The Lister List

Origami Books of the 50s and 60s

Jerry D. Harris wrote yesterday: "Someone correct me if I'm wrong here, but I seem to recall hearing/reading somewhere that when Harbin's first origami books came out in the '50's and '60's that one or two hit the best-seller list in the UK...? Dave Lister or some other origami historian know what I'm recalling, or is it some sort of mental hallucination?!? "

No, Jerry isn't hallucinating! The paperfolding scene in the 1950s and 1960s was very different from that of the late 1990s. Effectively, organised Origami didn't start until Lillian Oppenheimer founded the Origami Center in New York in October 1958. Until then paperfolders in Europe and North America were few and far between and even in Spain and Argentina, where the discoveries of Unamuno had inspired a number of followers, paperfolding was little organised and the Spanish movement was still unknown outside those countries.

In this situation, books on paperfolding were extremely scarce. Some that should be mentioned are Margaret Campbell's "Paper Toy Making" (c.1937), Maying Soong's "The Art of Chinese Paperfolding" (1948), Joseph Leeming "Fun with Paper ,(1939) and, most notably, Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic" (1956). In addition a few books produced in Japan were beginning to filter into the United States from about 1957. They included two large booklets of "Origami" by Tokinobu and Hideko Mihara of San Francisco, three similar large booklets, also called "Origami", by Florence Sakade (still in print!) and several books written by Isao Honda, but not yet published under his name. They, too, bore the title "Origami".

As soon as the Origami Center was founded there was a great thirst among the new group of paperfolders not only in the United States, but in Britain and other parts of the world. Anything to do with paperfolding was snapped up.

Dover Publications reprinted Murray and Rigney's 1928 classic. "Fun with Paper Folding" in 1960 and also books on parlour games by R.M.Abraham that included some paperfolding. Enthusiasts sought out Spanish and Argentinean books, especially those by Dr. N. Montero and Dr. Vicente Solorzano and "Una Hoja de Papel" published by Salvatella. Above all, Lillian Oppenheimer began to trade in paperfolding books. Very significantly she made available for western paperfolders the early books by Akira Yoshizawa (Origami Dokuhon I) and by Kosho Uchiyma (Origami Zukan). A diligent book collector might have been able to gather a collection of about forty titles in different languages at this time, but only with great determination.

The standard manual in the late 1950s was undoubtedly Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic", which influenced Lillian Oppenheimer to a great extent. "Paper magic" did indeed become a best seller and went into many printings, but I have no idea how many copies were sold. It was reprinted by John Maxfield as a paper-back in 1971 and as such has only recently gone out of print.

It was only after the formation of the Origami Center that the now accepted international system of bases and symbols was introduced. Until then it was difficult for a writer of a book on paperfolding to give instructions for folding a model. See, for instance the books by Dr. Solorzano. The International system was the collaborative achievement of Robert Harbin and Samuel Randlett, based on Akira Yoshizawa's system of dotted lines and arrows. It incorporated the "moves" that Harbin had indentified in "Paper Magic" including such terms as "Squash Fold", "Petal Fold", "Rabbit Ear" and "Crimp". Randlett and Harbin conducted a long discussion about the system by mail and Gershon Legman and other paperfolders also joined in to a less extent.

The way was now open for a new kind of origami book. The first was Samuel Randlett's own "The Art of Origami" (1961), followed by his "The Best of Origami (1963). Robert Harbin's "Secrets of Origami" followed in 1963. (The two authors collaborated to avoid duplication of models.) All three of these books immediately became classics and best sellers on both sides of the Atlantic. However, I do not know how many copies of each were sold. "Secrets of Origami" has recently been republished by Dover and there remains hope that Samuel Randlett's books will also be reissued.

Robert Harbin wrote few more books which were not strictly books of origami (even though one was named "Paper Folding Fun") Then in 1968, he wrote "Teach Yourself Origami" as a hardback in 1968. The next year it appeared in paperback as "Origami the Art of Paperfolding". As is well-known, it was followed by three further paperbacks in the same series. The first two books were published by different publishers and under different titles in the United States. Harbin's paperbacks were translated into French, German, Italian, Hebrew and other languages. They were inexpensive and immediately became best-sellers, being reprinted over and over again, until for some inexplicable reason, after the English publishers Hodder and Stoughton had been taken over, the series was withdrawn. Origami 1 was reintroduced under its original title of "Teach Yourself Origami " and remains in print today, still selling well.

From the 1970s, many more books of origami were published in all languages. Books written by the leading Japanese paperfolders became fairly easy to obtain. Keeping up with all the new origami books became difficult and despite the increased number of folders, the market was diluted. Even so, the best books still sold well and they still do. Of course, I have no inside source of the number of each title sold, but a comparative table would be very interesting. One thing that puzzles me is the way some very inferior books (which I shall not name) are often kept in print while other first-rate origami books are left to expire.

What is urgently needed is a new bibliography of paperfolding. It would not be an easy task to compile it for all editions and reprints and for all countries. I have considerable raw material here, but I regret that I simply do not have sufficient time. I estimate that a complete list since 1952 (the date of Gershon Legman's pioneering, but very incomplete "Bibliography of Paperfolding") would include well over two thousand titles and many more if separate editions of periodicals were included as separate items.

We also need an active market in second-hand origami books!

I don't know whether this ramble has answered Jerry's question, but I hope that it will have helped to place things in perspective.

David Lister

Something Wrong?

Please provide details below of any issues you may have encountered. Thank you

Rabbit by Stephen O'Hanlon