The Public Paperfolding History Project

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A Brief History of Educational and Recreational Paperfolding In Europe and the Americas prior to Cross-Fertilisation (up to 1866)

A: Stunts, tricks and entertainments

Much of the early evidence for a Western European tradition of recreational paperfolding comes from early books about magic (though they also containd stunts and novelties of all kinds).. It is interesting to note that almost all of these early designs are folded from oblongs rather than squares, the exception being the Buddha Papers (which can also be folded from oblongs) and the folding of waterbomb bases to be used as paper flights for darts (which cannot).


The Buddha Papers

1584 saw the publication of the book 'The Discoverie of Witchcraft' by Reginald Scott which included an explanation of two simple magical effects using folded paper, the Fold and Switch Effect and the Buddha Papers, variations of both of which are still in use by conjurors today. The Buddha Papers effect is particularly interesting. It uses two squares folded into thirds in both directions, folded into packages, and glued back to back so that something placed in one package can be shown to have vanished from the other, the audience, of course, being unaware of the existence of the second.


Paper flights for darts

'Les Jeux et Plaisirs de l'Enfance' which was published in 1657 contains 50 engravings of naked boys engaged in playing various, often very robust, games, one of which shows them playing darts. The flights look as though they could well be made of paper, possibly from a square folded into a waterbomb base, although there is no text to confirm this.

Very similar darts with flights made from waterbomb bases appear in the mid 19th century as part of the game known as Dart and Target.



The most sophisticated of these paperfolding entertainments is Troublewit, in which a large pleated sheet of paper is transformed into a variety of complicated three-dimensional forms. The earliest description of Troublewit appears in the book . 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'. Troublewit subsequently featured in a series of books published in France, Spain, Italy and Germany during the 18th Century.

A page from 'Sports and Pastimes' showing several Troublewit forms


The Primitive Paper Banger

This design appears in the 1684 edition of 'Het natuurlyk tover-boek' by Simon Witgeest. This primitive banger is constructed and performed by folding a sheet of oblong paper in half and then in half again, grasping the middle two layers and making a sharp throwing motion with the hand.


How to climb through a playing card

The fold, slit and fold method, that we have already met in connection with practical paperfolding designs, was also used to create recreational designs such as the design commonly known today as the ‘How to Climb Through a Playing Card’ effect, and which first appeared in in 'The Merry Companion' by Richard Neve, which was published in London in 1716.


B: Other early references

There are two other early references to recreational paperfolding designs which need to be mentioned.

The Paper Boat

A version of the book 'Tractatus de Spaera Mundi' written by John Holywood, an English mathematician and astronomer, who is also known as Johannes de Sacrobosco, published in Paris in 1498 contains a picture illustrating a solar eclipse which also shows what appear to be two Paper Boats floating in a stylised sea. It is difficult to imagine what else could be being represented here, but, for lack of any confirmatory texy, we cannot be completely certain that this is what the illustrator was intending to depict.

If it is the Paper Boat that is depicted here it is somewhat surprising that the first clear reference to the design does not appear until 1840, well over 200 years, when diagrams were published in the 'The School Boy's Holiday Companion' by Thomas Kentish.

There are a few references to paper boats in Western European literature which predate 1840. For instance, in 1808, Jane Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra which included two references to paper ships, of some undefined kind. Also, according to his friend and biographer Thomas Jefferson Hogg, the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822) had a passion for folding and sailing paper boats, which he made from any paper which was at hand, including letters and the flyleaves of books. However, in both cases, because of lack of illustrations, it is not possible to confirm which design of paper boat is being referred to, although the Paper Boat is the most likely candidate in both cases..


The Waterbomb

There is a line in John Webster's play ‘The Duchess of Malfi', first performed in 1614 and first published in 1623, which reads 'Our bodies are weaker than those Paper-prisons boys use to keep flies in ...' This has sometimes been taken as a reference to the Waterbomb.

We do not know what kind of paper prison John Webster had in mind when he wrote those words. It could conceivably have been a Waterbomb, which has often been used to imprison flies in more recent times, but, for lack of an illustration it is impossible to say whether this is the case or not. Any kind of closed paper container, such as, for instance, a paper cone twisted shut at its open end, could act as a paper-prison for flies in a similar way..

