Ivory puzzles were manufactured in China for export to Europe and America from about 1820 to 1930. The Tangram was invented in China around 1800; however most of the other puzzles had been known in Europe much earlier.

Ships bringing silk, porcelain, and other cargoes to Europe and America would often bring a few of these sets as gifts for the owner's and officer's families.
During the early 19th century ivory puzzles from China were the most commonly seen puzzles. This, plus the supposedly enigmatic nature of the Chinese, led to the supposition that the Chinese had invented them all and to the adoption of the generic name "Chinese Puzzle" for all kinds of mechanical puzzles.

The puzzles were often exported in black lacquered boxes containing from nine to twenty puzzles held in position by a supporting structure made of cardboard covered either in blue silk or red paper.

A Compendium of Ivory Puzzles

.Mouse Over

In the past, ignorance as to the function of the puzzles has often led to their being broken, or to pieces being lost.

So, over the next few months we will look at some of the individual items that were included in these compendiums; and end up with a leaflet that can be printed out to be left in these boxes; so that, in future, these beautiful puzzles can be enjoyed without damage.

In the United States these boxes were also known a Sunday Boxes, as in a puritanical society they were one of the few toys that children were allowed to play with on Sundays.


Use all seven pieces to make different shapes. Try making each of a square, triangle, rhombus. Then try making each shape again with a hole the size of one of the pieces (e.g. A rhombus with a square hole).

Often Tangram puzzles were accompanied by two xylographic books. One contained around 300 problems, and the other the solutions. Many modern books of Tangram problems are available.

.Sometimes Tangram books were bound in ivory or mother-of-pearl covers.

This example of a solution "book" is very rare as not only is it cased in ivory but the pages are also ivory.


Like the Tangram Puzzles these were accompanied by xylographic books of Problems and Solutions.

The Windmill below was taken from such a book and adapted by A. Cyril Pearson to create a problem for his book "Picture Puzzles & Wordplay" published c.1908




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