Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


A Timeline of Paperfolding History
This timeline is a work in progress. Further significant events will be added to this timeline in due course. Suggestions for such significant events, especially early events, that ought to be recorded here are welcomed.


By paper in this timeline I mean any flat thin sheet made from cellulose fibres which are held together by chemical bonds. Card or cardboard is simply thick paper.

By folding I mean any change of direction induced by any means in the flat plane of the paper.

Paper is not, of course, the oldest foldable material. Foodstuffs such as dough, leaves and plant stems, animal skins and leather, cloth and felt, and metals were all folded long before we have any record of the folding of paper. Paper, however, folds in a very different way to these other materials. While paper will take a soft fold, like cloth or leather, it will also take a hard fold, the line of which is retained when the fold is opened out. When a soft fold in paper is completely flattened some of the fibres and/or some of the bonds between the fibres along the resulting folded edge are damaged or broken allowing a hard fold to form. If the paper is opened out this line of damage can be seen as a crease. This crease forms a line of weakness which will act as a hinge allowing the paper to be refolded, then opened out again, along the same line of weakness. This folding and opening out can be repeated many times without obvious additional damage occurring and consequently without the paper separating into two parts, as metal, or leaves, for instance would be likely to.

We do not know when, where, or by whom paper was first invented, or whether it was invented accidentally or as the result of a deliberate experimental process. Nor do we know whether, if it was the result of a deliberate experimental process, it was intended to be a medium for writing or painting on, wrapping with or something else entirely. We do not even know whether paper was invented just once in one place or several times independently in several places. What we do know, however, is that the earliest evidence for the existence and use of paper comes from China, and that we can trace the spread of the knowledge of how to make and use it from there to the rest of the civilised world.

Both paper itself and objects made of paper are ephemeral and the record we have of them at an early date relies largely on their chance survival or their mention or appearance in much less ephemeral sources such as books, fabrics, drawings and paintings. Like paper itself, it is likely that many of the paperfolding ideas and designs featured in this timeline are much older than the earliest evidence for their existence. Unfortunately, of course, we cannot know, even approximately, how much older they might actually be.

While this timeline is about the folding of paper I have also included some events relating to the folding of other materials where these are particularly relevant to the development of the story. Because I am a recreational paperfolder I have also concentrated on the way in which paperfolding has, in recent centuries, come to be used for recreational purposes, without, I hope, forgetting that most folding of paper was originally done, and indeed still is done, for purely practical purposes.

Sources of information are given on the more specific subject pages to which this timeline links.


8BC - China: Date of the earliest known fragment of paper, approximately 10 centimeters square and made from linen fibres, which was discovered during the restoration of an ancient garrison near the Yumen Pass at Dunhuang in northwest China. It has been written upon and is likely to have been part of a letter.

1440 -The Netherlands: Illustration of the surprisingly sophisticated cut-and-fold Catherine of Cleves box appears at the bottom of a page devoted to St Agatha, in the magnificent Flemish illustrated manuscript known as the Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

1490 - Venice: Publication of an edition of the book 'Tractatus de Spaera Mundi' written by John Holywood, an English mathematician and astronomer, who is also known as Johannes de Sacrobosco, which contains a picture illustrating a solar eclipse. The picture shows two traditional paper boats floating in a stylised sea.

1500 - Italy: Writing of the manuscript De Viribus Quantitates, produced in collaboration with Leonardo da Vinci, in which Luca Pacioli gave a method of folding an accurate right angle from a sheet of paper. The shape of the sheet did not itself need to be regular for the method to work.

1537 to 1603 - Japan: The oldest known representation of the Orizuru ( or paper crane) on a kosuka, a decorative panel intended to be attached to the hilt or sheath of a sword, can be reliably dated to this period.

1584 - England: Description of the magic trick now normally known as the Buddha Papers in Book 13, chapter xxvi of 'The discoverie of witchcraft' by Reginald Scot, Esquire.

1614 - England: First performance of John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi, the ms for which contains the words 'Our bodies are weaker than those Paper-prisons boys use to keep flies in ...' which is often taken as a reference to the Waterbomb design.