Indeed, there is no need for such a paper-prison to be closed. 'The Boy's Own Book' by William Clarke, which was was published in London in 1828, contains details of a stunt in which a sheet of paper that had been rolled into a cone could be placed over an insect on a table to entrap it. Presumably any open sided solid, such as a box, could also act as a paper-prison if used in this way.

If this was a reference to the Waterbomb then it would surely be surprising that the design is not mentioned again in the literature until diagrams for the design were published in a Froebelian kindergarten manual, 'De Kleine Papierwerkers 1: Wat men van een stukje papier al maken kan: Het vouwen' (The Small Paperwork 1: What one can make from a piece of paper: Folding) by Elise Van Calcar, in Amsterdam in 1863.


C: Symmetrical Fold, Cut and Fold Animals

The earliest reference to this kind of paperfolding appears in Part 4 of 'Die Zehenmal Hundert und Eine Kunst' by Albrecht Ernst Friedrich von Crailsheim, which was published in 1762. The relevant text says, roughly, 'Fold a piece of paper in two, then cut out a bird, a turtle, or whatever you like and glue a fly in the middle of it with wax ...', the idea being that the the bird or turtle etc then appears to walk around the top of a table under fly power.

Several examples of this type of design appear in 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus, which was first published in New York in 1882. By this time the designs had become more sophisticated and they were often folded again after they had been cut out to make them look much more realistic


D: Napkin and tablecloth folding

In the 17th century a practice developed in Italy of folding tablecloths and napkins into fantastical forms to act as decorations for banqueting tables. This type of folding was, naturally, reserved for the houses, or palaces, of the very wealthy. Explanations for making these fantastical forms first appear in 'Trattato delle piegature', by Mattia Giegher, which was published in 1629. Some similar designs are featured in 'Aanhangzel volmaakte Hollandsche keuken-meid' (the perfect Dutch kitchen-maid) by Jan Willem Claus van Laar, which was published in Amsterdam in 1746, but thereafter it seems to appear in the culinary literature only as a memory of past glories.

A plate from 'Trattato delle piegature' by Matthia Giegher, published in 1629

However, a second type of napkin folding, first evidenced from 'Vollständiges und von neuem vermehrtes Trincir-Buch' by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer in 1652, in which small napkins, those intended to be used by the diners, were folded into holders for bread rolls, or place decorations, has survived much longer.

Plates from 'Vollständiges und von neuem vermehrtes Trincir-Buch' by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, published in 1652

This second type of napkin folding has clear similarities to paperfolding and some of its forms, such as the 'Croix de Sainct Esprit' (the Triple Blintz Basic Form) and the 'Croix de Lorraine' (the Cross), both first evidenced from 'Escole parfaite des officiers de bouche', which was published in 1662, appear to have crossed over into the recreational paperfolding repertoire at a later date.


E: Toys made from folded playing cards

Simple recreational paperfolding designs folded from playing cards appear in the early 18th century. La Voiture de Cartes is evidenced from 1725, card castles built using folded cards from c1735, folded cards being used as skittles from around the same date, the Playing Card Cube from 1759 and the Playing Card Monk (or Capuchin de Carte) from 1760.

This is still, of course, not quite recreational paperfolding as we know it today, since the main recreational aspect was the use of the cards as toys after they were folded, and not the paperfolding itself. However, it is interesting to see that folded paper (playing cards were made by laminating several layers of paper together) had become an acceptable form of plaything, at least among the wealthy upper classes.

La Voiture de Cartes

As far as I know this design first appears in this engraving by Francois Joullain after Charles Antoine Coypel, which shows a child building a Card Castle. The Voiture de Cartes design, not a boat but a cart without wheels, made from two folded playing cards, is in the foreground. A card at the lower left bears the words 'Car Coypel 1725', thus giving us the date of the original painting, which appears to have been lost. Several later painted versions and at least one other print are in existence.


Card Castles

We first hear of these in an entry for 6th October 1606 in the journal of Jean Heroard who was the personal doctor of the young Louis XIII. The relevant part of the entry reads 'il s'amuse a faire des chateaux de cartes', in English 'he amused himself making card castles'. Most card castles that we can see in paintings and engravings from the 18th Century were built, as they still are, using unfolded cards, but we know from an engraving by Jean Michel Liotard from 1744 that folded cards could also be used.


Playing Card Skittles

Folded cards were also sometimes used as skittles, in the way we use dominoes today, so that if one was pushed over all the others fell in turn. Lines of folded cards are shown in several paintings but the idea is particularly clear in this painting from 1871 by the German painter Johann Ernst Heinsius.


