History of envelopes: antecedents, origin of the first envelope and evolution

History of envelopes: antecedents, origin of the first envelope and evolution


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We all use (or have used) envelopes. We can even buy them online and customize them to the maximum on web pages such as Paisdelossobres.es, where we find a huge variety for all kinds of occasions (weddings, gifts, congratulations, personal, etc.).

Letters, gifts, cards, keeping documentation or things in our own homes ... There are many uses that we give it every day, but have you ever wondered when the envelopes appeared?

We are going to do a brief review about the history of envelopes, their origin, the first envelope in history and its evolution until mass manufacturing.

History of envelopes

The first antecedent of the envelope

To find the first envelope in history we must go back around the years 3,500-3,200 BC in the middle east, period in which hollow clay spheres were molded, where belongings were kept and used for private transactions.

These spheres were discovered for the first time by the archaeologist Jacques de morgan in 1901, and by the archaeologist Roland of Mecquenem in 1907.

The first envelope in History

Yes now we got to the paper envelopes, which were invented in the 2nd century BC. in China and called ‘chih poh', Which were used to save money when it was going to be given.

It was used very commonly in the imperial court of the Southern Song dynasty, who used them to distribute monetary gifts to government officials.

With the arrival of the Printing Press and the evolution of postal services itself, envelopes continued to be made manually until years after the Industrial Revolution, which brought with it the appearance of machines that made them without human effort.

The invention of the Hill / De La Rue envelope machine

Until 1845 you could only find handmade envelopes, but from that year on, Edwin Hill and Warren De La Rue they got the first British patent for an envelope making machine.

However, these envelopes were not as we know them today, but consisted of flat sheets in the shape of a diamond or rhombus, which were pre-cut and shaped before going through the machine, which was in charge of folding them and giving them rectangular shape.

In turn, the edges of the flaps were treated with an adhesive and its arrangement allowed it to be closed with a single wax seal.

Already in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the first commercial machines appeared that already produced pre-gummed envelopes, as we know them now.

Diamond blade

We stop in the history of envelopes to talk about something fundamental in their evolution, which is diamond shaped blade.

Its initial use is found at early 19th century, being used to wrap invitations and letters by those people who had time and money to invest in their purchase and cut them.

Its use became popular in the United Kingdom, at the time when the government took control of the postal services and commissioned Rowland Hill to introduce it.

Mulready envelopes

This new postal service was implemented in 1840 with an illustrated version, printed by machine and with the first adhesive postage stamp, the 'Penny Black', whose production was entrusted to Jacob Perkins.

Here are born the Mulready envelopes, so called because the illustration was commissioned to artist William Mulready, and they were sold in a sheet with 12 envelopes available, although they were very quickly withdrawn from the market due to the satirization to which it was subjected.

But nevertheless, the envelopes did endure and were remarkably successful, and more thanks to having a prepaid postage by purchasing a stamp, acquiring an official status and being mass produced.

Hill had the participation of his brother Edwin, who, along with De La Rue, patented the machine to mass-produce envelopes.

Envelope making today

Nowadays, the manufacture of envelopes is very widespread, being produced in the shape of kites and diamonds, which allows having a great variety available.

Envelope Making Machines

The most famous papermaking machine was the Fourdrinier machine. During the production process, the processed pulp is collected and turned into a continuous line of paper, which was collected in a reel that passed through a guillotine, which allowed to create a large number of rectangular sheets.

This type of sheet and its manufacture is more frequent today because the sizes that are most used are very similar, both in printing and in photocopiers and other office items.

The future of envelopes

At the end of the 20th century, in 1998, digital printing revolution provided another benefit to small businesses when the United States Postal Service became the first postal authority to approve the introduction of an envelope application system on a user's own printer, allowing everyone to print their own "digital stamp”.

Thus, a commercial envelope can be produced and personalized with the address, advertising information on the front and it is fully ready for mailing.

Cover image: Depositphotos

After studying History at the University and after many previous tests, Red Historia was born, a project that emerged as a means of dissemination where you can find the most important news of archeology, history and humanities, as well as articles of interest, curiosities and much more. In short, a meeting point for everyone where they can share information and continue learning.


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