The Public Paperfolding History Project

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Diary entry of Leandro Fernández Moratín, October 1793
The book 'Obras Postumas de D. Leandro Fernández de Moratín', which was published by Imprenta y Estereotipia de M. Rivadeneyra in Madrid in 1867, contains entries from the diary of Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760 to 1828), including one he made while staying in Venice on 1st October 1793.

This reads: 'Otro pone en el suelo una tendalera de papeles retijereteados y en un santiamén hace una pájara, una fuente, un arco del triunfo, un San Pedro y una sota de bastos; y entretanto no cesa de hablar ponderando su habilidad y contando disparates para hacer reír al auditorio.'

In English, 'Another (street entertainer) leaves cut-up papers on the floor and quickly makes a bird, a fountain, a triumphal arch, a St Peter and a jack of clubs, all the time speaking about his skills and talking nonsense to make the audience laugh.' It is not clear what a St Peter is, possibly a saint's head, or a fish, or a church, perhaps.

The description suggests that the performer is making these designs primarily by cutting paper rather than by folding.

It is interesting to speculate whether any kind of folding was involved in this performance. Folding the paper in half before the cutting commenced would allow the easy production of designs with bilateral symmetry. The fountain and the triumphal arch would lend themselves to being produced in this way. A bird could also have bilateral symmetry if its wings were spread, as could a St Peter, depending what is intended by that description. The problem with this idea lies with the jack of clubs, since it is difficult to think of an interpretation of such a design which is bilaterally symmetric in a similar way.

(This passage was discovered by Vicente Palacios and brought to my attention by Juan Gimeno who also helped with the translation. The speculation that it may describe the cutting of bilaterally symmetric designs from folded sheets is mine.)