Many paperfolders have an extensive library of origami books and the internet is a wonderful way for you to track down obscure or old books. For the princely sum of £1 recently acquired a 1st edition of Murry and Rigney’s “Fun with Paperfolding”, which was published in 1928. It occured to me that this is probably the oldest origami book still in print today and I thought I’d do some research. One obvious port of call was David Lister, who offered useful information.

William D. Murray (1858-1939) and Francis J Rigney (1882-?) were both interested in conjuroring. Murray is commonly thought to have written the text and Rigney, to have drawn the diagrams. But, in fact, both of them contributed to the book. Far from being merely the illustrator, Frank Rigney was also the creator of several of the folds within it. Their interest overlapped in other areas too – Murray was the first chairman of the National Cubbing Committee of America, and Rigney wrote a book entitled “Cub Scout Magic” and contributed a regular column to the magazine “Boys Life”.

In 1960, Dover republished the book, retitling it “Paper Folding for Beginners”. Once again, in 1988, they changed the title to “Fun with Paper Folding and Origami”, returning to the original title and adding the buzz-word “Origami” in the hope of selling a few more copies! It’s fascinating and somewhat mystifying that what is to all intents and puposes a historical text is still being marketed to the folder as a modern source of designs. However, Tuttle are still producing Florence Sakade’s books from the 1950s, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.

“Fun with Paper Folding” was the first book in English solely devoted to paperfolding as such. Earlier books, such as “Paper Magic” (1920) and More Paper Magic (1923) by Will Blythe did contain pure paperfolding, but also a lot of conjuring tricks using paper, hence the title “Paper Magic”. Houdini’s “Paper Magic” (1922) contained only six items of paperfolding.

So how does the book stand up ninety years on? The first thing that stands out is the use of the “Fold point J over on M and fold point K to lie along line XX” type of instruction. We have long since rejected this method of teaching, but I have to say, it makes things very clear from a certain perspective! The models are mostly traditional; flapping bird, frog, pagoda, waterbomb, dart, pajarita etc, with a few paper cut designs (newspaper tree & ladder).

Unusually, there are some original designs in the book, presumably created by one or both of the authors. The book ends with an extended sequence of folds that lead into each other, entitled ”How Charley bought his boat”. Interestingly, it isn’t the familiar “captains shirt” story.

2 Responses

  1. Nick, Watching videos of Lillian Oppenheimer (origamiusa.org/history), she mentioned this book, so I googled it, and came to your site. Small world!

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