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A 150-year-old Wallet Fold

Updated: Jun 16


This post is about a traditional design for a folded Wallet or Purse that's at least 150 years old and appears in many of the classic old books on paperfolding.


Traditional folds can seem primitive compared with modern designs, particularly the more complex ones which people are often attracted to when they first discover origami. But a lot of the old models also have a wonderful simplicity about them that we tend to overlook, and sometimes you don't properly appreciate their quality until you actually fold them.


This was the case for me with the Wallet, which I came across recently in a German book entitled Häusliche Kleinkunst und Bastelarbeit in Wort und Bild (1911) by Hermann Pfeiffer (also available online). It's referred to as a Geldtäschchen ("Money Purse" or "Wallet"), and is explained with an unusual style of diagrams. At first I thought I'd discovered a forgotten traditional model, but it was pointed out to me by David Mitchell that the same fold also appears in a number of later books - several of which I also have, so it bothers me a bit that I hadn't noticed it before.


The earliest published source seems to be Des Kindes erstes Beschäftigungsbuch (1877)  by E. Barth and W. Niederley (the extract below is from the third printing of 1887, which can be found online). Here it's called a Brieftasche, which again means basically a purse or wallet though not specifically for money; in fact we're told it's something that boys often use to collect stamps, suggesting that it was probably already widely known at the time of publication. The first half of Des Kindes erstes Beschäftigungsbuch dealing with paperfolding, paper cutting and napkin folding was translated into Dutch as De jonge werkman: Het vlechten (1881) by Elise van Calcar (image below from the digitalised copy available online), and was also heavily adapted and edited for an English readership in Pleasant Work for Busy Fingers (1891) by Maggie Browne.



The diagrams in Des Kindes erstes Beschäftigungsbuch are wonderful, and very unexpected in a book so old, but they are also a little on the concise side, making them hard to follow without the accompanying text.


Other published sources


The Wallet appears in quite a few of the older books on paperfolding, but not so much in more modern books, which tend to draw a lot of their material from the Japanese tradition. Sources for the Wallet include the following (see the Public Paperfolding History Project for more):


  • More Paper Magic (1923) by Will Blyth

  • Paper Toy Making (1937) by Margaret Campbell

  • El Mundo de Papel (1939) by Dr Nemesio Montero

  • Het grote vouwboek (1955) by Aart van Breda

  • Paper Magic (1956) by Robert Harbin

  • Paper Folding and Modelling (1965) by Aart van Breda


Here are the instructions in an old East German book called Faltet mit (1955) by Gerta Schumann, beautifully illustrated by Hans Greschek.




Paper format


The ideal starting format is a 3 x 2 rectangle, though this is not always made clear in the instructions. Des Kindes erstes Beschäftigungsbuch says it's folded from "einem halben Bogen Papier" ("half a sheet of paper"), while in Pleasant Work for Busy Fingers we are simply told to start with a sheet that is "longer than it is wide". In fact, up to a certain point the exact proportions are not critical, and you can still get a result of some kind with various kinds of rectangle. Häusliche Kleinkunst und Bastelarbeit in Wort und Bild specifies octavo format, which is essentially one eighth of a standard sheet of paper, although as Wikipedia explains:


The actual size of an octavo book depends on the size of the full sheet of paper on which it was printed. The size of such sheets varied in different localities and times. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavo)


Differences


One slight difference between the versions in Des Kindes erstes Beschäftigungsbuch and Häusliche Kleinkunst und Bastelarbeit in Wort und Bild is the way the final triangular flap is handled. Barth & Niederley tell us to fold both end flaps down at the beginning, and then pull one of them out at the end. The idea behind this is that when the flap wears out you can pull the other one out and keep using the wallet "for a very long time". In Hermann Pfeiffer's instructions (see the page images on the Public Paperfolding History Project page) only one corner is folded down at the beginning, so the other one is already out when you finish. In later publications we find both methods.


Another difference is that in some books the instructions tell you to make a small slit for the triangular flap at the end. Of course, as ardent origami "purists" we eschew and condemn the use of scissors and glue, which is why many modern origami envelopes are designed with a built-in pocket for the flap to be tucked into. But admittedly a small slit does provide a simple and effective solution.


The slit for the triangular flap in Faltet mit (1955)


Variations


After a bit of experimenting I came up with a few minor and probably obvious variations of the Wallet.


The first was an attempt to adapt the design to A4 paper to avoid having to cut a 2 x 3 rectangle - all you have to do is adjust the proportions of the A4 rectangle by folding in a narrow strip on each side. For convenience, the strips can be 1/8 or 1/16 of the width, resulting in two slightly different versions.


Alternatively you can start from a 2 x 1 rectangle and add a pleat to make a version with an extra pocket. No doubt even more pockets could be added using the same principle.


And after all that I found it's even possible to start from a square. Strangely enough, my final version (also from a square) turns out to be essentially a reinvention of Philip Noble's Envelope, first published in the BOS magazine British Origami No. 59 (1976).


New diagrams for the original Wallet and all the above variations are included below.


Wallet Variations_November 2022
.pdf
Download PDF • 9.86MB




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Another great post, Edwin. Thank you!

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