Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


Paper Hats
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of wearable folded paper hats. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you.

There are several kinds of traditional folded paper hats but their folding sequences all seem to begin in a similar way. This is also the way that the folding sequence for the traditional Paper Boat begins, although this does not necessarily mean that the designs are of equal antiquity.

The Carpenter's, Printer's or Pressman's Hat

The following information is taken from an on-line article by Kathryn Kane 'The Rise of the Paper Hats' (https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/the-rise-of-the-paper-hats/). The article states that 'There is some evidence that paper hats were first worn in the last few years of the eighteenth century, quite probably by men working in the carpentry trades, almost certainly in London. By the turn of the nineteenth century, they had become common headwear for men in a number of trades which involved a high level of manual labor, and their use was expanding across the country. By the Regency, these paper hats were worn by men working not only in the carpentry and woodworking trades, but also by paper-stainers, chandlers, braziers, glass blowers, house painters, printers and paper-makers, among others.' 'Though paper was still fairly expensive during the Regency, prices were lower than they had been in the eighteenth century since more parts of the paper-making process were becoming mechanized. Despite the fact that paper was no longer a very labor-intensive, fully hand-made product, it was still made almost completely of linen rags until several decades after the Regency came to a close. Paper made of 100% linen is extremely strong and flexible, therefore hats made from it would be quite sturdy'. 'Some craftsmen may have folded their own paper hats. However, there is tantalizing evidence that these special hats were available for sale, ready-made ... There are no advertisements in period newspapers which have been found from hatters offering paper hats for sale. However, there are a few advertisements from upscale hat-makers in which they specifically state, "No Paper Hats Sold."' 'It must be noted that the paper hats made during the Regency were probably not made from newspapers, as were the later pressmen’s hats ... these hats were made of plain white paper, without any printing.'

The article is worth reading in its entirety but it is a shame that detailed sources are not given, although in reply to a comment the author states that her source was 'Occupational Costume in England: From the Eleventh Century to 1914' by Phillis Cunnington and Catherine Lucas. I have not been able to locate a copy of this book or check the details of the information given in the article.

An oil painting by John Hill, dated around 1800, in the collection of the Tate Gallery in London, shows two carpenters in a workshop wearing paper hats. The picture is titled ‘Interior of the Carpenter's Shop at Forty Hill Enfield'.


In The Workbench Book, by Scott Landis, there is an illustration which reproduces an 1816 painting by G. Forster of an English woodworking shop. Two of the carpenters in this painting are wearing paper hats, which in this case have not been flattened at the top.

The frontispiece to G. A. Siddon's 1833 book 'The Cabinet Maker's Guide' also shows carpenters wearing paper hats.

In the opening paragraph of her novel 'Adam Bede', first published in 1859 but set in 1799, George Eliot wrote, ' In his tall stawaltness, Adam Bede was a saxon, and justified his name; but the jet-black hair, made more noticeable by its contrast with the light paper cap, and the keen glance of the dark eyes ...' and in the next paragraph describes Adam's brother Seth, stating that 'He has thrown off his paper cap, and you see that his hair is not thick and straight ...'

This 1872 illustration John Tenniel, now held in the Victoria and Albert Museum, for the Lewis Carroll poem 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' shows the carpenter wearing a paper hat, as do several other illustrations by Tenniel for the same poem.

I do not know when instructions for making a carpenter's hat were first formally published.

The Pyramidal Paper Hat or Newspaper Hat

The first known evidence of this design is found in another John Tenniel illustration, this time for Lewis Carroll's 'Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There', first published in 1871. The illustration shows Alice in a railway carriage sitting opposite a man wearing a white paper suit and a Newspaper Hat. According to Martin Gardner (in 'The Annotated Alice, 1998, p.218) the fact that the man is dressed in white paper is a political joke. He believes that Tenniel’s illustration shows a cartoon of Benjamin Disraeli and that Tenniel may have had in mind the ‘white papers’ (official documents) with which such statesmen are surrounded. Before he illustrated the Alice books, Tenniel had once portrayed Disraeli in a Government White Paper suit. However, Michael Hancher, writing in 'The Tenniel Illustrations to the ‘Alice’ Books, 1985' disputes this identification as the man in white paper does not have the obvious chin or goatee, which are normally present in Tenniel’s caricatures of Disraeli. Source: http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/analysis/picture-origins/

Cassell's 'Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes', published in 1882, contained instructions for making a Pyramidal Paper Hat of this kind. The fact that it is titled Paper Hat (Pyramidal) suggests that the author was aware that other types of paper hat existed, although he had, presumably, chosen not to include them.