Let’s Talk About: Envelopes!

Rummaging through the wheeled racks of books at the Goodwill Outlet Store, I happened upon a slim little volume titled The History of Envelopes, by Robert H. Ramage, published by the Envelope Manufacturers Association of America in 1952. 

Only a genealogist would think to grab up a book on the history of envelopes!

Author Ramage begins his book with this bit:  “The little paper enclosure which we term “envelope” sustains such an important relation to our social, commercial, political, and moral world as to render it eminently worthy of notice a our hands. It has now become the vade mecum of thought transportation—-crossing seas, threading rivers, chasing up railways, exploring the solitary paths of the forest and plains, pursing expresses and telegraphic messengers; it is almost everywhere doing, for rich and poor alike, its good offices and trusty services.”  Quote in Cosmopolitan Art Journal, 1860. 

Remember that in 1860 there was no telephone and certainly no interest/email. Writing on paper and sent in envelopes was The Only way to communicate over distance. 

Ramage continues:  “No one will ever know who it was that first conceived the idea of cutting paper for envelopes …… but it was no doubt a stationer who sold paper and realized there was a need to be filled. ” 

In 1635, King Charles I issued a proclamation establishing the first State Postal Service.   One of the earliest envelopes on record is attached to a letter written on 16 May 1696 in England. 

The early mail service (in England) was inadequate and expensive. Mail was sent collect with postage paid by the receiver which system was easy to defraud. This ultimately let to the better system of pre-paid postage, or postage stamps.

Further chapters in this 90-page book are: Envelopes in America; First Envelope Machines;  Evolution in Envelope Manufacture; Early Type of Envelopes; Papeteries; Business Envelopes Become Specialized;  Government Stamped Envelopes and the Industry Behind Envelopes. WHEW! Who knew there could be 90 pages of envelope history! 

An envelope history would not be complete without mention of V-Mail, short for Victory Mail “which was a particular postal system put into place during the war (WWII) to drastically reduce the space needed to transport mail thus freeing up room for other valuable supplies. The V-Mail system was only used between June 1942 and November 1945 with over one billion items processed through these means. 

If anybody would like to borrow and peruse this interesting history book, be happy to loan it to you. Just ask me. 

One comment on “Let’s Talk About: Envelopes!

  1. Kathleen Weddle Sizer says:

    Laughed out loud “only a genealogist would think to grab…” So true Donna! I am just now reading a book a friend put together of letters her father wrote to his wife in WWII and he mentions getting V mail and sending V mail. Had not heard of that type of mail before. He said it wasn’t the best way to send mail in a letter to his wife. Thanks for the “Lets Talk About” on envelopes. Yes, I would read such a book. Of note: even the art of Christmas cards/letters is dying. I sent out 56 this year.

Comments are closed.