About Traditional Origami

By Gacharná Ramírez, Gerardo

© 2022

This is an adaptation of an email I sent on the 8th of July, 2021, to the Origami Mailing List, as part of a conversation on traditional origami. Thank you, Lisa B. Corfman, Hans Dybkjær, Matthew Green, and David Mitchell, who also took part in the conversation.

Cicada (traditional origami)*

The following is the definition I propose, since it is not that common to find one within the folding art realm: Traditional origami refers to models that were created before the XX century and whose creators are globally unknown. Such models are of the public domain. With that, I mean that they are not protected by copyright. So, Horse and Rider, created by Adolff Senff around the early XIX century, is not traditional origami. Its creator is known; but it probably belongs to the public domain anyway because he passed away a long time ago (in 1863).

In that sense, new models will not ever turn into traditional origami. Just because a model becomes part of the public domain, it does not mean it becomes traditional as well. Both terms are related, but they are not synonymous. For example–if we take into consideration the Argentinian and the Japanese copyright law–in 2037, the models created by Ligia Montoya and those created by Michio Uchiyama will be added to the public domain, but that will not turn them into traditional origami. So, to restate, traditional origami is a group of models within a set historical time frame.

Sampan (traditional origami)*

Many models have been erroneously declared as traditional origami, even though they are not that old and their creators are not globally unknown. The term is often used as a way to get away with the lack of research of the respective creators and ignore their rights; this is very common on YouTube and its numerous instructional videos of allegedly traditional origami. In order to avoid spreading such false claims, it is important to investigate, including asking within a number of origami communities, as well as verifying the sources of the information received. Obviously, YouTube is a very bad source to start inquiring, but there are great alternatives like the following webpages:

Model of the Month by David Petty: 

The Public Paperfolding History Project by David Mitchell:

Among other online groups, I suggest asking on:

Spot the Creator on Facebook: 

The Origami Mailing List: 

If you wish to read further about the subject, David Lister wrote About 100 Traditional Models: 

*Folds and photographs by Gacharná Ramírez, Gerardo ©