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Origami Matchboxes

Updated: Feb 3

How many ways are there to make a matchbox in origami? Obviously not as many as there are ways to make things like birds and flowers, or even normal kinds of boxes, but to my knowledge there are at least seven one-piece origami matchboxes, all quite different and each with its pros and cons.


Of course, it's also possible to fold a composite matchbox, where the drawer and cover are separate, but the interesting part is working out how to do both with the same piece of paper. And it's even better if the drawer can be opened and closed. This was precisely the challenge posed in the "Whodunnit" column in British Origami magazine in the 1970s, which produced a number of responses before the subject was marked as "solved" and removed from the list.


I thought it would be interesting to list and comment briefly on the versions I'm aware of, so I went back and folded them all again. You can find photos of all of them and details of where to find folding instructions by searching for "matchbox" on Gilad's Origami Page. If I manage to make decent examples myself I might add photos at a later date, but for now it'll have to be screenshots from the folding instructions.


Max Hulme's Matchbox

I'm not too sure of the exact dates, but this was probably the first one-piece matchbox. It starts from a 2x1 rectangle and has a very simple and elegant construction, the only "drawback" being that unlike with the other versions listed here (except one) the drawer doesn't slide in and out. In my view this is compensated for by the nice logical folding sequence. It was first published in Harbin's Origami 4 (1977) but is more readily available in a couple of other sources (see Gilad's Origami Page).


Martin Wall's Matchbox

This was also published in Origami 4 (1977) and has some similarities with Max Hulme's version, the main difference being that the drawer slides in and out. The starting point is a 3x1 rectangle, with the extra paper cleverly used to make the sliding mechanism. It's a bit unfortunate that there's a long join along the middle of both the drawer and the sleeve, but otherwise it's quite functional and not difficult to make.


Fred Rohm's Matchbox

This first appeared in British Origami No. 63, also in 1977, and follows a quite different approach. It also uses a 3x1 rectangle and is still relatively easy to fold, but what really makes it stand out is the ingenious mechanism (which Fred Rohm apparently referred to as the "umbilical cord") that joins the two parts and allows the drawer to slide in and out in BOTH directions. As pointed out in BOM63, it can be used to vanish a small coin. Just place the coin in at one end, push the drawer through, and when you look in from the other end it's gone.


Dave Brill's Matchbox

I don't know when Dave created this, but it must have been around the same time as the versions described above, even though it wasn't published until 1996 when his book Brilliant Origami came out. The drawer slides in and out (in one direction), but the other great feature of this design is that it also contains a pleated insert representing about half a dozen origami matches, which are part of the same piece of paper. It's easy to make separate matches from a pleated sheet like this, as I used to for Max Hulme's matchbox, but of course it's also nice to have it all from one piece of paper.


Marc Krischenbaum's Matchbox

Instructions for this appeared in Origami USA's Annual Collection for 1991, and more recently with updated diagrams in Marc's book Origami Fun and Games (2020). It's radically different from all its predecessors, not least because it's made from a square and starts with a Kite Base, which doesn't seem like a very promising approach. The model is a little tricky to do, but it does work - and the drawer opens in both directions.


Jeremy Shafer's Matchbox

I only discovered this recently on YouTube, though it turns out the video was actually posted five years ago. Jeremy acknowledges that it's based on the Fred Rohm version, but it has several interesting features:

  • It's conveniently made from an American dollar bill (3x7 rectangle).

  • The eagle motif appears prominently on the final model.

  • The drawer not only opens in both directions but is completely unobstructed, so that can also hold real matches. How is this possible? Basically Jeremy has moved the mechanism from Rohm's model to the outside of the drawer so it doesn't get in the way of the matches.

I'd love to have diagrams, but in the end the model is pretty easy to make (and even to remember) from the YouTube tutorial. It probably helps to use an actual dollar bill or some kind of thickish paper, because if the paper is too thin the final model is not very sturdy and the drawer doesn't slide very well. I see that in his comments on the video Jeremy also mentions the other origami matchboxes listed here, so clearly he had the idea before me.


Edwin Corrie's Matchbox

Last and most certainly least, my own attempt, from 1991. It's really not an improvement on any of the other versions described above, and about the only point of interest is the fact that it's made from a square. On the negative side, it's quite bulky and difficult to fold neatly, and the drawer doesn't move. For best results it really needs a fairly large sheet of thin foil. The diagrams appeared in the BOS Spring 1993 Convention Book but are also included here, with newly added colour.

Matchbox_Edwin Corrie
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So which is the "best" Origami Matchbox?

As always, it depends what your'e looking for in an origami design, and everyone will have their own favourite. I still like the Fred Rohm version, which combines simplicity, smoothness of folding sequence and an ingenious opening and closing mechanism that works in both directions. But they all have their strong points, and together they make an interesting collection. All we need now is for Jeremy Shafer to modify his already very impressive version to include matches like Dave Brill's, and we'll have the ultimate origami matchbox. And if Jeremy happens to see this, I wouldn't mind betting he'll have a go...


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