The Lister List

Victor Frenkil

In the second issue of The Origamian for November, 1958, Lillian Oppenheimer announced the appointment of thirty-five honorary members of the Origami Center, at the head of which were Akira Yoshizawa and herself as Founder. Many of the honorary members are still familiar as giants in the history of the modern Origami movement. To the best of my knowledge only one person had the distinction of being appointed an honorary member on a subsequent occasion and that was Victor Frenkil. The announcement was made in the third issue of the Origamian for December,1958.

The announcement bears repetition so I copy it here. It is, of course, Lillian speaking:

"We salute our newest honorary member - - Victor Frenkil:

"A few weeks ago, a mutual friend, Jimmy Swartz, brought us together and we had the delightful experience of breakfasting together while Mr. Frenkil folded the letters LO out of a dollar bill. His charming secretary, Miss Virginia Lambrow was kind enough to send me the article which appeared in the rotogravure section of the Sun Papers, excerpts of which follow. "Mr. Frenkil can fashion a buck into anybodys initial - all he has to do is take out a crisp new dollar bill, bend it until it takes on the outlines of the letter of the alphabet. He takes a second bill and for 5 minutes or more he kneads, squeezes and cajoles it, and produces a little caricature of a duck, with beak, wings and tail. When he pulls the tail, the wings flap, and there is a sound of quacking from the duck and enraptured noises from the onlookers.

"In his office, the bill-folding serves in place of those doodles which most people make when sitting at a desk. Instead of scribbling curlycues on a pad during a business conference, Mr Frenkil slips a dollar bill from his wallet and starts to work, almost automatically on an initial. He can go right on with an important conference while he makes the alphabet. Although he has a wide reputation as the bird and initial man, Mr. Frenkil is still better known as a builder of bridges, grain elevators, piers, docks, theatres, restaurants, gymnasiums and factories. No 37 years old, he ran up the business in 15 years from 10,000 handbills and a telephone. He rang doorbells, distributed the circulars himself, then sat by the telephone 10 hours a day, waiting for results. First job - a pair of steps for a factory. Last job - a $6,500,000 plant for the National Gypsum Co., which will bring a large new industry to Baltimore. From a former G.I., Mr. Frenkil picked up the most recherche stunt of all - the combination bow tie and framed picture of George Washington. This was a baffling thing. The veteran gave him the finished product, and Mr. Frenkil spent two days trying to duplicate it. Unable to solve the puzzle, he asked for a demonstration. Even after that it took three weeks of experiment and practice for him to master the trick, which requires 29 separate creasings and the most meticulous care. Mr. Frenkil makes no secret of the accomplishment. He will swap you a quacking bird for an old dollar bill and bet you any reasonable amount that you cannot make one for your self. To date, he says, he has never lost a bet."


I have not previously thought about the magic of that quacking duck. Lillian loved action models, especially those to do with birds. It makes me wonder whether the quacking noise was produced by ventriloquism of whether it was made by some kind of creaking of the paper as it was twisted.

"The Folding Money Book No1" was compiled by the great Argentinean folder, Adolfo Cerceda and published in 1963. It makes no mention of Victor Frenkil, although, by coincidence it does contain a bow tie folded from a dollar bill with Washingtons head in the knot.

"Folding Money, Volume Two " was an entirely separate book and was written by Samuel Randlett and illustrated by his first wife Jean Randlett. It was published in 1968 by Magic Inc. of Chicago. There are two introductory pages about Mr. Frenkil himself and also two photographs of him, one as a younger man, looking somewhat severe and one as an older man looking much more benign. Then the next 66 pages, nearly half of the book, are devoted to Mr. Frenkils method of folding dollar bills into letters and numbers. On page 57, there is photograph of a collection of peoples initials folded by Mr. Frenkil. Noticeable among them are the initials "JFK" and "LBJ".

The essence of Victor Frenkils technique was that he pleated the dollar bill into narrow pleats longtitudinally and then used reverse folding to turn the corners of the letters and numbers.

>From time to time, Victor Frenkil has been mentioned in the Origami magazines. At one time there was an embarrassing confusion with a quite different Victor Frenkill, who got into some sort of financial difficulty, but the assurance was given that it was not the dollar bill wizard!

There have been other systems of folding the alphabet from money and similar techniques have been applied to the Hebrew alphabet, but so far as I know, Victor Frenkills was the first system and was entirely his own inspiration. As the quotation from The Origamian shows, his abilities were not confined to the alphabet, but he was also a skilful in the ordinary kind of money folding. The account of his learning the dollar bill bow tie from a GI throws a little light on the earlier history of bill folding, with its suggestion that it was popular among soldiers during World War II. The world of Origami has lost someone who was never in the mainstream, but who has contributed to the great variety and richness of the ways we fold paper.

David Lister

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