Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell

 

 
The Paper Boat / The Paper Boat Hat / The Paper Boat Snapper
 
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the traditional origami design usually known simply as the Paper Boat (though, of course, there are also many other paper boats in origami) and of the Paper Boat Snapper which is derived from it. The Paper Boat is occasionally also found reframed as a Paper Boat Hat. 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.

In Japan the design seems to be normally folded from a square. In Western / Europe / USA the design is normally, but not always, folded from a rectangle.

The traditional Paper Boat is the basis of the now well-known story of the Captain's Shirt where both ends of the boat and the top of the sail are torn away at various stages in a story about a shipwreck and the remainder unfolded to show that the paper is now in the form of a rather tattered shirt. This story is often associated with Lillian Oppenheimer (1898 - 1992) but I do not know whether she invented it, and if she did, when that invention took place.

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The Paper Boat

This design was known in both Western Europe and Japan at an early date.

In Japan

'Ranma Zushiki', a Japanese book of prints of decorations intended to enhance sliding room dividers, by Hayato Ohoka, published in 1734, contains a print that shows a group of folded paper objects, among which is the traditional Paper Boat.

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There are a number of prints, by, or after the style of, the Japanese designer Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), which show ladies folding Paper Boats along with a number of other designs. I have not been able to find a definitive catalogue of Nishikawa Sukenobu's works to confirm authorship or date. If they are all his work they cannot be later than 1750, when he died, but may be considerably earlier.

The boats in these prints appear to be folded from squares rather than rectangles.

The boats in the first two prints are different from the boats in the other three, which have two additional points visible behind their sail. This suggests that they were folded using different folding sequences. However, while it is simple to work out a folding sequence that produces one point in front of and the other behind the sail, I have not been able to find a folding sequence that leads to the configuration shown, where both additional points are side by side behind the sail.

In this first print the lady at the back is holding a Paper Boat in her left hand. This print probably dates to around 1720.

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The detail below is from 'The Doll Festival', from the book 'Ehon masu kagami, vol. I', which is in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and is said to date from 1748.

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A Paper Boat also appears in this detail from a fourth print by Nishikawa Sukenobu, 'Ehon Hana no Kagami', which is also said to date from 1748. It shares many characteristics of composition with the print above.

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This fifth print is found in a number of blogs on the net but none of them give a date or the name of the artist. It does, however, look very similar in style to the other prints.

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This print by Isoda Koryusai (1764-1788) showing a Paper Boat can be dated to around 1775 (Information from Juan Gimeno).

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There is a note in the 'Kan No Mado', usually dated to 1845, which lists a boat among those designs which are already well known and which are therefore not included in the ms (in order to spare the writer's brush). While, in the absence of a drawing, we cannot be completely certain that this note refers to the Paper Boat, it seems overwhelmingly likely that it does so.

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In Western Europe / USA

A picture illustrating a solar eclipse which, quite oddly and incidentally, shows two paper boats floating in a stylised sea, appears in 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, which was published in Venice in 1490.

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On Monday October 24th 1808 Jane Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra which included two references to paper ships, of some undefined kind, but which, it seems to me, are most likely to have been Paper Boats:

'We do not want amusement: bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable; spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums, and cards, with watching the flow and ebb of the river, and now and then a stroll out, keep us well employed;'

And

'While I write now, George is most industriously making and naming paper ships, at which he afterwards shoots with horse-chestnuts brought from Steventon on purpose;'

Information provided by Dawn Tucker.

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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 available at hand including letters and the flyleaves of books. There is no direct evidence that these were Paper Boats but it seems likely that this was the case. Several pages of Volume 1 of Hogg's 'The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley' published in 1858, were devoted to describing this fascination, which seems to have almost amounted to an obsession.

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Hans Christian Anderson's children's fantasy story 'Den standhaftige soldat' (in English 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier') includes reference to a paper boat. It was first published on October 2, 1838, along with "The Wild Swans" and "The Daisy", as part of the anthology 'Fairy Tales Told to Children New Collection'. In the story two children make a boat out of newspaper, put the tin soldier in it and send it sailing away down the gutter. The paper boat eventually sinks when it fills with water. I have not been able to find whether the original illustrations showed this aspect of the story, and if so which type of boat they showed, although from the fact it was folded from newspaper it seems likely that it was a Paper Boat. The way the boat is folded does not appear to be explained, which argues that Hans Christian Anderson probably believed it would already be familiar to his young readers.

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The earliest diagrams that I am aware of for the Paper Boat occur in The Boy's Own Toymaker' by Ebenezer Landells which was published in 1859 by Griffin and Farran in London and Shephard, Clark and Brown in Boston.

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Rather more sophisticated diagrams can be found in 'Spielbuch fur Knaben' by Hermann Wagner, which was published by Verlag von Otto Spamer in Leipzig in 1864, although the foreword is dated May 1863, which argues that the book was complete at that date.

