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Rita Crane Photography: Holiday Lights, MacCallum House, Mendocino by Rita Crane
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With the opening of Japan, the West kind of went crazy for all things Japanese. Nothing more so than origami cranes. The first batch were imported in 1881 by Cornelius van Reiger, who brought a small shipment to Portsmouth. As luck would have it, Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, was in the town that day, and caught sight of them. Instantly taken with it, he purchased one for a pence. Seeing this, everyone in sight immediately started buying up the rest, and by the time the shipment of 1,000 cranes had all been sold, bidders were paying 20 pounds per origami figure.(Prince of Wales sets Portsmouth Aflutter, The Economist, Mar. 17, 1881)

Needless to say, prices exploded, and the Japanese were happy to exploit this. Almost literally, every house in Japan had turned overnight into a mini-factory for crane making, and they were being sold for astronomical prices. Authentic, Japanese made origami cranes were being sold as not simply as decorations, but as investments(Flying Ever Higher! The Market for Japanese Cranes, a Solid Investment, The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 30, 1892), not unlike the tulip market once had been in the Netherlands. The craze spread across Europe, and soon every king was competing to own the biggest, most magnificent crane out there. None were more magnificent that that owned by Wilhelm I, 15 feet high, of amazing, hand made and hand decorated paper. It was never revealed publicly, but rumor is that he paid the modern equivalent of 12 million Euros for it!(Willy: An Intimate Biography, by Mark Bisoto, 2001) Pretty soon, Japan was rolling in the money.(Russian Military Intelligence Reports, Vol. 23 (1890-1892), Ed. F.E. Dzerzhinsky, 2001)

Of course, it could only last so long, and in 1892 the bottom of the market fell out, and origami millionaires turned into paper paupers overnight.(Flightless Cranes Leave London Stock Market With Empty Nests, London Financial Guide, Sept. 12, 1892) But while Japan was sad to see the craze end, they had nevertheless laughed their way to the bank. No one knows exactly how much money went into their coffers, but outside observers estimate that the influx of wealth financed a large part of their rush to arms in the late part of the 19th century, and undoubtedly made the difference in 1905, allowing them to triumph over Russia.(Flying Above the Rest: Japanese Military Funding of the 19th Century, by N.I. Nebogatov, Journal of East Asian Military Studies, March, 1957)