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Cultural references to the envelope

The “modern” production of envelopes according to Karl Marx

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, part IV, Cap.XV, section 1

Karl Marx’s “Capital” describes the manufacturer of envelopes in the 19th Century

In order to illustrate his political and economical thesis, he used the changes which were produced in the envelope manufacturing industry on substituting manual processes for mechanical processes. Aside from the Marxist approach (*), his description - in 1867! - is a historical monument of unquestionable interest to understand the evolution of the envelope industry.

"In the modern manufacture of envelopes, a worker folded the paper with the folder, another one put the glue on, a third one folded the flap on which the letterhead was stamped, another stamped it, and like this successively, through a whole series of partial operations, in each of which each envelope had to change hands. Well, today an envelope machine does all these jobs, making 3,000 or even more, in one hour. At the London industrial exhibition of 1862 an American paper bag machine was presented, which cut the paper, stuck it, folded it and made 300 bags a minute. As you can see, a single machine, working with a combination of various tools, does the whole process which in the manufacturing process was broken down into various gradual phases."

* Stated in the first lines of this same section of K. Marx's book: John Stuart Mill, in his Principles of Political Economy, affirms the following: It is doubtful whether all the mechanical inventions, created up to now, have mitigated the daily fatigue which human beings suffer from because the capitalist application of machinery does not seek to achieve such a purpose. As with other means used to increase work productivity, machinery seeks to make products cheaper and, by cutting down on the part of the day which the worker dedicates to satisfying his needs, it thus prolongs the remaining part which he gives over, without any compensation, to the capitalist. In short, it constitutes a means to achieve capital gain. In manufacturing industries, the revolution in the production process begins with labour, whilst in modern industry, it does so by means of work instruments. We should therefore first of all ask, how are the work instruments transformed to become machine tools, or what is the difference between the machine and the tools used by the craftsman?

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.


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.

Cultural references to the envelope

The envelope is, if not the most universal of tools, certainly one of the most generalised signs of our culture.


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."