The Playing Card Cube

The most interesting of the designs made using folded playing cards that emerged during this period was, however, the Playing Card Cube, in which sets of six folded playing cards go together to form cubes, which can then be joined together into larger structures by interlocking their external tabs. These cubes appear in several paintings and prints made during the 18th Century, the clearest, though not the earliest, of which is shown below. The painter is unknown but possibly Louis Joseph Watteau (1731 - 1798).


Playing Card Monks / Capucins de Cartes

By folding a card in half, cutting a slit in the folded edge, and folding the top half upwards, it was possible to create a hooded figure that looked like a capuchin monk. These Playing Card Monks or Capuchins de Cartes also appear in several paintings from the 18th Century, the earliest of which is a watercolour entitled 'Le Petit de Chevilly et Sa Soeur' by Louis Carrogis de Carmontelle which can be dated to somewhere between 1740 and 1760. Playing Card Monks were also used as skittles and the phrase 'tombent comme des capucins de cartes' became something of a cliche in France.

Detail from 'Le Petit de Chevilly et sa Soeur'


F: Paper Filigree / Quilling

The earliest reference to Paper Filigree / Quilling that I know of is a section titled (in translation) 'How to Make Baskets out of Rolled Paper' in Part Five of 'Die Zehenmal Hundert und Eine Kunst' by Albrecht Ernst Friedrich von Crailsheim, which was published in 1762.

The making of a paper filigree basket also features in Jane Austen's novel 'Sense and Sensibility', first published, anonymously, in 1811.

'The Girl's Own Book' by Lydia Marie Child, which was published in New York in 1833, contains a section titled 'Paper-Ball Baskets' which also describes the technique of quilling.


G: The Puzzle Purse

The earliest evidence for this design that I can find outside Japan (where it is known as the Thread Container - see above) is a liebesbrief (love letter) in the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia dated to 26th December 1769. (The date is in the bottom right corner of the illustration below.) The crease lines that divide the large square into a grid of nine smaller squares and allow it to be collapsed into a puzzle purse are clearly visible. The practice of decorating puzzle purses as love letters was probably brought to Philadelphia by immigrants from Germany.


H: Cardboard Modelling

Cardboard modelling, or cartonnage is a technique for making constructions out of stiff paper or card in which templates are first cut out, then folded up, and finally glued together. The first book about this technique was 'Anweisung zum Modelliren aus Papier oder aus demselben allerley Gegenstände im Kleinen nachzuahmen. Ein nützlicher Zeitvertreib für Kinder' by Heinrich Rockstroh, which was published in 1802. Cardboard modelling has remained a popular pastime ever since.


I: Recreational paperfolding designs from doubly or triply blintzed squares

Recreational designs developed from doubly or triply blintzed squares of paper begin to appear at the start of the 19th century, the Cocotte in 1801, the Chinese Junk in 1806, and both the Double Boat and the Boat with Sail in 1832. Others such as the Saltcellar, the Jacket and the Trousers, and the Lotus appear at a later date.

It has been theorised that these three designs were developed from Patenbriefs (godparent letters and containers for gifts of money) which were commonly folded in a doubly blintzed form in Germany during the 18th century. However, this seems unlikely, since Patenbriefs were not toys but valuable mementos, intended to be carefully kept and referred to for moral instruction, presumably in adolescence. It is more likely that these recreational paperfolds folds were developed from similar blintzed forms used in less formal ways. The only evidence we have, however, for the existence of such 'other forms' is an advertising flyer said to date from the late 18th / early 19th centuries.

A doubly blintzed Patenbrief from 1763


The Cocotte / Pajarita

The most famous, and most folded, design in Western Europe during the 19th century was undoubtedly the Cocotte. It appears in numerous illustrations in books and magazines, on postcards, adverts and in many other forms. It is first evidenced from 1801 from the painting 'Un enfant qui montre les images d’un livre' by Jeanne-Elisabeth Chaudet-Husson (see below) and then from another painting by the same artist in 1806.

