireland which was first published in 1832 in Belfast. It was published twice weekly, Monday and Thursday, until 1849 when it increased publication to three days a week, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The paper ceased publication in 1963.


Acknowledgements

Anne Williams, for much additional detail, clarifications and thoughts on the manuscript, and advice on Richardson.

Bob Armstrong, for further pictures and background details on the puzzle.

Judy Gehman, for drawing my attention to a passport picture of Richardson on Ancestry.com.

Julia Novakovic, for scanning the Williams archive and in particular Richardson’s autobiography The Sign of the Motor Car.


Page history. N.B. Not all releases were initially complete, although this was indeed my intention! Typically, upon any one release, remedial work over the next few days was in order to smooth the transition from a master text document to the web. In short, primarily these were occasioned by succeeding stages in first not having and then having The Sign in an partial state before finally obtaining the document in full. Of course, the existing text was also added to/reorganised, along with picture additions, and again, reorganisation. And then there was second thoughts... Below I give the release dates:
Release 1: 26-28 February 2020, without access to The Sign.
Release 2: 6-7 March 2020, upon a partial viewing of The Sign.
Release 3: 25-26 March 2020, upon a complete viewing of The Sign.
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