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A Brief History of Origami

We are continually discovering a variety of styles and techniques used in the realisation of Money Art. A special technique that requires high level of dexterity and patience is Origami, the “folding paper” technique, which has a long and rich history.

The most common term used when describing folding paper is Origami originating from the Japanese words Oru (to fold) and Kami (paper), however the word Origami only became widely used by the end of the 19th Century. Prior to that in Japan, the paper folding technique had been called Orisue (folded setting down) or Orikata (folded shape). Another term commonly used is Modular Origami or Unit Origami when there is a combination of a variety of Origami into a larger structures, without cutting or using adhesives.

The Origins

It is widely assumed that Japan is identified as the birthplace of creative folding paper techniques; however sources indicate the techniques most likely traveled from China, where paper sheets were first created around 105 AD.

When the knowledge and development of paper production landed in Japan (documented in 610 AD), it remained a luxury item for around a thousand years. Thus paper folding was almost exclusively used in religious ceremonies or by wealthy Samurai families in their refined taste for the arts. It was only during the 17th Century, when mass production of paper was manufactured, that paper became accessible across the nation, which in turn popularised the art of paper folding. This coincides with the first time the term “Origami” was recorded in a 1680 poem written by Ihara Saikaku, referring to butterflies origami “Ocho Meccho”, still used to wrap sake bottles at Shinto weddings ceremonies:

“Rosei-ga yume-no cho-wa orisue” (The butterflies in Rosei’s dream would be origami)

© Web Japan | Pages from “Hoketsuki”, 1764

By the 18th Century, the first books regarding paper folding were published teaching how to make simple ceremonial folds and entertaining origami shapes.

It is important to note that paper folding wasn’t geographically restricted to just Asia. The Middle Eastern cultures learned the secret of making paper from the Chinese in the 8th Century and were a crucial element of expansion throughout the continents. In the 12th Century, the Moors introduced the tradition of “mathematically based folding”, making paper and napkin folding popular, especially in Spain and Germany.

In the 19th Century that German teachers introduced basic folds to kindergartens (Folds of Life, Folds of Truth, Folds of Beauty), known as the Froebel method, and helped to spread paper folding over the world, eventually making its way back to Japan in 1880 where schools adopted the Froebel method.

Origami gained worldwide popularity in the 20th Century, when the Waldorf School and the Bauhaus School of Design in Germany used origami to train their students. In Spain, author and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno used paper folding called “papiroflexia” in his works and books. In Argentina, the most exhaustive Spanish manual for paper folding was published by physician Vicente Solórzano and in England; recreational paper folding books were also published.

In 1954, Japanese origami master Akira Yoshizawa, author of thousands of shapes, published his book “Atarashii Origami Geijutsu” (New Origami Art), it became the base for the international notation system for origami folds.

“When you fold, the ritual and the act of creation are more important than the final result. When your hands are busy your heart is serene”

credited to Origami Artist Akira Yoshizawa
© Inside Japan Tours

The use of Origami in Money Art or Moneygami

© shutter2photos

Popularised by contemporary artists including Yosuke Hasegawa, Moneygami combines the idea of using Origami techniques in the execution of artwork made out of banknotes.

The earliest publications about folded money were in magic magasines and books from the 1940s, showcasing items such as the US $1 bow tie technique, ring, flapping bird, snapping fish etc. In the 1950s, shapes became more elaborated (pair of shorts, double ring, peacock etc…); they were mostly made out of US dollar and British pound. By 1958, money folding was identified as a branch of Origami, around the same time Victor Frenkil gained in popularity by making initials and words from folded banknotes.

Moneygami is a great example of how historical and artistic techniques can be applied in the production of Money Art.

In the 1960s, more publications mentioning folded banknotes were released, such as in The Origamian magazine, and “The Folding Money Book” by magician and talented origamist Adolfo Cerceda, entirely dedicated to the technique. By the end of the decade, more creations were developed, such as the popular stag by Fred Rohm.

During the 1990s, Ron Rotter started to fold banknotes into geometric shapes or animals, to entertain his kids and leave his creations as tips when going out at restaurants. As his technique and popularity rose, so did the recognition from the art world such as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History where Rotter’s Interlocking Tetrahedron, made out of 30 banknotes, is displayed.

The art of folding money, without cutting it into pieces, showcase the incredible skills displayed by artists. It also reflects on the importance of the instant when a shape is created until it can be unfolded, vanishing the creation only to become a usual banknote again. Moneygami is a great example of how historical and artistic techniques can be applied in the production of Money Art.