Carbon Neutral

Evolution and history

  1. The origin of envelope
    • The French term "enveloppe" (and its English version "envelope") suggests the idea of "enveloping" or wrapping, while the Spanish word "sobre" (envelope) comes from the word "sobrescrito" (written over) or text which identified the addressee on the closed letter itself.
    • The Portuguese have kept the term "sobrescrito" up to now to refer to the envelope, although lately in professional circles they prefer the imported word "envelope."
  2. The first envelope, like Adam was made of clay
    • Words have made history and 4,000 years ago the creation of the covering letter was formed. The oldest envelope known to man was made of baked clay by the Babylonians.
    • Today the envelope is a modern tool and has more recent predecessors which arose from various elements: organised mail systems, a cost effective substitution of parchment for paper and the predominance of the bourgeoisie in Europe. These different developments gave birth to the envelope.
  3. The covering of a letter, a French courtesy
    • The folded letter was common in Europe in the Middle Ages, this is confirmed by numerous pictorial testimonies, as for written testimonies one has to wait until the 17th Century for the European society to see the convenience of dressing the bare letter. Antoine de Courtin, in his 'Nouveau traité de civilité qui se pratique en France parmi les honnêtes gens' (1671) indicates that the "paper wrapping ("enveloppe") on which to put the address of the letter is a sign of respect to the superior to whom one is writing". This may well be the first written testimony of the word "enveloppe" made of paper as predecessor of what today is the envelope. At that time the French courts were the benchmark of fashion and style for the ruling classes of Europe, it is hardly surprising that the French word and invention "enveloppe" would cross the English Channel.
  4. Envelope and stamp, a necessity of the Enlightenment
    • One can imagine the anarchy of the mail system with letters on all types of sheets of paper, with imprecise addresses, towns without street names… to understand the rationalising zeal of the French Assembly (1792), making it obligatory to put the address of the addressee so that a government agent did not have to open the sheet of paper to find out who the letter was sent to.
    • Later on, on 26th February 1820, the French Constituent Assembly decided to divide the territory into departments and give names to the streets of Paris and signpost them, although it was not until 1830 that mail began to be delivered to the door.
    • In 1837, Rowland Hill published in London a pamphlet titled Post Office Reform, its importance and practicability in which he defended the introduction of a uniform covering for postage. Thus appeared the most famous stamp in history; Queen Victoria's portrait as an 18-year-old, which was valid in the United Kingdom throughout the sixty years of her reign.
  5. The first pre-franked envelope
    • At that time, payment for postage depended on the number of sheets. It was becoming a mental barrier for the invention of the envelope as a covering for the letter. It was the realisation that the coming and going of correspondence was expensive, more as a consequence of the anarchy of the sheets than for their number. This led to the idea that a uniform covering with a space for the address and postage facilitated the postal service.
    • This led to the appearance of the "Mulready envelope" in England. W. Mulready, a member of the Royal Academy, won an official competition for his ideas for a standard covering for paid postage in 1840. The idea failed due to courtly differences, but it opened up a way for future standard envelope formats. In 1848, a decree was imposed in France which made it obligatory to stick stamps on the upper right hand corner of the envelopes of franked objects.
  6. Stamps were made compulsory but envelope were free
    • n 1843, a Mr Pierson in Fulton Street, New York, came up with the idea of how to cut paper with a steel die cutter, so that once folded and sealed, envelopes could be produced in an industrial way, something previously unthinkable within manufacturing procedures. The entire 19th Century saw the appearance of ingenious creators and inventors of mechanical manufacturing procedures in Europe and United States. This saw the changeover from handmade procedures to mechanical processes, applying solutions of the graphics industry to a product which was more complex than a simple folded sheet of paper. This world, the world of "envelope manufacturing", was accurately described by Karl Marx in "Capital" (1868), processes which were valid until well into the 20th Century.
  7. Envelopes, everything imaginable.
    • It is interesting, from a historical point of view, to observe that in the mid 20th Century the world of the envelope was very similar to what K. Marx described 100 years earlier: a strictly "manufacturing" industry. But midway through the century there was an accumulation of innovations, not only technical ones - in the folding, printing and sealing processes - but also in the provision of raw materials (a very wide range of papers and other materials) and, above all, in the mentality: the use of the envelope as a means of advertising and sales which lead to the highest complexity in the design and manufacturing of envelopes. This is still seen today.

Index of: Envelopes


National and international associations, through their organizations, publications and congresses, are witnesses to the reality, to the evolution of the world of the envelope and its manufacturers.


The language of envelopes

Envelopes communicate

The main aim of a designer or marketing professional is to make sure that the reply envelope relates two key messages "open me!" and "respond."