Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

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The Newspaper Ladder
 
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the origami design usually rolled and cut from newspaper and known as the Newspaper Ladder. 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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As far as I know this effect first appeared in a reader's letter in the Letterbox column of the January 1881 issue of the American children's magazine St Nicholas as a way to make a paper Jacob's ladder..

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A more sophisticated version of the same design was published in L'Illustration 2505 of 28th February 1891 and subsequently appeared in the second volume of 'La Science Amusante' by Tom Tit (real name Arthur Good), which was published in Paris by Librairie Larousse in 1892.

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An illustration of and written instructions for making the Newspaper Ladder appear in the Buenos Aires edition of the magazine 'Caras y Caretas', Issue 238, of 25th March 1905, where it is just called 'escalera'.

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This effect also appears in:

'Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, which was first published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1920.

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'Houdini's Paper Magic', which was published by E P Dutton and Company of New York in 1922, under the title of 'Jacob's Ladder'. The same book also includes a variant of the effect which Houdini calls the Trellis (pictured on the right below)

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'La Nature' Issue 2853 of 15th March 1931 in an article by Albers headed 'Pliages de papier' and subheaded 'L'echelle de bambou'. The introduction states, roughly, 'When I looked at the Library of the Guimet Museum for the true origin, not of the cut-out Chinese shadows, but of the shadows with my hands (La Nature du 29 Septembre 1894) I had the good fortune to discover a folding of paper that was unpublished. This Chinese folding can do well among the Japanese folding ...'

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Another article in 'La Nature', in Issue 2872 of 1st January 1932, contained another article in the series which showed how to make a second version of the Newspaper Ladder design, this time described as, roughly, 'a curious combination, of the same genre, which is presented in the music halls'.

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'Winter Nights Entertainments' by R M Abraham was first published by Constable and Constable in London in 1932, under the title of 'A Paper Ladder'.

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'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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