'Un enfant qui montre les images d’un livre' by Jeanne-Elisabeth Chaudet-Husson


The Cocotte / Pajarita design is also mentioned in the book 'Jugenderinnerungen eines altes Mannes' (Youth Memoirs of an Old Man), published by Wilhelm Herz Verlag Berlin in 1870, in which Wilhelm von Kügelgen describes how, in about 1812, when the family were living in Dresden, his then tutor, the painter Carl Adolf Senff (1785-1863), taught him, together with his siblings Gerhard and Adelheid, and the Leipzig friends Alfred and Julius Volksmann, to fold Krahen (crows). It is clear from the description that these Krahen were Cocottes / Pajaritas. The children learned to add further folds to develop these crows into Ross und Reiter (Horses and Riders), some of which still survive in museums in Germany.


The first explanation of how to fold the design appeared in 'Manuel Complet des Jeux de Société' by Elisabeth Celnart, which was published in 1827. Her description is curiously different to the way in which we would fold the Cocotte / Pajarita today. She says, 'Take a square piece, folded lengthwise in half, then fold over the four corners, like making a dog-ear on the page of a book, so that your paper has a double diagonal or oblique line, and repeat the folds, or rather the small dog-ear corners: repeat this manoeuvre three times. When you fold for the third time pull out one of the dog-ear corners at the longest end, which makes the head of the bird, then the opposite end which forms the tail, then lift the two dog-ear corners on each side, which make the wings.' (Translation courtesy of Edwin Corrie) In simpler modern words, ‘blintz a square three times then pull out the internal paper to create points’. (You can, of course, do the same thing by blintzing a square just twice.)


In 1847 Elisabeth Celnart's book was translated into Spanish as 'Juegos de los Ninos' in 1847, the section describing the folding sequence being headed 'Pajaritas y otras figuras de papel doblado'.


While knowledge of how to fold the Cocotte /Pajarita, and enjoyment of it as a toy, was not limited to the French, it was in France that images featuring Cocottes appeared most regularly. The word ‘cocotte’ can mean a hen or a casserole dish but can also mean a high-class prostitute. It can also, like the Newspaper Hat, which has similarly been absorbed into popular culture, be used as a symbol of childhood or childishness. The design of the Cocotte is usually interpreted as a bird, but it was also often seen as a horse (or perhaps a hobby-horse) and images of people riding Cocottes as though they are horses are common.


‘Les Cocottes' by Paul Mahalin, was published in Paris in 1864. It contains observations of the daily habits of Parisian prostitutes and a discussion of their role in society. The frontispiece pictures two different kinds of cocotte.

Detail from the Frontispece of 'Les Cocottes' by Paul Mahalin


This Caricature of Napoleon III by Bertall (1820-1882) was published in the 'Revue comique a l'usage des gens serieux' of December 1848.


The Cocotte design became absorbed into popular culture in Spain, where it is usually known as the Pajarita.The Pajarita design was subsequently adopted by the Spanish as their own, and its origin in France became largely forgotten in Spain. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the earliest known drawing of the Pajarita from a Spanish illustrator is this one by the Catalan artist Apeles Mestres from 1874.


The Chinese Junk

One of the illustrations in the book "Hanenpoot" which Willem Bilderdijk wrote for his young son Julius Willem in 1806, shows Hanenpoot standing in a paper boat which is floating in a bowl of water. This paper boat is clearly a version of the Chinese Junk design, but one in which the pointed end is arranged as a continuation of the line of the deck. As far as I am aware there is no other illustration of this variant of the Chinese Junk in the Western European literature. All the others have either two blunt ends, or, if one is pointed, it sticks upwards like a sail. There is, however, an essentially similar-looking Japanese design, although developed using a different folding sequence, known as the takara-bune or ‘treasure ship’, that does generally have the pointed end arranged as a continuation of the line of the deck in this way. It is possible, therefore, that the version drawn by Willem Bilderdijk was somehow imported from Japan and that there is no direct connection between this 1806 illustration and the normal Western European version. On the other hand the drawing may just be anomalous.

The next reference to the design from Western Europe is from 1859.


The Double Boat and the Boat with Sail

These designs both first appear (along with several cocottes) in a cartonn published in 1832 in the French satirical magazine ‘La Caricature’. It is worth noting that by this date these designs must have been sufficiently well established in French popular culture for them to be instantly recognised and their significance as symbols of childhood understood.


J: The Newspaper Hat

The design that, in the UK, is commonly called the Newspaper Hat, first appears in 1832 in a cartoon ‘Armes du Grand Poulot’, which was published in the French satirical magazine 'La Caricature', No 63 of 12 January 1832 (for publishing which the editor of 'La Caricature', Charles Philipon, was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined 2000 francs). In contrast to the other early paperfolding designs we know of, this design is not folded from a blintzed square but from a rectangle.