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The diagrams that appeared in 'Spielbuch fur Knaben' by Hermann Wagner also appear in 'Spielbuch fur Madchen' by Maria Leske (a pseudonym of Marina Krebs), which was published by Verlag von Otto Spamer in Leipzig in 1865.

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A Paper Boat is featured in this cartoon of Felix Pyat to be found in volume 4 of the 'Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l’histoire de la guerre et de la revolution de 1870-1871' held at Heidleburg University.

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The design also appears:

In 'The Popular Recreator' which was published by Cassell and Co in London in 1873, which also mentions Percy Bysshe Shelley's fascination with paper boats. It is clear that the author believed that the boats habitually folded by Shelley were the classic Paper Boat design'

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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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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' ...

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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 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. This version of the Paper Boat seems to be made by an unnecessarily complicated method.

The section from which this picture comes is introduced with the words 'The oblong is also used for paper-folding. Most of the Forms of Life derived from it were known before the days of our grandfathers.'

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John Smith gives several references to Lewis Carroll folding 'fishing boats' out of paper to entertain children, the earliest of which is from 1890. However it is more likely that the design in question was the Chinese Junk rather than the traditional Paper Boat.

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In 'Pleasant Work for Busy Fingers' by Maggie Browne, which was published by Cassell and Company in London in 1891. This book is an English version of 'Des Kindes Erste Beschaftigungsbuch' enhanced by the addition of a few extra designs.

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In 'L'Annee Preparatoire de Travail Manuel' by M P Martin, which was published by Armand Collin & Cie in Paris in 1893, as the 'Petit Bateau'.

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As 'La lancha' in 'Cuestiones de Pedagogía Práctica: Medios de Instruir' by D Vicente Castro Legua, which was published by Libreria de la Viuda de la Hernando y Ca in Madrid in 1893.

No folding instructions are given but the drawing reappears in 'El trabajo manual escolar' by Vicente Casto Legua in the January 1907 issue of the Spanish magazine 'La Escuela Moderna' which was published in Madrid by Los Sucesores de Hernando, where the instructions explain that it is to be folded from a square.

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In Eleonore Heerwart's 'Course in Paperfolding', which was first published in Dutch in 1895 then in English by Charles and Dible in London and Glasgow in 1896.

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In 'Le Livre des Amusettes' by Toto, which was published in Paris by Charles Mendel in 1899.

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

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In 'What Shall We Do Now?, by Edward Verral Lucas and Elizabeth Lucas, which was published by Frederick A Stokes Company in New York in 1900.

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As 'Barco' (Boat) in 'Guia Practica del Trabajo Manual Educativo' by Ezequiel Solana, which was published by Editorial Magisterio Español in Madrid in 1904.

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This book also contains a variation of the Paper Boat design called 'Barca con Tres Mastiles' (Boat with Three Masts).

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As 'botecito' in a illustration in the Buenos Aires edition of the magazine 'Caras y Caretas', Issue 238, of 25th March 1905.

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As 'Lancha' (boat) in an article titled 'El trabajo manual escolar' by Vicente Casto Legua in the January 1907 issue of the Spanish magazine 'La Escuela Moderna' which was published in Madrid by Los Sucesores de Hernando. In this case, somewhat unusually, the design is folded from a square.

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This French postcard showing a girl playing with Paper Boats was in circulation in 1907.

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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.

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In 'Paper Magic' by Will Blyth, first published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1920. This Paper Boat is developed from a version of the Newspaper Hat in which the corners have been partly turned up to improve the shape. This method gives the boat a smaller hull and a larger sail.

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In 'Fun with Paperfolding' by William D Murray and Francis J Rigney, which was published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.

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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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In 'El Mundo de Papel' by Dr Nemesio Montero, which was published by G Miranda in Edicions Infancia in Valladolid in 1939

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As 'Barquito Comun' in 'El Plegado y Cartonaje en la Escuela Primaria' by Antonio M Luchia and Corina Luciani de Luchia, which was published by Editorial Kapelusz in Buenos Aires in 1940.

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In 'At Home Tonight' by Herbert McKay, which was published by Oxford University Press in London, New York and Toronto in 1940, contains diagrams for the Paper Boat (but folded from a square) and several variations with sails or mast.

A Ship - The Paper Boat (but folded from a square)

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A Boat with a Sail

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A Triangular Sail

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A Ship with a Mast

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The Paper Boat Hat

This picture is of the cover for the 24th June 1906 issue, in fact the first ever issue, of the Italian (Florence) children's magazine 'Giornalino della Domenica'.

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The Paper Boat appeared as 'A Paper Cocked Hat' in 'Winter Nights Entertainments' by R M Abraham, which was published by Constable and Constable in London in 1932.

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The Paper Boat Snapper

As far as I know this design first appears, under the title of 'Goose's Head' in 'Fun with Paperfolding' by William D Murray and Francis J Rigney, which was published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.

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This design also appears, under the title of 'Quack-Quack' 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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