A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
|This page attempts to
record what is known about the origin and history of the
pure origami paperfolding entertainment now usually known
as Troublewit. 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.
As with many other early paperfolds it is sometimes claimed that troublewit is of Chinese origin. I do not know of any evidence to support this view.
The earliest known mention of Troublewit is in the book 'Sports and Pastimes: or, Sport for the City, and Pastime for the Country; With a touch of Hocus Pocus, or Leger-demain: Fitted for the delight and recreation of Youth' which was printed by H. B. for John Clark, at the Bible and Harp in West-Smithfield, London in 1676. The book describes how to make and work a version of troublewit made by dividing a sheet of paper into sixths. The introductory sentence reads 'Trouble-wit has not its name for nought, and indeed is a very fine invention, by folding a sheet of Paper, as that by Art you may change it into twenty-six several forms or fashions'.
This source has clearly come to light since 1987, since Kenneway gives the first known mention of Troublewit as being in G Conyers 'Sports and Pastimes: or, Hocus Pocus Improved ... A Sheet of Paper called Trouble-Wit, with divers other Legerdemain Curiosities' published in London in about 1710.
'Table Talk', a selection of sayings attributed to John Selden by his amanuensis, Richard Milward, published in 1689, included the words 'Religion is made a Juggler's paper; now 'tis a Horse; now 'tis a Lanthorn; now 'tis a Boat; now 'tis a Man. To serve Ends, Religion is turned into all Shapes' which sounds very like a reference to Troublewit, or at least, a reference to Troublewit somewhat enhanced by imagination.
Edwin Corrie's notes on Recreations with Paper on the Folding Didactics website give further early references as follows:
English - Dean 'The Whole Art of Legerdemain, or, Hocus Pocus in Perfection', 1722
French - Ozanam 'Récréations mathématiques et physiques' (first published in 1694 but revised in 1723 by Martin Grandin (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Navarre) with the addition of a section on magic tricks, including Troublewit).
Spanish - Minguet, 'Enganos a Ojos Vistas, Y Diversion de Trabajos,1733
Italian - Giuseppe Francesco Antonio Alberti, 'I giochi numerici fatti arcani,1747
German - Crailsheim 'Die zehenmal hundert und eine Kunst', 1766
and notes that Troublewit may have developed from napkin folding as the folding techniques are similar.
In his 'The Everyday Book and Table Book', published in 1826 in London by William Tegg and Co, William Hone writes of seeing a blind man demonstrate Troublewit in Greenwich Park.
Diagrams for Troublewit also appeared in 'The Boy's Own Book' by William Clarke, which was published by Vizetelly, Branston and Company in London in 1828.
The revised edition of 'The Boy's Own Book, which was published in London by Crosby, Lockwood and Co in 1880 also contained this design.
'Un million de jeux et de plaisirs' by T de Moulidars, which was first published in 1880 and subsequently republished under the title 'Grande encyclopédie méthodique, universelle, illustrée, des jeux et des divertissements de l'esprit et du corps' and in 'Cassell's Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes', published in 1882, the paperfolding section of which was based on Moulidars book, under the title 'Magic Fan'. Alternative names of 'Japanese Fan', 'Puzzle-Wit' and 'Trouble-Wit' are given, which suggests the entertainment was widely known at this date. The text confirms this, stating that the Magic Fan 'is often exhibited for profit in the public streets of populous places by members of that class of people who prefer living by their wits to working hard.' This version of Troublewit is also from a sheet divided into sixths. The text further states that as many as sixty to seventy different shapes can be produced, although nothing like this number are explained.
Reference to Troublewit also appeared in 'Bright and Happy Homes' by Peter Parley, Jr, which was published in Chicago and New York by Fairbanks, Palmer and Co in 1882. My thanks to David Shall for this information.
In the latter half of 1896 an article written by L S Lewis was published in the Strand Magazine entitled 'Paper-Folding' describing how troublewit is folded and performed, with photographs showing the magician David Devant demonstrating the figures. The article began with the words 'Perhaps no more entertaining form of indoor pastime has ever been devised than the rapid folding of a sheet of pleated paper into various shapes ...'.
Troublewit also appears, as 'Les Metamorphoses D'un Papier' in 'Le Livre des Amusettes' by Toto, which was published in Paris by Charles Mendel in 1899.
Some basic information about Troublewit, although not instructions for making it, was included in 'Houdini's Paper Magic', which was published by E P Dutton and Company of New York in 1922.
Troublewit also appears, as Le Papier Du Pere Mathieu, in Joujoux En Papier' by Tom Tit, which was published in Paris by Paul Lechevalier in 1924.