A number of other designs which are closely related to the Newspaper Hat, and which are similarly folded from rectangles, first appear at a slightly later date.


K: Recreational paperfolding for girls and boys

The earliest book to treat paperfolding as a recreational activity for children was 'The Boy's Own Book' by William Clarke, which was published in London in 1828 and in New York in 1829. According to Robert William Henderson writing in his 'Ball, Bat, and Bishop: The Origin of Ball Games', published by the University of Illinois Press in 2001, ’It was a tremendous contrast to the juvenile books of the period, which emphasized piety, morals and instruction of mind and soul; it must have been received with whoops of delight by the youngsters of both countries.’ The paperfolding content consisted of a description of the Paper Furnace effect (where a lead bullet wrapped in paper can be melted without the paper catching fire), Troublewit, the Buddha Papers, the Cherries Puzzle, and a second version of the same effect called the Card Puzzle.


'Mechanemata oder der Tausendkünstler' by Dr Heinrich Rockstroh, which was published in 1831, contains the first publication of the Cross as a paperfold, under the heading 'Artful Closure of a Letter'.


'The Girl's Own Book' by Lydia Marie Child. which was published in New York in 1833 contains instructions for folding 'Paper Ball Baskets' (baskets made of card and decorated using the quilling technique), 'Paper Rosette Baskets' (baskets made by combining Froebel Stars, which appear here in the historical record for the first time), 'Alumets' (ornamental paper spills), a way to make a circular paper screen (or pleated paper fan) and several fold and cut effects including the 'Three Crosses' (a version of the Fold and Cut Latin Cross effect).


The same book also contains the following interesting passage: 'Folded Papers. There are a variety of things made for the amusement of small children by cutting and folding paper; such as boats, soldiers' hats, birds, chairs, tables, baskets, &c. but they are very difficult to describe; and any little girl who wishes to make them, can learn of some obliging friend in a very few moments.'


The first book to contain diagrams for some of these less familiar designs was 'The School Boy's Holiday Companion' by Thomas Kentish, which was published in 1840. It is the earliest source for diagrams of the Paper Banger, the Bellows, and the Paper Boat. This book also contains diagrams for the 'Catherine of Cleves Box', the first appearance of this design since 1440.


The earliest known instructions for making the classic 'Paper Dart' design appear in 'Games and Sports for Young Boys', which was published by Routledge, Warne and Routledge in London and New York in 1859.


The earliest known diagrams for the 'Pyramidal Hat' appear in 'The Boy's Own Toymaker' by Ebenezer Landells, which was published in London and Boston in 1859.

'The Girl's Own Toymaker' by Ebenezer Landells and Alice Landells which was published the following year, 1860, contains the earliest known diagrams for the the 'Fold and Cut Paper Doily'.

The Popular Recreator', which was published in London in 1873 contains the earliest known diagrams for the Chinese Junk, although there are several earlier mentions / illustrations of the design in other books.


Paperfolding Games

The 19th century was the heyday of parlour games and some of these involved folding paper. In one particular type of game something was drawn or written on the paper by one person who then folded the paper to conceal what they had written before passing the paper on. The next person then did the same ,until everyone taking part had contributed, when the hidden content was exposed, presumably to general hilarity. Two such games, 'L'Histoire' and 'L'Histoire en vers' were explained in Elisabeth Celnart's 1827 'Manuel Complet des Jeux de Société' which we have already met. Another, the game of Consequences, appeared in the 'American Girl's Book or Occupation for Play Hours' by Eliza Leslie, which was published in Boston and New York in 1831. There are many other variations in the literature.

The game of 'Head, Body and Legs' where each of three people draws a third of a picture, a head, a body, or legs, appears in 'Every Little Boy's Book', which was published by Routledge, Warne and Routledge in London and New York in 1864.


L: The Paperfolding Occupations of Friedrich Froebel

Friedrich Froebel, born 1782 and died 1852, was an educationalist from Thuringia, now part of Germany, who developed a theory of education through both teacher directed and self-directed play and founded what became known as the Kindergarten movement. He created a system of 'gifts', objects with which children could play, and by playing, learn. In the beginning there were just five of these gifts, but he later extended the system, in around 1850, to include 'occupations', or as we would probably call them, activities, which would function in the same way. Paperfolding was an integral part of several of these occupations.

