Paperfolding.com (Origami)

David Lister, one of the foremost Western historians in the field of origami history, was nice enough to send me his "TWO MISCELLANEOUS COLLECTIONS OF JOTTINGS ON THE HISTORY OF ORIGAMI". In describing the piece, he writes:

I intended to cover the whole of the history of paperfolding in three short pieces. However, the third piece, covering Origami in the West since the formation of the origami Center in 1958, still has to be written. It is partly because I am still chewing round how to select and organize the enormous amount of information, and partly beause I have been busy with other things.

Mr. Lister cautions that these pieces are by no means a complete History of Origami, and that there may be errors and omissions. We are all looking forward to David Lister's complete origami history in a published format, but in the meantime we can still learn so much from his wonderful "miscellaneous collections of jottings", presented to you here:

Two Miscellaneous Collections of Jottings
on the History of Origami: Part Two by David Lister

      This time, I thought I would write something about the history of paperfolding in Europe up to about 1945.

      As I have said, Paperfolding in Europe MAY have been brought from the East, with the coming of paper making (which certainly did come from the East through the Arabs) or along the Silk Route with the traders through Asia, or through the sailors travelling by ship between Europe and the East. The Dutch, especially traded with the Far East and retained a very tenuous connection with Japan throughout the period of Japan's self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world, through the permitted Dutch trading post on an island outside Nagasaki. However, we still have no evidence at all that European folding came from the East. It is equally possible that because paper can only be folded in a limited number of simple ways, that European folding spontaneously arose in Europe. We do know that pleated folding of cloth existed in the West since Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods.

      I will say something more about cloth folding in Europe, before I go on to paperfolding, because the folding of cloth and of paper are clearly related. During the 16th Century and throughout the 17th Century, there developed in Europe a tradition for folding table napkins into elaborate models of animals and ships and other objects in the palaces of royalty and the great nobility. Napkins were pleated and cross-pleated and moulded into elaborate creations which decorated the tables at banquets. This was not much like modern paperfolding, but some of the figures of paperfoldinl such as the waterbomb base are found in the manuals on the subject. The napkins were pleated and cross-pleated and the moulded into shape, often being stitched together with red thread. Possibly the tradition of folding table napkins as done at the present day derives from this period of folding. What is remarkable about it is that is parallels the Japanese ceremonial foldsN0shi and tsutsumi) in that like them it used pleating and was used for ceremonial, not recreational purposes.

      Paper making was introduced into Europe much later than into Japan. It was brought by the Moors, who were converted to Islam by the Arabs. Papermaking reached Spain in 1036, Italy in 1256 and France in 1348.. So there could not be any paperfolding in Europe before the 13th Century, except perhaps in Spain, the southern part of which was then controlled by the Moors. But as I have said, we have no evidence that the Moors practised paperfolding.

      Bearing in mind this background, we have only glimpses of paperfolding in Europe until the 19th Century.

      One of the earliest pieces of "evidence" is the use of the pattern of the windmill base for astrological diagrams in the south of Spain in the 12th Century. Horoscopes were drawn up based on a person's birth and we know that baptismal certificates were later foldid into a double or treble blintz, which is related to the Windmill base. But the 12th century seems early for paperfolding in Spain and we cannot be sure of this as proper evidence.

      A second piece of evidence is from a book printed in Venice in 1490, namely "Tractatus de Spaera Mundi" by Johannes de Sacrobusto. It has a diagram of the world showing ships sailing on a sea in front of a town. The ships look VERY like the simple little boats which are folded by children everywhere from the simple paper hat. But again, the picture is ambiguous and cannot be relied upon with certainty.

      In 1614, the English playwrightJ ohn Webster produced his play "The Duchess of Malfi". He refers to the paper prisons in which small boys capture flies to increase the loudness of the buzzing. This is the water-bomb of paper balloon and it is known from modern China, from modern Egypt as well as England in 1614. It is convincing evidence that paperfolding was known in England in 1614.

      Another glimpse is of a boy, Guillermo Pen of Spain in 1757, who made his friends kites, boats , ships, birds and many other things out of paper. There are other similar reports from different parts of Eurpoe about the same time.

      In 1806 a clear drawing of the paper "Chinese Junk" was made in Holland. It certainly shows that this model was known in Europe at that time. Since it was in Holland, it may have been brought there from th4e East

      Freidrich Froebel, the educator was born in 1782 and we know that he played with paperfolding as a boy in Germany. Some paperfolded soldiers, some on foot and some on horseback actually exist in a museum in Nuremburg in Germany. We can assume that by then paperfolding was widely known in Europe.

