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The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

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The Sanbo
 
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the origami design known as the Sanbo. 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.

The Sanbo design is a tray or box on legs. It is sometimes found written as Sambo or Sanbow but I believe that Sanbo should be preferred.

In Japan

The earliest evidence I am aware of for the Sanbo design is from 1734 where the design appears in a Japanese book by Hayato Ohoka called 'Ranma Zushiki' which contains prints of decorations intended to enhance sliding room dividers. One of these prints shows a group of folded paper objects, among which are the Sanbo, the traditional crane, the boat now commonly made from a newspaper hat, a tematebako cube, and komoso.

The drawings of the Sanbo are not particularly clear but the identification of the design has been confirmed by Koshiro Hatori in his on-line article 'History of Origami' (https://origami.ousaan.com/library/historye.html) thus: '"Ramma Zushiki" (1734) shows pictures of Boat, Sanbo, and a modular origami called Tamatebako, besides Orizuru and Komoso.'

There is a note in the Kan No Mado, written in 1845, which lists the Sanbo among those designs which are already well known and which are therefore not included in the ms (in order to spare the writer's pen).

In the West

The Sanbo does not appear to be part of the Froebelian repertoire and I cannot find it in any of the early books about Froebelian education.

As far as I know the first appearance of the Sanbo design in Europe was in Murray and Rigney's 'Fun with Paper Folding' published by the Fleming H Revell Company in New York in 1928 where it is called the Work Table.

'Winter Nights Entertainment' by R M Abrahams, first published by Constable and Constable in London in 1932, contains a design entitled Tray on Legs which is probably the Sanbo, though I have not been able to access a copy of this book to confirm this.

The design also appears in Margaret Campbell's 'Paper Toy Making', first published in London in 1936, as the Box On Four Feet. This book also includes instructions showing how to adapt the Sanbo, using cuts, to produce a Cow, Lemur and Horse.