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Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ingenious Envelope

Have you ever taken time to wonder about the envelope? It's simply a sheet of paper, ingeniously folded and glued, to form a safe pocket which contains its contents. So what came first, the envelope or the stamp?

The envelope predates the postage stamp with the first use of paper envelopes recorded as far back as the 10th Century. The first known envelope was nothing like the paper envelope we know of today. The first envelopes were made of cloth, animal skins, or vegetable parts. It can be dated back to around 3500 to 3200 B.C. in the ancient Middle East. Hollow, clay spheres were molded around financial tokens and used in private transactions. 

Up until 1840 all envelopes were handmade, each being individually cut to the appropriate shape out of an individual rectangular sheet. During the Civil War,  the Confederate States Army occasionally used envelopes made from wallpaper, due to financial hardship.

Traditional envelopes are made from sheets of paper cut to one of three shapes: a rhombus, a short-arm cross, or a kite. These shapes allow for the creation of the envelope structure by folding the sheet sides around a central rectangular area. In this manner, a rectangle-faced enclosure is formed with an arrangement of four flaps on the reverse side. The use of the diamond shape for envelopes is a tidy and ostensibly paper-efficient way of producing a rectangular-faced envelope but its origin is debated. The folded diamond-shaped sheet (or "blank") was in use at the beginning of the 19th century as a novelty wrapper for invitations and letters. 

King Charles I established the first State postal service for the conveyance of private letters in England and Scotland.

In 1653, Frenchman, De Valayer attempted to establish a postal system in Paris, offering to deliver any letters placed in his post boxes as long as they were enclosed in the envelopes that he had on sale. Simple wrappers by design, but containing a printed receipt for postage paid. A schoolmaster from England, Rowland Hill invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837.  Hill's stamps made the prepayment of postage both possible and practical. Hill created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight, rather than size.

The advent of  e-mail in the late 1990s appeared to offer a substantial threat to the postal service. By 2008 letter-post service operators were reporting significantly smaller volumes of letter-post, specifically stamped envelopes, which they attributed mainly to replacement by e-mail. 

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