Today’s Feelology post will consider the past and the future of envelopes.  When confronted with the paper envelopes we are all so familiar with today, it is strange to think that the form of postal message sending with which we are so familiar used to be a whole lot heavier!

2000 years B.C., the Babylonian civilization (located near present-day Iraq) baked clay wrappers around important documents to protect them. These documents were not like the letters we know today, but instead were written on clay tablets. These tablets were also baked.  Breaking the tablet open would reveal the message inside (see image above).

This postal method ensured security, as once broken, the clay envelopes could not be resealed. Just as the earliest postal envelopes were much heavier than those used today, more recent incarnations of the item did away with coverings altogether! Some of the first paper-based postal envelopes were actually nothing more than folded sheets of papers, letters posted without envelops. Once a writer had finished writing their letter it would folded, leaving a blank outside where the address would be written. This fold would be sealed with a wax. Perhaps surprisingly, especially given how much is known about the early history of paper envelope precursors, the early history of the paper envelope remains a relative mystery.

However, we do know that the folded diamond shape envelopes we are familiar with today were initially made by and used in the 19th century as novelty letter wrappers among the more privileged echelons of society. We also know a little more about how early postage rates worked. To begin with, early postage rates were calculated on the basis of the number of sheets of paper that were included, rather than being based on distance or weight (as they are today).

The first envelope making machines were patented in the UK in 1845 and in the USA in 1953. Inventors such as the Swift Brothers invented numerous self-gumming machines, which aided the future of mass-producing envelopes and helped envelopes reach their current form.

Moving from the past now to the future of envelopes and envelope making, the threats postal services the world over have suffered from the internet are well documented. However, a recent Nielsen study revealed that even in this digital age and beyond, envelopes do have a future.

For example, their study found that individually printed, physical envelopes are actually regarded more positively by younger target groups than older ones. With recent innovations and trends, such as increasing the use of recycled paper as a raw material and moving to more futuristic designs, the digital natives of today may well become the envelope lovers of the future, as long as envelope manufactures turn to more individualized offerings.

Envelopes are often taken for granted, but they shouldn’t be. They are the first thing that is seen and are the prelude to its contents. A quality envelope, coupled with traditional print techniques, gives off notes of prestige, importance and elegance –this has been paramount throughout the ages, and will continue to be important for decades yet to come.