Quick summary: a jigsaw puzzle company sells a puzzle for $7,995; details below:
The Wall Street Journal had a story a few weeks ago about how difficult it had become to buy jigsaw puzzles. The reason, as you might have guessed, is that people are looking for things to do during the pandemic shutdown, and working on a puzzle seems to be a popular activity.
Of the top 10 items that shoppers searched for on Amazon.com one day last month, nine were antivirus cleaning supplies or personal-hygiene products. No. 7 was “puzzles for adults.”
The North America division of privately held German puzzle giant Ravensburger AG, the world’s largest seller of jigsaw puzzles, reported that sales in North America over the last two weeks of March were up 370% year-over-year. On a single day, March 26, sales were 10 times what they were a year earlier. As you might imagine, the company is having trouble keeping up with demand.
As an indication of just how popular puzzles have become, the Wall Street Journal had another story about puzzles in today’s paper. As a point of comparison, the newspaper has had no other stories about jigsaw puzzles over the past four years, except for these two stories that appeared within a month of each other.
Anyway, it was the headline of this second article that really caught my eye:
Mind-Bending Puzzles for Adults—From Funny to Freakishly Challenging
When I saw that, I just had to read it. And after reading about the first puzzle, I was shocked. Not at how difficult the puzzle was (and it sounded really, really, hard), but the price: $1,187.
Here’s a description of the puzzle:
Though 175 pieces might seem like patronizingly few, the Mane Event jigsaw is designed to befuddle, amuse, and demonstrate how puzzlemaking can be an art form. Categorized by its maker as a “Tormentor” option, the intricately shaped hand-cut wood pieces—which arrive in an unmarked blue box—eventually reveal the “king of beasts.”
Nothing in that description suggests that the puzzle would cost more than one-thousand dollars, so I thought perhaps there was a typo, or a missing decimal point, and it was supposed to be $11.87.
So I decided to check out the web site for the company that made this particular jigsaw puzzle – Stave Puzzles.
Talk about entering a world you never knew existed.
Right on its home page, there is a quote:
“For Customers Addicted to Stave Puzzles, the Torture Is the Point“
This is a different kind of puzzle company. Here is a bit about the company from its web site:
Located in Norwich, Vermont, we handcraft the finest wooden jigsaw puzzles found in the world today and we have been bringing fun, challenge and togetherness to families and friends since 1974. Each wooden jigsaw puzzle is meticulously hand-cut, one piece at a time, by a skilled crafter. No computers, no high-tech. One saw, one cutter — that’s it. Using lots of imagination and a little bit of magic, we handcraft each puzzle – piece by piece – using precision jigsaws with blades no wider than an eyelash. After the cherry back is carefully sanded and polished to a soft gleam, the puzzle is placed inside a beautiful keepsake handmade box. There’s no other puzzle in the world quite like a Stave and there’s no other experience like solving one. The fun isn’t just what’s inside the box — it’s everything about Stave.
Our commitment to family fun and our devotion to puzzle making has transformed the idea of the jigsaw puzzle from a very simple diversion into a highly expressive and entertaining art form. Stave puzzles are collected and treasured around the world as unique and precious heirlooms. The wit and mischief of Stave inspires letters, calls, gifts, bribes and pranks way beyond what you would expect from a normal business. Puzzlers feel free to rant and rave, sing praises, sling insults, beg for more torture, and generally have fits of pain and ecstasy knowing that equally outrageous acts will be the Stave response.
There was a recent article about the company on the Fader web site which noted that the company is 42 years old and has 25 employees. The puzzles they make can sell for as much as $7,995; lower-tier products start at $245. One unnamed customer has spent an average of $50,000 per year since 1974.
Here is the $7,995 puzzle – Knight at Stavely Castle:
So no, there was no pricing mistake in the Wall Street Journal story, the puzzle it mentioned does have a price of $1,187.
Stave was started in 1970 by Steve Richardson and Dave Tibbetts (can you see where the name Stave came from?), and Richardson bought Tibbetts out one year later for $1. Today, the company has 25 employees.
Here are some fun facts about a couple of its puzzles:
- Each wooden jigsaw puzzle is meticulously hand-cut, one piece at a time, by a skilled crafter. No computers, no high-tech. One saw, one cutter — that’s it!
- No two puzzles, and no two puzzle pieces, are ever exactly alike.
- Made from the finest wood and hand-finished with a gleaming cherry back.
- Cut with delicately fine blades, each piece fits snugly with its mate.
- Several steps go into creating each puzzle, right down to the signing and dating of the Stave Clown, our silhouette trademark that appears in every puzzle.
- Each puzzle comes carefully packed with a handmade blue and green box embossed with our Stave Clown. A special label, written in gold ink, bears the title of the puzzle and the number of pieces.
- One of Richardson’s favorite puzzles in the Tricks product line (the most challenging one) is Champ, a puzzle inspired by the mythical Lake Champlain sea monster. Champ’s 44 pieces have 32 different possible configurations, but there’s just a single correct way to successfully meet the objective of getting the monster to bite its tail. Tricks are so tough that the company won’t sell them to you if you haven’t “earned your stripes.” Earning your stripes requires having solved easier Stave puzzles.
- For an April Fools’ stunt in 1989, Richardson released a bagel-shaped puzzle, which, though it was made up of just five basic-looking pieces, was secretly designed to be unsolvable. People got so upset that he took it off the market and issued refunds. (Give that April Fools’ is one my favorite days of the year, how can I not like this guy!)
So just like the price of men’s suits in the Wall Street Journal, the prices of these puzzles are simply put, puzzling, and outside my reach…
*top image from Enterprise