Anne Williams Honored with 2007 AGPC Spilsbury Award

Anne Williams receiving the 2007 AGPC Spilsbury Award“On behalf of the AGPC it is my great pleasure to present the Spilsbury Award to Anne Williams, as an acknowledgment of her enormous contributions to the AGPC and to the world” for being “the world’s foremost expert on jigsaw puzzles”. Those remarks by Jerry Slocum set the stage for Jerry and Mark Cappitella to present the AGPC’s 2007 Spilsbury Award to Anne Williams on 14 April 2007 during the AGPC’s annual convention in San Francisco.  This award is named after John Spilsbury, who is generally considered to be the earliest producer of dissected puzzles, which are now called jigsaw puzzles.

Introduction of Anne Williams for the Spilsbury Award

AGPC Convention – San Francisco, CA – April 14, 2007

It is a great pleasure and honor to introduce AGPC’s own Anne Williams, this year’s recipient of the Spilsbury award.

“Anne Williams is the world’s foremost expert on Jigsaw Puzzles.” That is not just my opinion, I borrowed that well deserved praise from our friend, AGPC member  and Puzzle Master Will Shortz.

My friendship with Anne began in September 1983 when I wrote to her about her article in a short-lived publication periodical, Puzzle Precedent. In the article she offered to send her list of American Puzzle makers. I asked her for a copy and told her about my interests in mechanical puzzles. Within a week she sent me the list and enclosed a very interesting letter describing her interests in Jigsaw puzzles.

She described how she became interested in jigsaw puzzles as a two year old. Her collection consisted of about 800 puzzles, mostly wooden, and she had started to cut and sell jigsaw puzzles.

She also described her goals relating to jigsaw puzzles. I was amazed that she had such a clear idea of what she wanted to do:

“My goal as a collector is to get all the American makers represented in my collection.”

“I have been researching jigsaw puzzles for several years, and my goal is to write for the American jigsaw puzzle, a book as good as what Linda Hannas did for the English puzzle.”

Let’s look at the progress she has made:

As a collector for 30 years:

She has the largest and finest collection of antique jigsaw puzzles in the world. It consists of over 8,000 puzzles including more than 3,500 American brands before 1971, which is more than 70% of all of the known American manufacturers.

As a researcher for 28 years:

Anne has done more research on the history of Jigsaw puzzles than anyone else. She has compiled a gigantic database of 5,800 American jigsaw puzzle brands and manufacturers before 1971, researched the history and culture of jigsaw puzzles and interviewed more than 60 puzzle workers and cutters from 1908 to the 1940s. She has also compiled the stories behind the puzzles, the cutters and the manufacturers.

And as an author:

She has organized and documented her findings in entertaining articles, exhibition catalogs and books.

In addition to her articles for the AGPC, which I will cover later, she has written 26 articles that have been published in Fine Woodworking, Collector, Collector’s Journal, Collector’s Showcase, Knucklebones, and many other periodicals in the USA, Japan and England.

She has written two great books. The first was: Jigsaw Puzzles, An Illustrated History & Price Guide, published in 1990.

The book takes you from map puzzles made by the inventor of Jigsaw  puzzles, John Spilsbury in 1766, to custom made puzzles of the 20th century, with photos, description & prices of more than 700 puzzles, and it includes a list of 1200 American Jigsaw puzzle manufacturers.

Her second book: The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together A History , was published in 2004 in hard cover , and paperback in 2005.

In addition to “piecing together the history”, Anne discusses the cultural  impact that jigsaw puzzles have had on society and examines the minds  of famous puzzlers, including Queen Elizabeth II and Bill Gates.

Anne clearly met her goal of writing the definitive history of the American jigsaw puzzle, with more photos of puzzles, ten times the number of puzzle makers and more than twice the number of pages than the two excellent books by Linda Hannas.

In addition Anne has organized seven puzzle exhibitions as guest curator, and written three catalogs and several essays for the exhibitions as well as loaned her puzzles to ten other exhibitions.

