The Hobby Horse also known as Pajarita or Cocotte
Among traditional models one of the most famous is the one we usually know by its Spanish name of Pajarita, although it is also known in France as la Cocotte. Both Pajarita and Cocotte mean a small bird. The fold has other names in other counties including Germany and Japan.
But its English name has never been certain. In his book, "Paper Magic" which he published in 1956, Robert Harbin called it a "Hobby Horse" without any explanation. The question arises whether the name is traditional in England or whether it was a name bestowed by Robert Harbin himself.
When Vicente Palacios invited Brian Bishop (of London) to translate the text of his book "La Creacion en Papiroflexia" (1st edition, 1979) Brian puzzled long about how to translate the word "Pajarita" and in the foreword to his translation he gives an account of how he tried to research the word. The word, "Hobby Horse" was familiar enough for a stick like nursery toy with a horse's head, but its use for a paperfold was nowhere to be found. "Hobby Horse" was certainly included in the Oxford English Dictionary with a number of meanings, but they did not include the paper fold. Brian decided to translate 'Pajarita" by "Hobby Horse", although he could do no more than to cite Robert Harbin's "Paper Magic". Whether he was right in doing this may be questioned because even in 1979, paperfolders throughout the West were familiar with the word "Pajarita" and in "La Creacion en Papiroflexia" "hobby horse" doesn't translate "pajarita" at all comfortably, especially where it is referring to the Pajarita in Spanish contexts.
I have tried to research the word "Hobby Horse" myself, but without any success. It Does not appear in any English-language books containing paperfolding before "Paper Magic". In particular It doesn't appear in the books by Will Blythe, Houdini, Murray and Rigney, Margaret Campbell or Joseph Leeming or in any of the Froebelian books.
However, I have recently had occasion to look again at the Rupert Annual for 1948. This particular annual is called "The Rupert Book" and I for the purposes of the present discussion I had entirely overlooked that this Rupert Annual contained instructions for "Folding a Hobby Horse".
Alfred Bestall introduced the pajarita or hobby horse into one of the stories which he called "Rupert and the Hobby Horse". In the story Rupert sees Santa Claus in his sleigh flying across the sky. A basket falls form the Sleigh and when it is opened a flock of bird-like paper figures fly out. Later one flies through the window into his bedroom at home and he recognizes it as a "Hobby Horse". Rupert later says: "They look like little paper Hobby Horses".
Now a pajarita certainly does look somewhat like a traditional child's toy hobby horse (which is a short stick with a horse's head and reins at one end and sometimes two wheels at the other. When ridden astride, a toy hobby horse forms an angle of about 45 degrees to the floor, just as the back of a pajarita lies at an angle of 45 degrees.
So the question arises whether Rupert (via Alfred Bestall) was using an old English word for the paper pajarita or cocotte or whether he was (through Alfred Bestall, again) giving it this name because it reminded him of the appearance of a toy hobby horse. Unfortunately the text of the story is ambiguous about this point.
Certainly, the "Hobby Horses" in the Rupert Story look like little horses, but they fly and behave like birds, just as you would expect with a Pajarita or Cocotte. So just what was Alfred Bestall thinking when he introduced the Hobby Horse into his story?
Alfred Bestall and Robert Harbin did not meet until June, 1953, so Alfred could not have obtained the Hobby Horse fold from Robert Harbin. On the other hand, we know that they did exchange paperfolds after their meeting and Robert Harbin could certainly have received the Hobby Horse for "Paper Magic" from Alfred Bestall.
Brian Bishop points out that the word "Hobby" in English also means a kind of bird. It is a very small and not very common hawk. It can also mean a young woman, particularly a loose young woman, just like the word "Pajarita" or "Cocotte". So does this have any bearing on the word when it is used for a paperfold? (Of course, in English popular usage, girls are still sometimes called "birds".)
I suppose we shall have to wait until (if ever) someone stumbles across the word "Hobby Horse" in an obscure Victorian book, where it is clear that it refers to a paper fold. Is this ever likely to happen?
Well, it might. Only two days ago an American lady sent me a copy of a picture from a Dutch illuminated manuscript dating from around 1440 which shows a folded paper box with a very clear half-folded example which shows exactly how to fold it. It is a box which is known from 19th Century and later sources in English-language books and it resembles a Masu box with a top that closes and locks. It is true that it is a model that uses cuts, but for its period, it cannot be criticized for this reason. It is a remarkable discovery, Made by someone who is not particularly interested in paperfolding, but who is interested in medieval manuscripts and the evidence that they can give for ordinary life.
I will be publishing more information about his remarkable discovery which takes paperfolding unambiguously back to the European middle ages, as soon as I can; and as soon as I have had time to think my thoughts and to think them over.
Meanwhile, it is just possible that a similar sort of discovery could throw light on the origin of the paper Hobby Horse.
Grimsby, England Back to the index