Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

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The Witch's Ladder / Devil's Staircase / Hexentrappe / Harmonika / Muizentrappe
 
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the origami design known in English as the Witch's Ladder or the Devil's Staircase, in German as Hexentreppe or Harmonika and in Dutch as the Muizentrapje. 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.

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1863

As far as I know the first appearance of this design in the historical record is an illustration in 'De Kleine Papierwerkers: Volume 2: Wat men uit strookjes papier al vlechten kan' which was published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863. As far as I can tell theillustration is not referred to in the text.

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The design also appears:

1873

In 'Exercices et Travaux pour les Enfants Selon la Méthode et les Procédés de Pestalozzi et de Froebel' by Fanny and Charles Delon, which was published by Librairie Hachette in Paris in 1873.

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As 'Katzenstreppchen'? (cat staircase) in Die Praxis Des Kindergartens' by Auguste Koehler, which was published by Herman Bohlau in Weimar in 1873. The text says that this design is folded from two strips and so despite the strangeness of the illustration I believe it is the Witch's Ladder.

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1876

In 'Des Kindes Erste Beschaftigungsbuch' by E Barth and W Niederley, which was first published in Bielefeld and Leipzig, and the foreword of which is dated October 1876.

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1882

In Part two of 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus, which was probably first published by E. Steiger and Company in New York in 1882, where is is called the 'Fairy Steps'..

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1883

A drawing of the Witch's Ladder as a worm appears in a pictorial story by Apeles Mestres dated 2nd August 1883 found in his Llibre Vert III.

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The Witch's Ladder is mentioned, under the names 'les serpents ou les accordeons' in the 17/1/1883 edition of the Journal de Instituteurs. The third paragraph of the right hand column says, roughly, 'The folding of two strips of paper of different colours, serpents or accordions as children call them, which we have all made under the instruction of out grandmothers, allows numerous observations on numbers, on lines, on the triangle, the square etc. If this presents no difficulty in teaching there is however still an obstacle: coloured paper is relatively dear; the best quality costs 25 centimes for 100 bands: It is 25 centimes per day, for fifty children, and many of our 'ecoles maternelles' (girls schools) are unable to afford this for their infant classes ...'

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1884

The design also appears in 'Jeux et Jouet du Jeune Age' by Gaston Tissandier, which was published by G Masson in Paris in 1884.

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1891

There is a reference to an escalier de souris (Mouse stair), which I take to be a possible reference to the Witch's Ladder, in the 'Bulletin de la Societe de Protection des Apprentis', an official document issued by the Societe de Protection des Apprentis et des Enfants Employes par les Manufactures in Paris in 1891.

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The design also occurs in:

1900

'Die Frobelschen Beschaftigungen: Das Falten' by Marie Muller-Wunderlich, which was published by Friedrich Brandstetter in Leipzig in 1900.

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1908

The last ever issue of the Catalan satirical magazine 'La Campana Catalana', published in Barcelona on 29th April 1908, in a cartoon by Apeles Mestres which pictures a variety of paperfolding designs, including a Witch's Ladder in the form of a worm. This pictorial story had previously been published in his Llibre Vert III in 1883.

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1933

A 'True Lover's Knot' made from two long strips of paper or straw folded into a Witch's Ladder appeared in 'Diversions and Pastimes' by R M Abraham, which was first published by Constable and Constable in London in 1933.

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1936

A snake made from a Witch's Ladder appears in 'Paper Toy Making' by Margaret Campbell, which was first published by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd in London, probably in 1937, although both the Foreword and Preface are dated 1936, which argues that the book was complete at that date.

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1949

The design appears as a way of making a decorative 'Guirlande' (Garland) in 'Au Pays des Mains Agiles', which was published by Editions Fleurus in Paris in 1949.

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