1629 - Italy: Publication of 'Trattato delle piegature' by Mattia Giegher, the earliest known work on the folding of complex table decorations from starched paper napkins.

1676 - England: The earliest known description of Troublewit is published 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' by John Clark, at the Bible and Harp in West-Smithfield, London.

1680 - Japan: Short poem by Iharu Saikaku 'Rosei-ga yume-no cho-wa orisue' in the 'Ittyuya Dokugin Onsenku" (4000 Haikus Recited Alone All Day and Night) which can be translated as 'The butterflies in a beggar's dream would be folded paper.' This is often taken as a reference to the Ocho and Mecho - female and male butterflies - made from folded paper - which are used to decorate sake kettles or containers during traditional Japanese wedding ceremonies.

1697 - Japan: A scrapbook album of folded paper tsutsumi, including ocho and mecho butterflies, held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, can be dated to the third month of 1697. The album served as the initiation into the art of origata (an early word for origami) for Kikuchi Fujiwara no Takehide by a master of the Ogasawara school of etiquette.

1704 - Japan: Drawing of a kimono decorated with the takara-bune (similar to the paperfold now known as the Chinese Junk). Source 'Origami from the Classics' by Satoshi Takagi, published in 1993.

1734 - Japan: Japanese book by Hayato Ohoka called 'Ranma Zushiki' contains prints of decorations intended to enhance sliding room dividers. Among these is a print that shows a group of folded paper objects, including the traditional crane, komuso, the traditional paper boat, the sanbo and the Tematebako, a modular cube developed from six Menko.

1759 - Germany: Publication of 'Onomatologia curiosa artificiosa et magica oder ganz natürliches Zauber-lexicon' which contains instructions for several paperfolding designs including a primitive form of the Paper Banger.

1763 - Germany: By this date square Patenbriefs / Baptismal Certificates were being folded into a double blintz form, possibly to enclose gifts of money from a godparent.

1764 - Japan: Writing of 'Hoketsuki' (wrapping and tying) by Ise Sadatake, also sometimes called the 'Tsutsumi-no Ki', a book about the folding of tsutsumi or ceremonial paper wrappers for food and flowers in the tradition of the Ogasawara school of etiquette.

1769 - USA: By this date puzzle purses were being decorated as love letters in Philadelphia (the practice having probably been brought to the USA by German immigrants).

1797 - Japan: Publication of the Senbazuru Orikata, a book of origami designs, woodcuts and poetry. The designs are created by cutting slits in large squares to divide them into several, or many, smaller, but not completely separate, squares and then folding each of these smaller squares into a paper crane. The cranes remain connected by beak, legs, or wingtip when the design is complete.

1800 - England: A painting by John Hill shows two carpenters in a workshop wearing paper hats.

1806 - The Netherlands: The earliest known drawing of the paperfold now known as the Chinese Junk occurs in the Dutch picture book "Hanenpoot" which Willem Bilderchijk wrote and illustrated for his young son Julius Willem.

1806 - France: Painting 'Marie-Laetitia Murat portant le buste de Napolean', by Jeanne Elisabeth Chaudet Husson (1767 to 1832) shows a Cocotte or Pajarita on a table beside the figure of the child.

1812 - Germany: Folding by Carl Adolf Senff of Horse and Rider designs adapted from Pajaritas, which still survive. Possibly the oldest representative paperfold the name of whose designer has come down to us.

1826 - Germany: Mention in Friedrich Froebel's book 'The Education of Man' of two children folding a dwelling house from a large sheet of cardboard, while others are busy folding from smaller sheets of paper all kinds of furniture - tables, chairs, sofas, beds, writing-desk, picture-frames, looking-glasses, etc.

1832 - France: A print in the French magazine 'La Caricature' no 109 of 6 December 1832 shows a dancing politician wearing a Newspaper Hat (as well as several Cocottes).

1837 - Ukraine: Artist K. Pavlov (1792 - 1852) paints a picture which shows a child playing with several Playing Card or Business Card Cubes.

