Vintage French Tanglements

his section is devoted to vintage French Boxed Wire Puzzles. In French, puzzles are generally known as "head breakers" or casse-têtes. Tanglement puzzles fall under the category of "jeux d'adresse" (games of skill), and wire puzzles in particular are "casse-tête en fil de fer."

On first glance, these puzzles seem somewhat ill-formed and flimsy, but I have found them to be fairly precisely made and surprisingly robust. The boxes are frequently colorful with artistic graphics and entertaining illustrations. Some people collect vintage French boxed puzzles simply for the box artwork.

In his 1990 book issued by L'art de L'enfance entitled "Petits Jeux et Casse Tete de la Belle Epoque" (Small Games and Puzzles of the Golden Age) (ISBN 2910067173), Yves Rifaux lists 136 French boxed puzzles manufactured during the period between 1878 and 1914. Several addendums bring the total to over 200 items. Rifaux covers many types of puzzles beyond the vintage French tanglements to which this section is devoted, including for instance many dexterity and logic puzzles. Rifaux numbers almost all the puzzles he covers sequentially starting with #1, and though he classifies each puzzle he does not group them, so unfortunately they are intermixed by type throughout the numbering scheme. Also, the body of the book and the addendums describe some puzzles which are not assigned a number in the sequence. Rifaux's book contains very poor monochrome photocopies of images of puzzle box covers, pieces, and instructions. Nonetheless, Rifaux's book was the first source I found that has a comprehensive catalogue of French Boxed puzzles and it helped me understand what is available. I have used it as the basis for organizing my collection shown below.

Several books are available from the website Collection Imagerie des jeux. I purchased "Les Casse-tete recreatifs a la 'Belle Epoque'" - by Geneviève Perrot and Françoise Mahy. It is a compendium documenting vintage French boxed puzzles of all types. That website links to an online collection: COLLECTION DE JEUX ANCIENS. To see wire puzzles, go to the article on: les casse-tete fil de fer posted by collector Alain Koli (Rabussier).

In their book, Perrot and Mahy include 32 wire and string puzzles on pages 52 through 57 under the category "Jeux de Patience et d'Adresse" and call them "Les patiences Fil de Fer" and "cordelette." The images are in color and include box covers and puzzles but are rather small. The Koli article shows a more complete selection of the wire puzzles issued by various brands.

Italian puzzle collector Dario Uri issued a book about his own collection, entitled "Compendium of French Boxed Puzzles 1860-1930." Dario very kindly sent me a copy. Uri documents 680 puzzles across all categories, most with color photos (though like me, he has salvaged some internet photos). Organized by brand.

The table below shows my collection of French Boxed Wire Puzzles. I have managed to collect images of almost all of the tanglement puzzles Rifaux mentions, though I own only those with the name shown in bold. In the first portion of the table, I have ordered the puzzles by Rifaux's number. When we get to those puzzles Rifaux does not cover, I have ordered them alphabetically by name. Thanks to Sylvie and Gilles Legrand for the use of many photos!

Many of the tanglement designs were issued by more than one brand, appearing with somewhat different box graphics and occasionally a different name. I have not attempted to collect (or illustrate below) all the varieties of each basic puzzle. However, I have attempted to cross-reference my four sources and for each puzzle list the brand(s) that issued it and for each issue in which source I found it referenced.

My sources agree that the primary brands include (with their two- or three-letter codes):

To recap, my sources are (with my one- or two-letter codes):


#7 La Croix Lorraine
MD - K, R7, U006
JJF - K, U638
(aka Les Croix Ensorcelees)
LJR - K, U312, U517
(aka La Croix Endiablee)
#12 Le Bracelet de Cleopatre
MD - K, R12, U011
JJF - K, U582
NK - K, U652
#18 Le Bon Geolier
MD - PM53, U018
JJF - K, R18, U017
(aka La Balance de Themis)
NK - U630
(aka Le Mauvais Gardien)
LJR - K, U524
#21 L'Embarras du Charpentier
MD - K, PM55, R21, U020
JJF - K, U581
#40 Les Deux Coeurs Inseparables
MD - K
JJF - K, PM52, R40, U041
#42 Le Divorce
NK - K, PM52, R42, U043
La Question du Divorce
MD - K, U196
JJF - K, U395
#57 Comment Nous Separer
MD - R57, U061
VW - U556

[Same puzzle as Les Crochets du Diable.]
[BUT - Perrot/Mahy show this as
a traditional six-piece burr]
#59 le Porte Veine - Jeu Amusant
JJF - K, R59, U063, U584
(aka L'Embarras du Charcutier)
LJR - K, U525
#61 Le Forgeron Embarrasse
JJF - K, R61, U065
#63 Le Chasseur et sa Casquette
JJF - K, R63, U067
#65 Une Etoile dans le Croissant
MD - K, U643
JJF - K, PM56, R65, U070

