Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

 

 
Troublewit
 
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the pure origami paperfolding entertainment 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.

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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'.

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'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.

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A description of Troublewit, clearly based on 'Sports and Pastimes', appears in the 1781 eighth edition of 'Hocus Pocus' by Henry Dean, published in London by J Bew, 'Corrected and improved with an entire new Set of Cuts'. I have not been able to ascertain whether it also appeared in the 1722 first edition, which was published by A Bitterworth.

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The fourth volume of the 1723 edition of Jacques Ozanam's 'Récréations mathématiques et physiques' (which was first published in 1694 by Jombert in Paris but revised and expanded from two to four volumes after his death in 1718) contains a rather out-of-place final section, titled 'De Gibeciere', explaining how to perform magical tricks. It is believed that responsibility for the revised edition, and thus for the section on magic, rests with Martin Grandin, who was a professor of philosophy at the University of Navarre. One of the magic tricks explained in this section is Troublewit (though it is not called by that name). The instructions for folding the paper are fairly minimal, and no instructions are given as to how the folded sheet should be manipulated. Thirty-four possible motifs are listed but none are pictured and it would perhaps be surprising if anyone managed to reconstruct the effect from the instructions given.

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Similar material appears in:

'Enganos a Ojos Vistas, Y Diversion de Trabajos' by Pablo Minguet E Irol, published in Barcelona in 1733 also contains a section on Troublewit, which is clearly based on the information given in 'Récréations mathématiques et physiques' above.

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'I Giochi Numerici Fatti Arcani' by Giuseppe Antonio Alberti, which was published in Bologna in 1747.

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Tresor des Jeux' by Carlo Antonio, which was published in Geneva by Henri-Albert Gosse & Comp and in La Haye, The Netherlands, by Pierre Gosse, Junior, both in 1759. As far as I know the two editions were identical.

The paperfolding element of the contents is identical to that found in 'I Giochi Numerici Fatti Arcani' except that number 34 is missing from the list of the Troublewit figures.

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A brief description of Troublewit, without any explanatory pictures, but with a list of forty figures, appeared in volume 9, pages 711 to 713, of 'Die Zehenmal Hundert und Eine Kunst' by Albrecht Ernst Friedrich von Crailsheim which was brought together / published in 10 volumes in 1766.

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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.

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Diagrams for Troublewit also appear:

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.)

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In 'The Popular Recreator', which was published by Cassell and Co in London in 1873. The author states that 'Any one who has moved much about the streets of London must have come now and again on a man engaged in selling a very odd paper article, known as The Magic Fan, and sometimes also called 'The Japanese Fan' or 'Puzzle-wit or Trouble-wit'. Round him usually stands a crowd or urchins and street-idlers, observing with admiration the dexterity with which he folds the fan into a host of different shapes.'

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In '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.

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In 'Cassell's Book of Indoor Amusements, Card Games and Fireside Fun', which was published by Cassell and Co in London in 1881.

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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.

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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 ...'.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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With very little explanation, in 'Diversions and Pastimes' by R M Abraham, which was first published by Constable and Constable in London in 1933.

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A very detailed explanation of Troublewit and its many forms, under the title of 'Plegado Universal para Multiple Figuras' was published in the extended version of 'El Mundo de Papel' by Dr Nemesio Montero, which was published by G Miranda in Edicions Infancia in Valladolid in 1951.

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