|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.
How to fold and perform troublewit is explained in detail in Eric Kenneway's book 'Complete Origami' first published in 1987.
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.
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 the following century diagrams for troublewit appeared in Cassell's Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes, published in London in 1882 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.
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 ...'.