And her fame and expertise have been spread far and wide in articles featuring Anne, her jigsaw puzzle collection and her research in publications such as: Smithsonian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Forbes Magazine, Yankee, Reader’s Digest, and many other periodicals.

She was also featured in Martha Stewart’s Living Television show and helped make two videos about the history of jigsaw puzzles.

Although, considering all that she has accomplished in jigsaw puzzles, you may not believe it, Anne also has a day job, as Professor of Economics at Bates College, specializing on Population Economics. Today we are also celebrating her retirement from teaching economics. She has taught her last class! But we all know that she will be busier than ever with her research and writing about jigsaws.

She received her Ph. D. from the University of Chicago. Her early career included service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bombay, India, and on the National Research Council’s Committee on Population. She has also worked in economics research at The Federal Reserve Board, Brookings Institution, the World Bank and the select Committee on Population of the US Congress.

I earlier mentioned my correspondence with Anne in 1983. In a June 1985  letter that was mostly about our planned puzzle exhibitions in, Anne mentioned  that Quote, “Bruce Whitehill, a game collector, got going to found the American Game Collectors Association. I don’t know how much focus there will be on games, but I joined anyway. I figure that as one of the early members, I might have some influence on the direction the society takes. If you are interested, he is charging $15. for a year’s membership. The first newsletter just arrived and it is quite a nice 16 page production, but heavily oriented to board games.” Unquote.

Needless to say I signed up as member #130.

I asked Bruce Whitehill for his comments on Anne joining the AGPC. He replied,

“Anne and I have always been very close – her name comes right after mine alphabetically.”

“In 1984 I came up with a Charter Membership program, and, in bowing to the dictatorial whims of one member, I agreed we should set some “collection parameters” for Charter Membership, although general membership was open to anyone. We were looking for 30 Charter Members. As a puzzle collector, Anne didn’t fit within the parameters set for game collectors (Pre-1910 American Games), but she argued the point so effectively that she became Charter Member #31. It was the best thing that could have happened to the AGPC.”

Debby Krim told me that Anne’s presence as a Charter member had a huge impact on the organization and got it to look beyond the narrow definition of games, to include puzzles.

Anne has served on the AGPC Board of Directors since 1987 where she is a guiding light and voice of reason. From 1987 to 1996 she was the secretary of the AGPC and since 1996 she has organized the stash of games and puzzle related research, graciously served as Archivist, and handled the correspondence and requests for information, game instructions, catalogs, etc.

In addition she has shared her research with the members by writing 60 interesting and informative articles for AGPC publications and she has given four lectures at AGPC Conventions. Bob Armstrong pointed out that she also has been very helpful to new members and supports new puzzle cutters and helps them get started. She has become an accomplished restorer of antique jigsaw puzzles and helped, encouraged and taught others the craft.

Wayne Wolf added, “Anne, through her books, articles and exhibitions has heightened interest in jigsaw puzzles to wide audiences. Anne is at the center of a vast network of individuals, collectors, manufacturers, museums, and institutions interested, and involved, in some small or great way with jigsaw puzzles.”

I am curious; How many of you, like me, joined the AGPC directly or indirectly because of Anne Williams? Please raise your hands.

How many of you are interested in Jigsaw Puzzles?

How many of you are not interested in Jigsaw Puzzles?

The 2005 to 2007 AGPC Directory lists 139 members interested in Jigsaw Puzzles, the highest number of any category. Board Games is second with 138. And there are 52 members that have interest in both areas.

I think her comment in 1985, “I might have some influence on the direction the society takes” is an understatement and exemplifies another important contribution that Anne has made, both to the AGPC as an organization and to the members.

Anne, if you would please step forward.

And Mark, please join us.

On behalf of the AGPC it is my great pleasure to present the Spilsbury Award to Anne Williams, as an acknowledgement of her enormous contributions to the AGPC and to the world.

Jerry Slocum (14 April 2007)


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