The History of Envelopes 

envelopes

The humble envelope is often not given the credit it is due. Designed to protect correspondence from damage and prying eyes, this ubiquitous item of stationery can be the bearer of both good and bad news.

But when and where did the envelope first appear?

The answer to this question is probably more fascinating than you realise.

 

 

 

The early days of the envelope

Historians believe that the first envelope made its first appearance in ancient China, where it was used to guarantee the privacy of royal correspondence. However, these first examples were nothing like what we use today.

They were made from clay, which was moulded into a sphere, in which the message would sit. The envelope was sealed with more clay, and then smashed to reveal the contents upon delivery.

A similar method of secure messaging was developed in Babylonia, around 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. This version was more like a folder than a spherical case, and it was sealed by pressing both ends of a rectangular clay sheet together.

The first paper envelope emerges

Around 200BC, the Chinese developed the first envelope made from paper. But rather than messages, these simple protective wraps were used to send monetary gifts.

At around the same time, wealthy Japanese men used early versions to send gifts to relatives after a death. Both the Chinese and Japanese versions at the time were believed to be rather crudely made by hand.

It wasn’t until the Medieval era that production techniques improved to such an extent that a paper envelope could be used for the sending of messages. Even then, however, the design was little more than an extra sheet of paper folded over the message and sealed with wax.

Such messages were very common between the aristocracy and senior members of the Church. The seal was made with beeswax and resin, and was sealed with a coat of arms – sometimes with a ring.

The Industrial Revolution changed the envelope forever

One of the first ever long distance messages to be sent in a modern envelope was written by Sam Adams in 1775. He sent a single letter from Boston to Philadelphia, and paid 22 cents for the privilege.

As printing and manufacturing processes improved, the cost of envelopes – and the cost of sending mail – plummeted. Sir Rowland Hill published his Post Office Reform in 1837, which for the first time introduced the concept of the stamp.

He proposed that a prepaid penny “wrapper” with a stamp would be used to send mail around the UK. At first, it was left to local printing and manufacturing firms to fold the paper into the classic shape of a modern envelope – by hand.

The process of making an envelope was relatively laborious, however, until Edwin Hill invented and patented a steam-powered machine that could fold and stick paper into the shape of an envelope.

This was followed up by the first automatic envelope maker in 1853 – invented by Russel Hawes in America. At the time, this machine was a revelation, as it was capable of producing up to 12,500 envelopes every day.

Henry Swift and D Wheeler Swift perfected a machine initially designed by James Green Arnold in 1876. This was the world’s first machinery that was capable of applying sticky gum to an envelope.

And the last significant envelope patent was granted to Americus Callahan, who developed the first envelope with a window.

Despite the advent of the Internet, billions of envelopes are produced and sent around the world every year. Whether they’re protecting personal messages, business correspondence or marketing materials, these essential items of stationery and still part and parcel of modern life.

You might also like...

Paper space rocket project brings a team of six together in educational challenge

Building a paper space rocket may seem like a straightforward task, but when the process is split between six students collaborating on a design project, the team had to be firing on all boosters. Ravensbourne University organised and hosted the annual Im-print Im-press event, sponsored and judged by Baddeley Brothers, Foilco, and GF Smith. In ... Read more

Ibrahim’s snowflake engraving melts the heart of HEA judges

A Cambridgeshire man who has been engraving for 10 years, has triumphed in the Hand Engravers’ Association Christmas card competition. Ibrahim Batchelder entered a design that encapsulated the frozen close-up geometry of a snowflake. And the winning piece was silver die-stamped by Baddeley Brothers, who sponsor the competition every year. The snowflake design took Ibrahim around four days to complete. ... Read more

V&A museum project highlights how the die-cutting process and envelope-making are relevant to everyday home life.

A filming project that features the craft of the die-cutting process and envelope-making happening right on our doorstep was too good an opportunity to miss. The production team at the Victoria and Albert Museum, who wanted to document our industrial manufacturing processes alongside domestic procedures, contacted us last year. And it is just part of ... Read more

Is it curtains for traditional paper as FibreLab recycles textile waste into paper for printing and packaging?

A collaboration with a textile company has yielded impressive results after fibres from discarded cloth have been successfully recycled into paper products that can be printed on. Baddeley Brothers has been working with FibreLab to test printing on Papertex, the name being given to an innovation by the East London company. FibreLab is a hyper-local ... Read more

Art catalogue cover for the Gagosian Gallery is ‘a wonderful illustration’ of what 9-colour die-stamping can achieve

A casebound book cover that catalogues an abstract art exhibition for the Gagosian Gallery was a perfect fusion of art and craft, and a meeting of minds for Baddeley Brothers and Paul Neale, Creative Director with Graphic Thought Facility. To Bend The Ear Of The Outer World is a catalogue to accompany an exhibition of ... Read more

Students team up and bond over foil blocking for university collaboration

Two students from Ravensbourne University have once again created an inspiring piece that celebrates uniqueness. Rose Lwin and Jada Perry elected to take part in the Imprint Impress project, which is a collaboration between Baddeley Brothers, the university, GF Smith Papers and Foilco. Together they designed, costed and produced a piece for print, using only ... Read more
Copperplate hand engraved stag

Engraver Megan’s stag comes to life in print

A young apprentice hand engraver has visited Baddeley Brothers to see her winning artwork made into Christmas cards. Megan Rigby’s engraving was the winning entry in a competition run by the Hand Engravers’ Association, which is supported by the 160-year-old printing company. During her visit, she met with director Charles Pertwee and watched as the ... Read more
bb Luc square

6 Years of Imprint! Impress! Luc makes a monolithic protest using foiling against the onslaught of plastic

A design student has made a bold statement against plastics with an artwork made from foiling paper, while exploring the opportunities and artistic beauty of foil blocking. Luc Crossley was this year’s candidate for the Imprint Impress project undertaken every year in a collaboration between Ravensbourne University, Baddeley Brothers, GF Smith and Foilco. Luc is ... Read more
Green foil on Notpla Ocean paper

Beautiful Notpla seaweed paper turns the tide on printing stock

UPDATE: Congratulations to Notpla – 2022 Winners of The Earthshot Prize You might think a company founded 160 years ago, and enormously proud of their role in preserving traditional printing techniques, wouldn’t be playing with paper made from weeds. But you’d be wrong. The sixth-generation family firm championing the methods used to print the first ... Read more
1 e1651757883147

Reflect with us – 2021 A Year in Review

Reflect with us, as we look over the previous year, and celebrate all of the joyous moments and achievements that were made here at Baddeley Brothers.