Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


Folded Patenbriefs / Baptismal Certificates

This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of folded patenbriefs. In articles on paperfolding history folded patenbriefs are commonly, but inadequately, referred to as baptismal certificates. I do not read German and so this information is culled from sources in English. I have found it hard to access reliable informatioin on this subject. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other important information that should be added. Thank you.

In her article (libjournal.uncg.edu/jbc/article/download/732/418) 'The Taufschein of Mary Margaret Houseal: A Glimpse Into German-American Life in the Dutch Fork, South Carolina' Courtney Magill, explains folded patenbriefs as 'written, painted, or printed paper with which the sponsor wrapped the gift of money for his godchild ... The tradition of a monetary gift from the godparents upon baptism dates to centuries before the Reformation, and creative little containers for the gift like silk bags, little boxes, and eventually patenbrief became popular. Patenbrief, however, became the most prominent due to their multi-purpose functionality. Not only could they be folded to hold money, but the decoration and writing served as a record of birth and baptism, offered congratulations, memorialized an important religious event, and celebrated the meaning of baptism.' and goes on to saay that while patenbriefs originated in Germany 'these easily portable documents traveled with families on the ships to America, when there was little room to bring anything else of value.Within the new German settlements of 18th century Pennsylvania, these highly religious pieces took on more secular feeling as they employed new forms of design, usage of earthly objects within decoration, and a lack of specifically religious symbols.'

I have been unable to find another source to confirm the idea that folded patenbriefs were packages for money, but, if they were, this would certainly explain why they were folded, something which is otherwise mysterious.

According to David Lister in his article The history of paperfolding : a German perspective in the Lister List (http://www.britishorigami.info/academic/lister/german.php) 'During the time of the Reformation and the counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th Centuries the custom grew up of preparing paten briefs (sic) ... A folded piece of paper in the form of a double blintz was prepared, with the child's dates of birth and christening and it was decorated with religious pictures and pious messages. Paten briefs of this kind were common in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and were popular in Bavaria and the surrounding countries, extending into Alsace and Switzerland, and as far away as Swabia. They were not known in England.'

The earliest example of a patenbrief I have been able to locate is the one shown at the top of this page, which is dated 1763 and is in the collection of the Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, catalogue number 2064108_SMB. Earlier, perhaps much earlier, examples probably exist.

The image below shows one surface of a patenbrief from 1765, from the collection of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden in an unfolded state.

It has to be said that a double blintz design does not make a very effective container for holding a gift of money. Several sources suggest that patenbriefs may also have been folded in the form of a menko or puzzle purse. This design would have made a much more effective container but I have not been able to locate an early example of a patenbrief folded in this way.