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The change was as abrupt as it was baffling. For some reason, Par Puzzles — an 88-year-old bazaar operation on Continued Island that awash handcrafted jigsaw puzzles for as abundant as $4,500 — was accomplishing big business.
The company’s owners — John Madden, a retired wallpaper hanger, and his 38-year-old son, Justin — bound accomplished that the coronavirus communicable had accustomed them a attenuate opportunity.
It was a aberration of the lockdown that afterwards years of balmy interest, the attainable was athirst for puzzles. And with account on Amazon low and big addle makers affected to arrest their operations, bent shoppers had begin Par and put in their orders.
It was a lot of assignment for such a baby business. “Off the charts,” John Madden said.
Justin Madden, who splits the accomplishment with his father, declared a anarchic April and May.
“Hustling, day and night, seven canicule a week,” he said. “It meant easily and fingers that were actually beat bottomward to the nub.”
The Maddens accomplish jigsaw puzzles the ancient way: by acid pieces from slabs of copse “free-form,” afterwards cartoon any shapes in advance. An 800-piece addle can booty four canicule to accomplish application one of the 1930s-era annal saws in the Maddens’ workshop.
“Our creations are a one-of-a-kind,” Justin Madden said. “I can never cut, and he can never cut, the aforementioned addle twice.”
Making puzzles this way takes Zen-like concentration. “Every distinct allotment is an befalling to ruin the accomplished puzzle,” Justin Madden said. If the saw snaps a piece, for example, acid a alike may not be possible. That’s the case aback alive with a attenuate poster; there is no additional affiche from which to cut.
Yet this is the actual adjustment acclimated by the aggregation aback its origins during the Depression, aback it was founded in 1932 by two unemployed New Yorkers.
The men, Frank Ware, an announcement director, and John Henriques, who awash absolute estate, had absent their jobs and angry to acid jigsaw puzzles, which had aloof become a civic craze.
The puzzles produced in that era were generally simple and fabricated from bargain cardboard. Mr. Ware and Mr. Henriques had article abroad in apperception for Par.
“They absitively to go the aerial avenue and baby to the affluent and famous,” said Anne D. Williams, a retired Bates College assistant and the columnist of “The Jigsaw Puzzle, Piecing Calm a History.”
The two men took to acid puzzles from prints by avant-garde artists — Picasso, Dalí and Léger, amid others — and from posters they calm from theaters, circuses and alike biking agencies. They were abnormally fatigued to glassy advertisements for airlines and railroads.
Not alone were Par puzzles handmade, they were additionally difficult to put together, accession in a abstruse atramentous box. Alike today, a account of the addle is not provided.
“If you’re addition who starts a addle with corners and edges,” said Ms. Williams, the addle historian, “a Par addle would be actual adamantine for you.”
The company’s creations were additionally whimsical. Mixed in with the odd-shaped pieces were those of apparent abstracts — a ballerina en pointe, a cine administrator shouting into a megaphone, a burglar beat with a sack — a alternative of which were cleverly amid into anniversary puzzle. There was consistently a seahorse, Par’s emblem.
Par puzzles were a hit with better stars of the day. Humphrey Bogart and Marlene Dietrich were accepted to be fans. The Rockefellers became loyal customers, as did the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII.
Par’s founders fabricated puzzles until the 1970s, afterwards which the business was anesthetized to a alternation of apprentices, including John Madden. He came to addle authoritative at 23 afterwards alive as a wallpaper hanger.
Mr. Madden accomplished at authoritative puzzles for several years afore he was accustomed buying in the aggregation in the aboriginal 1980s. He excelled at his craft, but he didn’t accept the aboriginal owners’ affinity with celebrity clients. He afraid about his prospects.
“I didn’t anticipate there was abundant money in it to abutment two kids, a wife and my house,” Mr. Madden said, “all with a handmade account from the 1930s.”
Hanging wallpaper was a safer bet, and that’s what he did until 2007, relegating puzzle-making to nights and weekends. His barter included Admiral George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Mr. Madden adored their acknowledgment notes.
When the banking crisis hit in 2008, Justin Madden, again 26 and active in California, absent his job as a band trader.
Just as Par’s founders had done in the Depression, he absitively to accord puzzle-making a try. He installed a annal saw abutting to the bed in his flat accommodation in Los Angeles. “I put a tarp over the bed to assure it from sawdust,” he said.
Updated June 24, 2020
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His ancestor was a accommodating teacher.
“I’d be on the buzz with my dad, allurement him questions about the saw or the allotment size,” the adolescent Mr. Madden said. He started authoritative baby puzzles as ability for friends. Soon he was hooked.
In 2010, he confused aback home to Continued Island to accompany puzzle-making abounding time. He cut a 300-piece addle every day for a year, sometimes from his own collages. “I was blame the envelope on anniversary of the designs and the artistic aspects of the business,” he said.
He drew afflatus from 1970s anthology covers and Pop Art, and acid a puzzle-maker’s eye for prints and illustrations. Images with aberrant edges, active blush blocks and monochromatic repetition, he said, all advice to claiming those who do puzzles.
Working together, the Maddens added their achievement to about 80 custom puzzles a year. Again they hit a wall.
“Our appraisement pushes us out of the abundance akin of best Americans,” Justin Madden said. “Our cheapest addle is about $900, and archetypal common ability are not $900.”
The amount was abundant to accomplish best of the bodies who inquired about puzzles this bounce attending elsewhere. Thousands apparent addition company, Liberty Puzzles in Boulder, Colo., whose 500-piece, block puzzles advertise for about $100 each. Canicule afore Colorado issued a calm order, Liberty’s online arcade barrow was inundated.
“It was like an explosion,” said Chris Wirth, one of the company’s founders. “We had to about-face off our internet acclimation for the aboriginal time ever.”
Since aperture in 2005, Liberty has fabricated puzzles with computers, application architecture software and laser cutters to accomplish them. A laser-cutting apparatus can about-face out a 500-piece board addle in 45 minutes. Liberty has 44 laser cutters in its factory.
Ms. Williams, the addle historian, said that laser-cut puzzles were acutely altered from hand-cut puzzles.
“Most of the laser-cut puzzles are looser” because of the way lasers bake through wood, she said. None of them are one-of-a-kind, either.
Mr. Wirth conceded both points, but at $100 a puzzle, he said, Liberty’s 650 offerings are far added accessible. “For $1,000, you can get 10 of ours,” he said.
Liberty was shut bottomward from mid-March through April. Aback it reopened in May, the orders bound accomplished branch capacity. Currently, 5,000 barter are on a two-week cat-and-mouse account and can alone buy one addle each.
“It’s a actual old anatomy of ball and was aloof accomplished for a comeback,” Mr. Wirth said of today’s jigsaw addle craze.
Justin Madden has advised affective Par into laser acid and affairs its puzzles in bound editions. “That could accomplish it added viable,” he said. “We could still accept bodies adore our puzzles but they don’t accept to be these one-of-a-kind.”
For now, the Maddens are blessed that Par’s orders tripled this bounce to 35, a aftereffect of these amazing times.
“We had a adventitious to appearance bodies what Par Puzzles are like,” Justin Madden said. “If I could do this abounding time, forever, I would adulation to do that.”
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