      From the evidence we have, it is likely that nearly all European paperfolding was derived from the waterbomb base or from the windmill base. There is no indication that at this time either the bird base of the frog bases were known, as they were in Japan.

      Friedrich Froebel founded the kindergarten movement and he encouraged children to practise paperfolding of three kinds. The were (1) the "Folds of Truth", which consisted mathematical folding. (2) "Folds of Life" which were the traditional children'ss folds of animal birds and simple objects; and (3) "Folds of beauty" which were decorative patterns mainly folded from the Blintz Base. Yet there was still no knowledge of the bird base or the frog base. Froebelian folding was carried all over Europe and the world with the spread of the kindergarten movement. It was taken to North and South America and even to Japan. In Japan, Froebelian folding became merged with the native Japanese tradition of children's folding.

      After the end of the Japanese isolation in 1854,, Japanese stage magicians began to come to Europe and North America, performing in theatres and at exhibitions. The dates are not precisely know. There are reports that one of their tricks was to pre-crease a flapping bird. They would then show the unfolded square to the audience so that the bright footlights concealed the previously made creases. Then with a few deft flicks they produced the Flapping Bird as if by magic.

      This was the introduction of the Slapping Bird to the West. But where it came from is a mystery, because it is the crane ("tsuru"), which is known in Japan, not the flapping bird. One suggestion is that someone was trying to remember how to fold the crane but hit upon the flapping bird by mistake.

      Knowledge of the Flapping Bird spread through Europe. The first publication we know so far is in the British "Boys' Own paper" in 1886. But the illustration is typically French and there may be earlier instances waiting to be discovered.

      For the most part, while the Flapping Bird itself became popular there was generally no immediate movement to use the Bird base for folding in Europe. The idea of creating one's own models, for the most part, simply did not exist. It seems, however that in the villages Spain there existed a tradition of creative folding centred round the Pajarita. Unfortunately very little evidence for this movement survives either in practice or in any records. Miguel Unamuno, the Spanish poet and philosopher may have derived inspiration from it but we do not know. Then, in the later years of the 19th century, Unamuno hit upon the idea of creating his own models by folding some variants of the Pajarita. By the beginning of the 20th Century he was using the Bird Base fold some rather angular animals and birds.

      It appears that Unamuno's folding linked with the existing Spanish tradition of folding and gave rise to group of followers in Spain itself. Then his folding was taken to Argentina in South America, where a group of folders, and in particular Dr. Solorzano Sagerdo, developed paper folding much further. Solorzano published several important books about folding around 1940. For the time being, however, paperfolding of Spain and Argentina was little known outside those countries. It is interesting that at the time there was a Japanese community in Argentine who had a paperfolding society of their own.

      The late 19th Century saw the publication of paperfolding in books in both Europe and North America. Usually they were included in books of children's recreations. An early instance was Cassellss "Book of Indoor Amusements" published in London in 1881. There were many other similar books. Burt the models that they contained were still the old traditional childrenss folds, with an occasional different fold having only curiosity value.

      Then in the 1920s books devoted to paper magic (literally, conjuring with paper) appeared and contained paperfolded figures. They included "Paper Magic" by Will Blythe in 1920 and Houdini's "Paper Magic" by the famous escapologist Harry Houdini in 1922.

      Soon specialist books devoted to paperfolding alone began to appear. One of the best-known was "Fun with Paper Folding" by W.D.Murray and F.J. Rigney, punished in the United States in 1928. It is still in print with the title "Paper Folding for Beginners" In 1937, the South African Margaret Campbell published "Paper Toy making" in London. These two books became the standard manuals of paperfolding for many yeas. Margaret Campbell was one of the first to develop the idea of paperfolding bases through her "Foundation Folds"

      In the 1930s there was another development. Conjurors, in particular, became interesting in folding bank notes to form rings, animals, birds and other objects. The conjurors continued to use paper folding in their stage and cabaret acts. Martin Gardener, who later became famous for his articles on mathematical recreations in the magazine "Scientific American" published two thick volumes containing chapters on paperfolding among the conjuring tricks.

      Many of the later western paperfolders derived their interest from an earlier interest in conjuring. Others derived their interest from the books by Murray and Rigney and by Margaret Campbell. Even during the Second World War, occasional books on paperfolding were published in England and the united States. But the main development of paperfolding in both countries, as it did in Japan, came after 1945.

David Lister 

Originally written: 7th September, 1998.

 

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