Paperfolding formed the basis of three of these occupations, 'Falten' (paperfolding per se), 'Ausschneiden und Aufkleben' (Cutting Out and Mounting) in which the paper is first folded, then cut, then opened out and finally mounted on another sheet of paper or board to create a pattern, and 'Verschnuren' (Interlacing) in which flat geometric figures are created by folding and interweaving one or more paper strips.and, to some small extent also played a part in a fourth, 'Flechten' (weaving)..

i. Flechten

In this occupation a frame is created by first folding a sheet of paper in half, cutting parallel slits into the folded edge to divide it into strips and then opening it out again. These upright strips are not loose but stay connected to the outside of the frame at both top and bottom. Other, completely loose, strips are woven across the frame, going under and over the upright strips, to create patterns.

Beyond the making of the frame, and the fact that both the frame and the strips need to be flexible (ie foldable) to allow the weaving to take place, there is no substantive paperfolding content to this occupation.


ii. Ausschneiden und Aufkleben

Ausschneiden und Aufkleben (Cutting Out and Sticking On): In this occupation a square of paper is first folded into an eight-layer right angle isosceles triangle. Parts of the triangle are then cut away and it is unfolded back to the square, then mounted on card or another piece of paper to create a decoration. The parts cut away are then also unfolded and added to the decoration in a symmetric way (the principle being that nothing should be wasted).


iii. Verschnüren

Verschnüren (Interlacing): In this occupation flat geometric figures are created by folding and interweaving one, or several, paper strips.

A plate from 'Manuel pratique des jardins d'enfants de Frédéric Froebel', by J F Jacobs, published in 1859.


iv. Falten

The Falten occupation was divided into three parts, the folding of Erkenntnisformen (Learning Forms of Forms of Knowledge), Schönheitsformen (Forms of Beauty) and Lebensformen (Forms of Life). The distinction between Learning Forms, Forms of Beauty and Forms of Life was not only applied to the Falten occupation, but also to the designs children could produce using other occupations and gifts.

In Froebel's original scheme, all of these forms were folded from squares, a choice of starting shape that has influenced recreational paperfolding ever since.

It seems likely that the occupations of Flechten, Ausschneiden und Aufkleben and Verschnüren were largely, or perhaps entirely, invented by Froebel himself, and this is also probably true of the folding of Erkenntnisformen (Learning Forms) and Schönheitsformen (Forms of Beauty) The extent that he was responsible for originating the Lebensformen (Forms of Life) is more difficult to determine.


v. Erkenntnisformen (Learning Forms)

In the case of the Learning Forms we are fortunate to have a fragment of Froebel’s own writings which explains his approach. This appeared in 'Friedrich Froebel's Gesammelte padogogische schriften' (Friedrich Froebel's Collected Educational Writings) edited by Wichard Lange, which was published in two parts in 1861. It sets out a way to fold and cut a square from an irregular piece of paper, explains how to fold the square in a few basic ways and how making and studying these folds reveals some basic mathematical principles.

We do not, unfortunately, have any similar writings from Froebel himself about either his Forms of Beauty or Forms of Life, and information about this has to be gathered, and often inferred, from the manuals written by his followers.


vi. Schönheitsformen (Forms of Beauty)

Forms of Beauty are essentially flat patterns which are not only folded from squares but are also themselves square in shape and are therefore easy to glue in groups into albums or exercise books. The simpler ones are generally folded from Froebel's first groundform (the singly blintzed square) and the more advanced ones from his second groundform (the doubly blintzed square).

Album containing Forms of Beauty folded by Fannie E Kacline c 1890 in the collection of MOMA, Mew York


The earliest illustrations we have of Forms of Beauty appear in ‘Manuel pratique des jardins d'enfants de Frédéric Froebel', which was compiled by J F Jacobs and published in Brussels and Paris in 1859.

As with all the other categories of Froebelian paperfolding it is difficult to know which designs originated with Froebel himself, and which were invented by his followers. However, Mary Gurney, writing in her book 'Kindergarten Practice', which was published around 1877, states that designs 1-20 in Plate XVI (see below) are 'attributable to Froebel'. These are all developed from the second grounform.


vii. Lebensformen (Forms of Life)

Forms of Life are geometric paperfolds which are interpreted as everyday objects. It appears that In Froebel's original scheme these were developed from his second and thrd groundforms (thedoubly and triply blintzed square). His followers also developed simplr Forms of Life from the first groundform (the singly blintzed square) and other basic folds.

