Origami Heaven

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The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

 

 
The Salt Cellar / The Pepperpot
 

This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the traditional design known as the Salt Cellar, or, more recently, as the Fortune Teller or Cootie Catcher (particularly in the USA), and the Pepperpot, which is made by folding the outside corners of the Salt Cellar inwards. The Salt Cellar has many other names as well, some of which, such as Chatterbox, reflect the use of the design as a talking puppet.

Information about the various derivatives of the Salt Cellar and Pepperpot designs can be found on the page devoted to the History of Froebelian Folds of Life developed from the Double Blintz basic form and the Windmill Base

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.

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The earliest reference to the Salt Cellar design that I know of occurs in the November 1836 issue of The Lady's Book (otherwise known as Godey's Lady Book), a women's magazine published in Philadelphia, USA, in a story entitled 'The Officers'. (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101064242066&view=1up&seq=594)

Since there is no illustration it is impossible to be completely sure that the paper salt-cellars referred to are the same as the Salt Cellar design but this surely seems likely.

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A list of paperfolds suitable for use in kindergartens, on the Froebelian model, which can be found in the book 'Manual Pratique des Jardins d'Enfants de Freidrich Froebel' edited by J-F Jacobs, which was published in Brussels and Paris in 1859, includes designs called 'La Saliere' (the Salt Cellar) and 'La Poivrière' (the Pepperpot). There are no illustrations in this book but comparison with later works, which are illustrated, and which show the listed designs in a very similar order makes it almost certain that these designs can be identified in this way.

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The Pepperpot (Het peper-en zoutvat) is illustrated in 'De Kleine Papierwerkers' by Elise Van Calcar which was published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863. As far as I can tell the Salt Cellar is not mentioned in this book.

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Diagrams for the Salt Cellar are included in 'Des Kindes Erste Beschaftigungsbuch' by E Barth and W Niederley, which was first published in Bielefeld and Leipzig, and the foreword of which is dated October 1876.

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'The Kindergarten Principle' by Mary J Lyschinska, which was published in London in 1880 by Wm Isbister Ltd, contains mention of four designs, the Work Basket with Four Pockets (presumably the Salt Cellar), the Travelling Bag (presumably the Travel Bag), the Flower and Another Flower. Unfortunately no illustrations of these designs are provided.

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Both the Salt Cellar and the Pepperpot, which is titled the 'Cake Dish', appear in 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus, which was probably first published by E. Steiger and Company in New York in 1882.

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In his article 'History of Origami in the East and the West before Interfusion', published in 'Origami 5: Fifth International Meeting of Origami, Science, Mathematics and Education' in 2011, Koshiro Hatori asserts that, ''Many of the European origami models contained in Krause-Boelte's book (ie 'The Kindergarten Guide') are not included in contemporary Japanese records. The pig, house, sofa (also known as piano or organ), balloon (waterbomb), arrow (paper plane), salt cellar (cootie catcher), bird (pajarita or cocotte) and windmill ... were all born in Europe and imported into Japan along with the kindergarten system.'

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The Salt-Cellar also appears in 'Pleasant Work for Busy Fingers' by Maggie Browne, which was published by Cassell and Company in London in 1891. This book is an English version of 'Des Kindes Erste Beschaftigungsbuch' enhanced by the addition of a few extra designs.

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The Salt Cellar and the Pepperpot are both illustrated, though not named, in Eleonore Heerwart's 'Course in Paperfolding', which was first published in Dutch in 1895 then in English by Charles and Dible in London and Glasgow in 1896.

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Both design appear in Lois Bates' 'Kindergarten Guide', which was first published by Longmans, Green and Co in London in 1897 The Salt Cellar is called 'The Cruet' and the Pepperpot is called 'The Salt-cellar' in this book.

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The Salt Cellar appears as 'La Saliere' in 'Le Livre des Amusettes' by Toto, which was published in Paris by Charles Mendel in 1899.

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Both the Salt Cellar and the Pepperpot appear in 'Die Frobelschen Beschaftigungen: Das Falten' by Marie Muller-Wunderlich, which was published by Friedrich Brandstetter in Leipzig in 1900.

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The Salt Cellar also appears in 'Fun with Paperfolding' by Murray and Rigney, first published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928. The author notes that, upside down, 'it is a pig's foot, or, as some prefer to call it, a nose pincher.'

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The design also appears in Margaret Campbell's Paper Toy Making, first published in 1936, as the Picnic Salt Cellar.

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Paper Magic by Robert Harbin, published in 1956, contains diagrams for two versions of the design, the classic version under the name Salt Cellar and a second version called the Magic Colour Changer which is manipulated in the same way as the Fortune Teller.

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In the USA the salt cellar is also known as the Cootie Catcher (although this name is also given to a version of the hexaflexagon, something which can, and does, cause confusion when the two designs are conflated). In his article 'Martin Gardner and Paperfolding', available in the Lister List, David Lister states that Martin Gardner contributed a regular monthly column to Hugard's Magic Monthly between March 1951 and March 1958. These columns were later brought together in book form as the “Encyclopedia of Impromptu Magic”, published by Magic Inc. of Chicago in 1978. David says that 'the section on Paper Folding, as such, is eight pages long' and that 'The models mentioned or reproduced include ... the Salt Cellar in its various forms of "bug catcher" and "fortune-teller"'. I have not been able to access the text of Hugard's magic monthly but indices available on-line show that there were articles by Martin Gardner on Paper Folding in the issues for Dec 1955 and Jan 1956. This appears to be the earliest known instance of mention of the salt cellar in its fortune teller and cootie catcher guises.

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In their 1959 book 'Lore and Language of Schoolchildren' folklorists Iona & Peter Opie mention the use of a salt cellar as a "Film Star Oracle". 'A sheet of clean paper about seven inches square (usually torn from an exercise book), is folded diagonally both ways to mark the centre and flattened out again. Each corner is folded into the centre and the whole paper is then turned over and laid on its face, and the four new corners are folded into the centre to make a 3 l/2-inch square. The paper is next turned face uppermost again and the names of four or more film stars are inscribed across each of the four squares which have been made, while the name of a flower is written in each of the eight triangles which have been formed on the back of the oracle. It is then opened by lifting up each of the four flaps and eight predictions . . . are written in each of the triangles corresponding to the names written on the other side. The corners are then folded back again to the centre. Next the paper is folded in half and in half again, to make a 1 3/4 inch square. This is then slightly opened out with the points held uppermost and the first finger and thumb of each hand are inserted into pockets, under the flaps which bear the film stars' names ...'

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Folding Paper Puppets by Shari Lewis and Lillian Oppenheimer, published in 1962, contains a version of the Salt Cellar design which is made into a talking Cat puppet, attributed to Ligia Montoya, by the addition of drawn-on eyes. This is the first instance I can find of the salt cellar being used as a talking toy.

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The design also appears as the Salt Cellar in Robert Harbin's follow up book, Secrets of Origami, published in 1963. The same author's Teach Yourself Origami, first published in 1968, and later retitled Origami: The Art of Paperfolding, but commonly known as Origami 1, contains both the basic Salt Cellar and the Colour Changer design from Paper Magic.

 
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