It is an honor to pay tribute to Tom Tyler, who today is receiving our Spilsbury Award for lifetime achievement. I am sorry I cannot be with you today to celebrate his accomplishments as collector, historian, author, entrepreneur, and founder of the BCD. But Martha Folsom has kindly offered to read my remarks.
I first learned of Tom and his jigsaw puzzle collection in the summer of 1984 from Kevin Holmes – one of the premier puzzle manufacturers, collectors and dealers in England. I wrote Tom immediately. That correspondence blossomed into a friendship that is now in its 26th year.
I have gleaned a few biographical details about Tom during that time. Jigsaw puzzles were a tradition at his boyhood home in Devon. It was there also that he developed a passion for all things transportation – toy vehicles, model trains, and real automobiles too.
Tom’s career has been in the Anglican ministry, including work as a missionary and teacher in the Solomon Islands in the 1960s.
On his return to an English parish in 1970, he discovered that the transportation toys of his youth were selling at a fraction of their original prices. The collecting bug struck him hard, and eventually resulted in rolling stock of 200 toy locomotives and 600 Dinky vehicles. In addition to giving Tom a great deal of pleasure, these playthings turned out to be a shrewd investment.. When he later sold them at Christies, the proceeds paid for his current house in Ipswich.
Of course, we know Tom for his other major collection – jigsaw puzzles. His early favorites were the Great Western Railway puzzles, which show trains, historical events, and scenic views. Chad Valley manufactured these for the Railway from 1924 to 1939.
Tom’s first publication in 1984 cataloged all the jigsaws in the GWR series with details about production dates, artists, box styles, and rarity.
He then branched out into the promotional puzzles that Chad Valley made for other companies, such as Cunard Lines, and has expanded and revised his book on advertising puzzles several times. The 2003 version with its supplement, has five times as many pages as the 1984 edition!
American puzzlers know Tom best as the founder of the Benevolent Confraternity of Dissectologists. The BCD evolved from a dinner party to a full-fledged organization in just a few months in 1985, after Tom and a few puzzling friends decided it would be fun to promote old jigsaws as a hobby. In October 1985 the club had an “Inaugural Orgy” – these are Tom’s words, not mine – of jigsaw puzzling, food, and drink at Tom’s house.
For many years Tom ran the club almost single-handedly. He collected the dues, wrote the quarterly newsletter, cut the wooden membership card puzzles on his treadle saw, hosted dozens of meetings, recruited new members, and much more.
Today the group has grown to 400 members, including Americans and Europeans. Many here will remember the fabulous joint meeting of the BCD and the AGPC at Bletchley Park in 2005, which celebrated twentieth anniversaries for both groups.
Tom’s work as a historian has not been limited to Chad Valley puzzles. Far from it! When I first met him in person in 1996, he had just taken up the challenge of continuing the pioneering work of his friend Linda Hannas, who had chronicled the English puzzle up through 1890.
Tom’s 1987 book, British Jigsaw Puzzles of the 20th Century, details modern jigsaws of all types – wood, cardboard, adult, children, advertising, and novelty. He presents extensive histories of the major British companies, plus notes about several hundred more – all based on Tom’s interviews with people in the business, as well as on archival materials, and study of hundreds of puzzles in many collections.
At about the same time, Tom became an advisor to the Wentworth Company, which was using computer-controlled lasers to produce traditional wooden jigsaws. Tom helped connect Wentworth with puzzlers, and even supplied his own photos for the company to use as puzzle images.
He also worked closely with Malcolm Root, whose transportation paintings appeared on many Wentworth puzzles. Indeed, their collaboration eventually extended beyond jigsaws when Tom wrote the text for three books of Root’s paintings.
In the last few years Tom has followed up those volumes with yet two more histories: When Motoring Was Fun, and When Holidays Were Fun.
In addition to being a gifted, prolific, and versatile writer, Tom has a genuine talent for publicity. As spokesman for the BCD, indeed for puzzle collectors everywhere, he has made dozens of appearances on television, radio and in magazines. He is an entertaining raconteur, and regularly gives talks to civic and non-profit groups about jigsaw puzzles, or transportation, and even about the two combined.
Early on, Tom was clever enough to find Tricia to be his wife. Together they have extended generous and warm hospitality to all puzzlers who have found their way to East Anglia. I will never forget my visit there in 1999. Tom had organized visits to two puzzle factories (Kelly and Wentworth), tea with Kevin Holmes, a meeting with Malcolm Root, and an afternoon in Norwich with the Strangers Hall collection of antique children’s puzzles – all within 48 hours.
And in the midst of this whirlwind agenda, we still had time to do a few jigsaws that the Tylers had recently acquired, enjoy a lively debate about puzzle history, and partake of some delicious home cooked meals. On my next visit in 2005, Tom introduced me to Tess, his shiny red 1946 Sunbeam Talbot convertible, one of many classic cars that he has lovingly restored over the years.
In conclusion, let me say a few words about the Spilsbury Award itself. It is named in honor of John Spilsbury a London map maker who began selling dissected map puzzles 250 years ago. Although others had made jigsaw maps a few years earlier, Spilsbury is still recognized and honored as the man who brought them into widespread commercial use. Mark Cappitella, a stellar puzzle maker and AGPC supporter, has designed and cut this award since 2001, when the first winner was Steve Richardson of Stave Puzzles.
Truly, Tom Tyler is one of a kind, who has made tremendous contributions to the jigsaw world. In recognition of his many accomplishments, the AGPC is delighted to present him with the 2010 Spilsbury Award.