Exceptionally Early Printing Stool Puzzle.

The Block Assemled

The precise original use of this object is itself a puzzle; however it certainly deserves a prominent place in the museum because its survival for 400 years is largely due to it being found to be an entertaining children's assembly puzzle.

It's known recent history is that it was acquired by a cabinetmaker from a castle in Kent where it had been used as a puzzle in the nursery or playroom. The portrait painter Maurice Codner, recognising it's importance, purchased it in 1913. It was then exhibited at The Society of Antiquaries in London. It has since been admired at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and restored by the British Museum. For the last 90 years it has been exhibited, written about, and provoked much debate.


It is the size of a small footstool about 28cm wide x 39cm deep x 20cm high. It comes into 40 pieces and when complete forms, in reverse, a coat of arms which contain the quarterings of Howard, Brotherton, Fitsalan and Warenne: the heraldic insignia of Howard Duke of Norfolk. The label of three points and the Earl's coronet indicates that the piece represents the eldest son of the house, normally an Earl of Surrey or Arundel. This all suggests that it dates from the time of Phillip, Earl of Arundel (1557-95) or from the time of his grandson, Henry Frederick, Earl of Arundel (1646-1652).

It is a possibly unique survival of what is in effect is a 400 year old compound printing block (Compound printing is the process thought to have originated in the 19th century for printing several colours simultaneously on such things as banknotes). There are the impressions of very coarse cloth in the residue of the pigments so perhaps it was used for printing the Earl's insignia on baggage wagon covers, canvas "walls" of his encampment, or the masking cloths hung in the waist of his ships.

The Arms of the Duke of Norfolk's eldest son.

Please let us know if you know of any similar object in any
public or private collection.
The Block in pieces

It was as a challenging and amusing puzzle for children that it found its way into the playroom where it survived for 300 years after it had outlived its original purpose.

Exhibited: The Society of Antiquaries, 1913. The Coronation Exhibition, County Hall, Chelmsford, Essex, 1953. The 'Age of Shakespeare' Exhibition, Gemeetemuseum, The Hague, Holland, 1958.

Bibliography: The Society of Antiquaries (Proceedings of), November 1913. Connoisseur, March 1940, page 124. Country Life, Collectors Questions, June 1954, page 1897. The Age of Shakespeare Exhibition Catalogue, 1958