#66 Mon Cousin Tireliboudin
SC - K, U208
MD - K, U374
JJF - K, PM52, R66, U071

(aka Mon Ami Jean Barressort)
LJR - K, U539

#79 La Question Velocipedique
SC - K, PM55, U460
MD - K, R79
JJF - K, U087
#93 Le Dragon et son Casque
JJF - K, PM54, R93, U098
(aka Le Sabre du Cuirassier)
LJR - K, U528
(aka Le Cavalier et Son Sabre)
LJR - U632
#105 La Bouteille Infernale
SC - K, U461
JJF - K, PM57, R105, U102
#106 Le Souci de l'Artilleur
MD - K, U103
JJF - K, PM54, R106, U104
(aka L'Embarras du Marin)
NK - K, U321
(aka Le Tracas de l'Artilleur)
LJR - K, U438

#107 Le Canon et son Obus
JJF - K, R107, U105
#108 L'Automobile
SC - K, U580
JJF - K, PM55, R108, U106
#109 Quelques Tours dans une Boite
JJF - R109, U107
[no image] [set of metal tangles (2 or 4)]
#144 Delivrez Mon E S'il Vous Plait
MD - K, PM57, U417
JJF - K, R144, U152
(aka Delivrez Mon Nez)
(A3.x) Le Petit Porte Veine
SC - K, RA3.X, U462
MD - K
JJF - U174
#160 La Question Marocaine
NK - K, R160, U158
#166 Les Crochets du Diable
SC - PM57
JJF - U583
NK - K, PM57, R166, U654
VW - U469
Francois Pfeiffer - U320
(aka Les Crochets Inseparables)
RT - K, U503
#207 L'Embarras du Terrassier
JJF - K, PM55, R207, U181

#208 La Botte Prisonniere
JJF - K, R208, U182
#209 Question du Transvaal
MD - U648
JJF - K, R209, U183
LJR - U646
#210 Le Bonnet Phrygien
MD - K, U184
JJF - K, PM54, R210, U319
LJR - K, U510

(C10) Le Wagon Porte Torpille
NK - K, PM54, U135, U434

The puzzles below do not appear in Rifaux...


Agathe et Bernardine
WX - PM56
(aka [Les Clefs de] Paul et Virginie)
SC - K
JJF - K, PM52, U366
Coeur Captif ou la Clef du Coeur
NK - U365
[no image] [heart on trapeze
bar shaped like key]
Delivrez Mon Coeur (metal version)
JJF - K, U209
Delivrez Mon Coeur (wood & string)
NK - PM52, U050
(aka La Delivrance)
VW - U415
(aka Un Coeur en Peine)
VW - U351

Jeu Arabe
WX - U491
[no image] [Imperial Scale]
L'Anneau Magique
JJF - K, U226
L'Anneau Prisonnier
MD - K, PM53, U186
JJF - K, U579
L'E Prisonnier
SC - K, U318
L'Embarras du Geometre
LJR - K, U515
L'Etoile du Berger
MD - K, U572
JJF - K, PM56, U265
(aka A la Conquete des Poles)
LJR - K, U685
L'Etoile Prisonniere
RT - K, U498

[star and garter]
La Bague Prisonniere
LJR - K, U512

[ring on spring]
La Croix du Sahara
NK - K, U679
La Croix du Sud
JJF - K, U223
La Croix Mysterieuse
JJF - K, PM54, U257
La Lanterne dans la Lune
SC - U084
JJF - K, PM56, U254
La Question de la Balance
LJR - K, U511
[no image] [multi-link like Uncle's Trapeze]
La Question de la Coutouriere
LJR - K, U518
[no image] [multi-link like Uncle's Trapeze]
La Question du Pince-Nez
LJR - K, U514
[no image] [no image]
La Triple Alliance
Le Bracelet du Sauvage
LJR - K, U214
Le Bracelet Egyptien
NK - K, PM53, U329, U619

[ring on spring]
Le Coeur Prisonnier
JJF - K, U367
(aka Le Coeur Torture)
LJR - K, U513
Le Fer a Cheval
WX - U314

Le Lien Soudanais
MD - PM52, U189
(aka Le Noeud Kabyle)
WX - U490
(aka Le Noeud Gordien)
NK - U269 (?)
Le Noeud Gordien
WX - PM53, U489
MD - PM53
NK - PM53
[no image] [ring, string, wood flat]
Le Porte Bonheur
NK - K, U256
[no image] [similar to Porte-Veine,
simplified head]
Les Anneaux Diaboliques
MD - K, PM57, U188
JJF - K, U187
(aka Le Cercle Diabolique)
LJR - K, U526
Les Cercles d'Archimède
SC - K, PM53, U356
[no image] [triangle and three circles]
Les Deux Entetes
LJR - K, U516
[no image] [two stag heads]
Question Romaine
WX - U585
RT - K, U505