Come March, Britain may be the missing piece in the jigsaw of Europe – but perhaps not coincidentally, an earlier puzzle which separates the continent across national borders is about to go on display in York.
The year-long exhibition at the Castle Museum – beginning the week before Britain is due to leave the EU – features a jigsaw of Europe dating from 1766, and designed by John Spilsbury, who is said to have invented the format.
He produced the maps as teaching aids for geography classes, with pieces representing each country or sea area.
Philip Newton, a curator at the museum, described the puzzle – believed to be one of the first ever made – as extraordinary.
He said: “When looking through our archives it seemed fitting for inclusion in this exhibition at a time when division both culturally and geographically is so prominent in the news.”
But he said the display, whose theme is broken relationships, would also include objects which “offer a much more personal story which capture a key moment from when love falls apart”.
Some of the exhibits have been transported from a museum in Zagreb, Croatia, which deals exclusively in broken relationships.
The jigsaw, described as “extremely rare”, was made personally by Spilsbury, who became the first commercial puzzle manufacturer.
His earliest examples were all based on maps and aimed at upper-class English parents. He made jigsaws of the world, England, Ireland and Scotland, and the continents of Africa, America, Asia and Europe.
More ephemeral items on loan from the Museum of Broken Relationships include a can of “love incense” which the owner says doesn’t work, a dog’s toy hamburger and a pair of fluffy handcuffs labelled, “tie me up”.
Visitors are also invited to donate their own broken love charms.