The Lister List

About 100 Traditional Models

In her message dated 28/03/97 22:03:22, Lisa Hodsdon wrote

I just ran across the following in a math text-book: "There are about 100 traditional origami figures, most showing natural forms such as birds, flowers, and fish." Does anyone have any idea where that "about 100" might have come from? 

For some years now, I have been gathering information about traditional models, collecting notes about them in a separate file, but I have still not reached the stage where I can give an informed reply to Lisa's question.

There are several difficulties to be overcome. First. there is the question of what is a traditioanal model. All models originate with some person, although, like folksongs, some of them evolve as they are passed from hand to hand , until no one person could be said to be the designer. They then qualify as traditional. Other models simply have no known creator.

Second, many traditional folds are closely similar to each other. How distinctive does a model have to be before it can be said to be distinct and separate? It is rather like biological taxonomy. When is a sub-species sufficiently distinct to qualify as a full species in its own right?

Third, models may sometimes be thought to be traditional, when, in fact, they ae not. For some time, the Magic Tipper was thought by members of the BOS to be traditional and only later did we discover that it had been created by a Japanese folder.

Having said that, I venture the opinion that in the West, the number of traditional models in, say, 1950, that is before the modern development of paperfolding, did not exceed about fifty and even that figure may be too high.

In Japan, there were many more traditional models from the very simple young children's models to more elaborate ones. Again, I can do no more at this stage than to take a stab in the dark and suggest a figure of 150.

I should be interested to have more details of Lisa's math text-book. What was its name, who was the author, where was the book published and in what year? Was it referreing to only western models or to eastern models as well?

I don't know where Peter Engel got his own figure of 150 from, but it clearly relates to Japanese folding and is exactly the same as my own. The point he is making is not the actual number of traditional models, but the remarkably small number of origami figures that were known before what he calls "the modern resurgence of origami". I share his surprise at the low number. I would, however, point out that even before the modern growth of origami, there were created models that had a known authorship in addition to the traditional ones.

One day, I may get round to making a list of traditional models. A comprehensive survey would throw considerable light on the history of paperfolding. But at present, other things I have embarked upon have priority and I can make no promises. What I should like to see would be a comprehensive book of traditional models, as complete as possible, with diagrams for each one, and where appropriate, an account of the known history of each model. But I rather think that that would be too ambitious.

In the meantime, I will continue to collect traditonal models - it is quite surprising how often additions to my collection come to light. I shall always be pleased to hear from anyone coming across a "New" traditional model.

David Lister

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