Robert Harbin was devoted to paper-folding, but his profession was stage magic. He was one of the greatest innovative magicians ever to have lived, constructing his new illusions himself in a secret garage somewhere in London, and working on them until he considered them perfect. Perhaps the best-known of his illusions was “The Zigzag Girl”, a development of “Sawing a Woman in Half”, where he actually removed the centre section of the box into which the woman had been put. Robert Harbin was greatly honoured on both sides of the Atlanic, not only be popular audiences, but also by his fellow professional magicians, who bestowed many honours on him.
Robert Harbin became the first President of the British Origami Society and although it was an honorary office he always tried to attend our conventions, whenever his frequent cabaret engagements permitted him to do so. He gave the Society enormous help, the real extent of which has never been disclosed in public
He was a very friendly man, very accessible and always anxious to help expert and beginner alike. Without him there would still have been a modern Origami movement, but if he had not written “Paper Magic”, it would have probably taken much longer. Modern Origami in the West owes everything to Gershon Legman, Lillian Oppenheimer and Robert Harbin, and Robert Harbin was at the centre of the trio. Strangely, not one of the three was a great creative folder. But they were all three great creative facilitators.
Robert Harbin died on 12th January,1978, at St. Mary’s Hospital, London at the comparatively early age of 68. Some months previously he had undergone an operation for cancer and as part of his convalescence, he had embarked on a working cruise round the world in the P&O liner Oriana, something which he had regularly done before. His job was to entertain the passengers with magic, not a particularly strenuous job, and leaving plenty of time for resting.
Unfortunately he became ill again and when the ship docked at Hong Kong, he saw doctors there. They sent him straight back to England by air. He had not long to live and spent his time putting his affairs in order and ensuring that his magical and paper-folding collections were entrusted safely to people who would look after them for posterity. He bequeathed his paper-folding books and the copyrights in all his own books to the British Origami Society.
Although Robert Harbin is no longer with us, his many Origami books survive, for all to enjoy. I hope that succeeding generations of paper-folders will continue to learn from them and to come as close as possible to a great folder and a great man.
(adapted from text by David Lister)