1838 - Denmark: Publication of Hans Christian Anderson's children's fantasy story 'Den standhaftige soldat' (in English 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier') which includes reference to a paper boat.

1845 - Japan: Writing of the Kan No Mado, a 63 page hand drawn ms containing diagrams for 48 varied paperfolded designs, including Ocho and Mecho butterflies, the Cicada and the Blow-up Frog.

1850 - Germany: Around this date Friedrich Froebel included paperfolding as an occupation in his Kindergarten syllabus.

1859 - Belgium / France: Publication of 'Manuel Pratique des Jardins D'Enfants de Friedrich Froebel' which included a list of 55 basic paperfolds in the Froebelian repertoire including the Salt Cellar / Fortune Teller.

1863 - The Netherlands: Publication of 'De Kleine Papierwerkers' by Elise Van Calcar which includes pictures of many paperfolds in the Froebelian repertoire, including two blow-up designs, the Waterbomb and the Bellows.

1864 - England: The earliest published instructions for making a true paper plane, in this case the traditional paper dart, are published by Routledge, Warne and Routledge in 'Every Little Boy's Book'.

1876 - Japan: The first Japanese kindergarten was established at the Tokyo Women’s Normal School (now Ochanomizu University) by Clara Zitelmann. As a result of the establishment of Kindergarten in Japan traditional European paperfolds became known to Japanese children.

1877 - USA: Publication of 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus-Boelte and John Kraus which set out Friedrich Froebel's kindergarten system including his use of paperfolds as forms of life, forms of beauty and forms of knowledge.

1882 - England: Publication of Cassell's Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes which contained the first description of the game of Consequences along with instructions for making the Magic Fan (aka Troublewit), the Bellows, the Paper Boat, the Paper Box (aka Catherine of Cleves box), the Chinese Junk, the Pyramidal Paper Hat, the Paper Parachute and the Paper Purse (aka the Menko).

1885 - France: Publication of the earliest known diagrams for the traditional Flapping Bird, and also the earliest known reference to this design of any kind, on page 336 of issue 661 of the French magazine La Nature.

1889 - England: Lewis Carroll recorded in his diary that on June 7th 1889 he folded a 'fishing boat' - probably a Chinese Junk - for the young Princess Alice and her brother, Duke of Albany.

1893 - India: Publication of Tandalam Sundara Rao's book 'Geometrical Exercises in Paperfolding' which took the Froebelian concept of mathematical / geometrical paperfolds to a new level.

1894 - England: Publication of the earliest known diagams for the Lover's Knot in the Boy's Own Paper.

1895 - England: Publication of the Froebelian 'Course of Paperfolding', by Eleenore Heerwart.

1896 - Russia: Leo Tolstoy taught the ten year old F D Polenov (who grew up to become a famous painter) to fold a Flapping Bird while travelling on a train. The paper bird folded by Tolstoy on this journey still survives in the Polenov museum in Russia.

1922 - USA: Publication of Houdini's Paper Magic which included the earliesrt diagrams for the Kabuto and the earliest diagrams published in the West for the Blow-Up Frog.

1923 - England: Publication of Paper Magic and More Paper Magic by Will Blyth.

1925 - France: According to Andre Breton the surrealist game 'Le Cadavre Exquis' or 'The Exquisite Corpse' was first used as a means to attempt to express subconscious thoughts in pictures at 54 rue du Chateau, Paris.

1928 - USA: Publication of 'Fun with Paperfolding' by Murray and Rigney.

1932 - England: Publication of 'Winter Nights Entertainment' by R M Abraham.

1933 - England: Publication of 'Diversions and Pastimes' by R M Abraham.

1937 - England: Publication of 'Paper Toy Making' by Margaret Campbell.

1939 - USA: Publication of 'Fun with Paper' by Joseph Leeming.

1941 - USA: Publication of 'Paper Magic' by U F Grant.

1948 - USA: Publication of 'The Art of Chinese Paperfolding' by Maying Soong.

1952 - Unknown: Publication of Bibliography of Paperfolding by Gershon Legman.