written for CFF magazine in 2002 by James Dalgety
In half a century Edward Hordern seemed to live several lifetimes worth of diverse activity. Certainly in his last quarter century he managed at least two lifetimes worth of puzzling.
After studying Modern Languages at the Sorbonne, University of Paris, Edward went into accountancy for two years. He then joined a large advertising agency, Alfred Pemberton Ltd and its subsidiary Business Press Bureau Ltd. in 1963. He spent five years with the firm, starting as a trainee and ending up a director. In 1966 he started his own company, Creteco Ltd, manufacturing and selling accessories for concrete. As a sideline to this business, he had twelve trucks doing long distance haulage - the longest trip on one occasion was from England to Bombay. His firm was also the first to import commercial maintenance-free batteries into Europe.
In 1970 Edward took over the running of the family farm at Cane End. The farm consisted of 1200 acres (500 Hectares) of mixed cereal and beef. He planted 12 acres of vines. In one year of the International Wine and Spirit Competition, his 1986 vintage won a silver medal and his 1987 vintage won a bronze. This was achieved competing against 1100 entries from 30 countries. His wine label not only showed his beautiful 18th Century manor house, but also incorporated a maze in which one must find a path from the bunch of grapes to the bottle, along dark lines only.
Edward extended his many interests to include local politics. He was first elected as a Councillor to the Oxford County Council in 1985, and he was re-elected in 1989. His special brief was as spokesman for Museums, Libraries, and Recreation.
I first met Edward in 1973. He wrote to me, when I was co-founder and director of Pentangle, wanting to know the shortest solution to one of our sliding block puzzles. It transpired that his solution was already far shorter than we had thought possible. I phoned him up and asked him if he was a collector. He asked what I meant; so I asked him what he did with his solved puzzles. As he put his solved puzzles into a drawer instead of giving them away, I said he must be a collector. We soon visited each other and became great friends.
At this stage Edward’s puzzling had mainly consisted of buying good wooden jigsaws of 1000 to 2000 pieces and an occasional cardboard jigsaw with up to 5000 pieces. He had just discovered 3D jigsaws and had commissioned a magnificent box of fifteen of Peter Stocken’s beautiful puzzles. His mechanical puzzle collection, of around 200, fitted into a few drawers, and consisted primarily of Sliding Block puzzles, which he had found in books and made for himself out of Lego. As he got really enthusiastic about mechanical puzzles, the 2D jigsaws were all put away in a cupboard. His house was a large one, and when I say “cupboard” I really mean a small attic room of several cubic meters. The 2D jigsaws were still there filling the cupboard and gathering dust when the house was emptied in 2001. I am happy to say that all the fine wooden ones are now in The British Jigsaw Puzzle Library.
When Edward first visited my house it was around the time that Jerry Slocum had told me that I had the world’s third largest puzzle collection. Small by the standards of today’s big collections it never the less inspired Edward. He saw the huge variety that existed and his enthusiasm knew no bounds. For the next 25 years he collected at an unsurpassed rate. He continued with all his extensive business activities and with his regular trips to Scotland, pheasant shooting. He seemed to effortlessly add puzzling full time into his already full life.
Instead of taking two holidays per year, one with his wife, and one with all the family, he added a third holiday for puzzling. He went to 19 annual “International Puzzle Parties” and, as they outgrew the small gatherings at Jerry Slocum’s house, Edward joined Jerry and Nob Yoshigahara to form the supervising committee of the IPPs. He hosted the 10th and 19th IPPs in London. He only needed six hours sleep per night, and he is even reputed to have occasionally taken puzzles to bed.
His enthusiasm for Sequential puzzles culminated with the publishing of his “Sliding Piece Puzzles” in 1986 by Oxford University Press. When one considers that this was published before computers were in general use, it was an incredible achievement. Despite developments since, it remains the standard text on the subject, with many of his hand-done solutions remaining unbeaten.
In 1993 Edward privately published a wonderful Centenary edition of Professor Hoffmann’s “Puzzles Old & New”. It was fully corrected and with the addition of colour photographs of the original Victorian puzzles from his and other private collections. As “senior proof-reader” to the project, Laurie Brokenshire can attest to the very large numbers of errors in both the original puzzles and their solutions that Edward managed to spot.
Meanwhile he was filling his large house. Initially it was just his study, and then he started to encroach on the dining room. Fortunately, in the reign of Queen Anne, manor houses were built with serious attic rooms so, without upsetting his wife too much, he took over one of these. However, by 1999 he had puzzles in his study, in half the dining room, and in three attic rooms that were specially fitted with display furniture. He was also using a further attic room and most of the extensive loft space as a dumping and sorting ground for puzzles.
Edward collected all kinds of puzzles in an extraordinarily thorough way. Today it has become almost impossible to collect in the same manner. Most people do not have the space, and fewer are willing to learn about such obscure things as the care of 18th Century puzzle ephemera. Truly antique puzzles are becoming ever more difficult to find. The other big change in recent years has been the explosion of creativity in the puzzle world. This has generated such a profusion of new puzzles that it is difficult for anyone to collect all new puzzles as comprehensively as was possible in the past. This wonderful productivity is due to many factors including Martin Gardner’s writings, and a few companies such as Pentangle in the UK, and Mag-Nif in the US, who, in the early 1970s, brought the puzzle market back from the oblivion it had suffered since the depression after the WW1. The International Puzzle Parties, The Gatherings for Gardner organised by Tom Rodgers, Home Computers, and above all the Internet have created a wonderful worldwide exchange of information. In the past, puzzlers were forever re-inventing the wheel, whereas now they progress from developments of others. Edward did not have much time for computers but he had a great influence on all the other areas of the puzzle world, and he is greatly missed by all who knew him.
Edward built up the finest puzzle collection in the world. To do this one needs to be a bit obsessive, but he never allowed his obsession to rule him. He remained a gentleman, interested and knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects quite unrelated to puzzles. He did not just collect puzzles. He solved his puzzles. He shared them with other people and always welcomed fellow puzzlers at his house. He was very generous in exchanging puzzles. It was wonderful that on his last antique puzzle hunt in London, only two weeks before his death, he found the last puzzle that he needed to complete his favourite group - his wooden Hoffmann puzzles.
Edward died of cancer on 2nd May 2000 at the age of only 58. Throughout his painful illness he remained uncomplaining and continued collecting puzzles. His wife Wendy, two sons, and two daughters survived him. He knew that his first grandchild was expected soon, but very sadly did not live to meet his grandson Barnaby, who was born in June 2000.
I was overwhelmed when Edward’s family gave me his collection. It was extremely generous of them. Even though I had packed the most delicate items myself, it took weeks of work on the part of a professional removal firm to move it. It was as if Edward had given me the ultimate sliding block puzzle. I have now had the collection for nearly two years and have amalgamated my own with it and separated out the duplicates. I still have not found time to finish counting it, let alone catalogue it all. I enjoy puzzling every day and the only thing that spoils it is that Edward is not around to enjoy it as well. I hope I can do justice to the collection and find a way to finance providing it with a permanent home within the UK before too many years pass. This would be a great memorial to a great collector.