Started in 1932, Par Puzzles had its beginnings in the throws of the Great Depression. Puzzles were the ultimate pastime for a family with little financial resource. They offered key elements of challenge, creativity and stimulation to an intelligent societal mind otherwise forced to lethargy.
John Henriques and Frank Ware saw the need to create quality in what was becoming an effort driven towards mass production and away from honed craft. Frustrated with “push puzzles” and their inability to keep pieces in-place as they were assembled, our founders designed what was the first truly interlocking jigsaw puzzle; and it was wooden. Large companies took a position of churning profit and hired scores of workers to cut amongst each other in factories. Many companies skipped labor altogether and used cardboard as their cheaper material to stamp through and box in minutes. Par stayed true to form and remained always custom and on-of-a-kind. As evidence to their global position and status in quality, they created hundreds of unique silhouettes that remain the sole intellectual property and staple of inclusion in every Par Puzzle today.
There was no concentrated effort towards re-branding. Logos colors merely changed for color availability, price and cost of boxes as the old ran out. With meager beginnings and undeniable effort to preserve strict guidelines in their ideas, Par’s reputation soared. Phone calls varied throughout the day from all parts of the world. Par’s biggest clients were and still are the world’s wealthiest. As you’ll read in our Par’s Press section, Humphrey Bogart was a client; ordering at the same time the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They would request certain silhouettes that resembled their beloved dogs to the set within a chosen landscape print. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, Hearst, DuPont and Kennedy families all purchased puzzles for their summer homes mainly on the Northeast coast. These types of custom-made Par’s for family collections, which included monograms and special requests, often cost upwards of $2,000 in the late 1950′s. Although this price was not affordable to anyone but the top tier social class, for a long time Par had a rental aspect to their business. Any family could have access to a limited inventory of simpler Par’s for the price of an exponentially different value. They discontinued the renting portion of the business as the condition of the puzzles when returned was drastically different from when they would issue them. Pieces would come back half chewed by pets and cracked from being stepped on, and the boxes always were either ripped or damaged. Two other main issues were tracking down puzzles that families rented before they moved, and the time and cost of replacing pieces anytime one went missing.
Par Time has always been an aspect of Par puzzling as it really took a life of its own around the 50′s. People would call and complain they could not ever feasibly complete the puzzle in the allotted “Par Time.” Henriques and Ware would give the time along the sides of the box as a reminder that the clock was ticking. Times were and are chosen as per a puzzle’s piece count and difficulty. This otherwise dubbed our affluent, and often royal, clients as “not up to Par.” A title we could not help but love and bestow, however pleased to know that solving these puzzles in that amount of time is extremely difficult especially with an irregular edge and the amount of straight lines followed along the interior parts of the puzzle.
Par is one of the oldest hand-cut, one-of-a-kind only, wooden jigsaw puzzle companies in the world. Branded around luxury and rarity, Par’s commissioned pieces are all considered artwork and normally framed after assembly, especially due to their limited production and availability. Unlike an artist where printing up a series of 300 lithographs of the same exact piece is meant to seem exclusive, we will never make the same exact product, nor can we. To inform you on who’s behind the saws of Par Puzzles, it might put things into perspective when you know how many actual Par cutters there have ever been. Henriques and Ware were very selective with who they trained, and since Par began in 1932, we are on our 3rd cutter ever; John Madden. Little known by any Par client or historian in our industry, Frank Ware rarely ever cut Par Puzzles, in fact his part to play in the workshop was design and creation. John Henriques was the 1st cutter who took Ware’s ideas and shaped them into tangible, interlocking history. Ware knew how to cut, but relinquished that duty to John as he was far superior in its detail. Considering the demand at times during the holidays, Ware would tell us they would send a client a silhouette cut from the puzzle to-be-made for that client as their precursor to hold them over as their holiday order wouldn’t be completed until after the day itself. Quality will never be put second, no matter the demand. Sitting next to Henriques and studying his craft was Arthur Gallagher; the 2nd of Par’s skilled craftsmen. After close to twenty years behind the ingenious minds of our two founders, Ware and Gallagher hired an apprentice, John Madden to come into the shop. This was the mid-to-late 70′s as Ware soon passed the business onto Mr. Gallagher. Arthur continued Par Puzzles along with John Madden through the early 80′s where he too retired from the business and left its infamous clients, copy-written signature silhouettes and ultimate brand image to John Madden. Over 30 years now, Mr. Madden has continued Par’s history and tradition; our 3rd cutter ever.