In her 'Kindergarten Practice', which was published around 1877, Mary Gurney states that the designs numbered 1-15 in Plate XV (see below) are 'attributable to Froebel'.

These comprise, A Jar (The Scent Bottle), A Jacket with Short Sleeves (The Muff), A Green Cross (The Cross), Inkstand (The Inkwell), A Jacket with Sleeves (The Jacket), Children's Trousers (The Trousers), Windmill, Cigar Case, Ship and Sailing Boat (The Boat with Sail). She also mentions that the Windmill can be converted to a Table, and the Sailing Boat to a Twin Boat (The Double Boat). We know that the Cross, the Boat with Sail and the Double Boat were not invented by Froebel, and the same may apply to the other designs as well, but this is at least good evidence that these designs were included in the original Forms of Life repertoire.

These same designs appear, with many others, in two lists of Forms of Life, numbering 45 in all, in the 'Manuel pratique des jardins d'enfants de Frédéric Froebel', from 1859.

List 1:

List 2:

It should immediately be clear that the designs in List 1 are derived from doubly blintzed starting shapes (whch correspond to the second groundform) and those in List 2 from a triply blintzed form (which corresponds to the third groundform). The Saltcellar, the Windmill and the Table, for instance, appear in List 1 and the Cross, the Jacket and the Trousers in List 2. List 1 seems to end with the Gondola, and List 2 with the Chinese Junk. Not all the designs in either list can be identified at present.

It is perhaps worth noting that item 20 in list 1, 'La boite solide' is most likely the design known to present day paperfolding enthusiasts as the 'Un-unfoldable Box', whose invention is attributed to E D Sullivan.


M: The expansion of the Froebelian paperfolding repertoire

Froebel’s original conception of the paperfolding occupations seem to have been that they should be quite limited in their scope. All the occupations had a specific purpose. They were not general activities to provide interest for children in the kindergarten classroom, but activities intended to allow the child to acquire specific pieces of knowledge. In practice, however, over the years, the original ideas were broadened, and material for these occupations became vastly expanded. This seems to have happened in several distinct ways:

New forms from old groundforms

Many new Forms of Life were developed from Froebel's three groundforms, quite possibly discovered by kindergarten pupils, rater than their teachers, appear in the kindergarten manuals. Thus, for instance, the Cup and Saucer appears in 1863, the Duck in 1873 and the King's Crown in 1882. Many designs, however, appear only once or twice in the literature, having presumably failed to catch on.

The most famous of these new designs is probably the Pig, which first appeared in 'Die Praxis Des Kindergartens' by Auguste Koehler, which was published in 1873, and may well have been invented by the author.


Kindergarten teachers also developed a repertoire of much simpler Forms of Life which provided an introduction to paperfolding for the youngest children. As far as I know these first appear in 'The Kindergarten Principle' by Mary J Lyschinska, which was published in London in 1880.


Forms of Life not developed from Froebel's groundforms

Other designs, which were not folded from Froebel's three groundforms, also became part of the kindergarten repertoire at an early date. For instance, 'De Kleine Papierwerkers 1' by Elise Van Calcar, published in 1863, which we have already met, includes illustration or mention of the Talking Fish, the Waterbomb, the Bellows, the Paper Banger, the Puzzle Purse and the Pipe Cap, none of which are developed from Froebel’s groundforms.


Additions to paperfolding occupations

As time went by, Froebel's original occupations were enhanced with new material and entirely new occupations were introduced. This introduced new paperfolding elements into the kinderfarten curriculum.

The technique of free weaving doubled paper strips (as opposed to frame weaving using unfolded strips, which was one of Froebel's original occupations) first appears in 'De Kleine Papierwerkers: Volume 2: Wat men uit strookjes papier al vlechten kan' which was published in 1863, and in many other kindergarten manuals thereafter.


Fold, Slit and Fold Chevron Designs also appear for the first time in the same book.


'Tressage' (or the braiding of paper strips) first appears 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 in Paris in 1873, and in many other kindergarten manuals thereafter.


The making of polyhedra from cardboard nets is introduced as an occupation in Part Two of 'The Kindergarten Guide' by Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus, which was probably first published in New York in 1882.

As are Forms of Life produced by the cardboard modelling technique.


N: A Summary of European Educational and Recreational Paperfolding at 1866

Information about his topic will be added in due course