As history goes, the envelope is a comparative newcomer, but its predecessors go back as far as recorded history. Perhaps the first of these "envelopes" was the clay wrapper used by the Babylonians in 2000 B.C. to protect documents such as bookkeeping accounts, deeds, mortgages, and quite possibly letters as well. The clay in its plastic state was folded over the original message, crimped together, then baked. It was a foolproof system, for the outside wrapper had to be completely destroyed in order to gain access to the tablet hidden under it. This was hardly a convenient kind of package to transport, and such messages as had to be carried came to be written on lighter materials: tile, skin, leaves, papyrus.
Little is known about how these later documents were protected from prying eyes, but it is doubtful that anything like our present day envelopes were made of parchment or papyrus. Lengthy scrolls were sometimes rolled on thin wood, then wrapped in a covering of the same material on which the massage was inscribed.
Paper came into use in the 10th Century, and by the 15th Century posts were considered a necessary part of each well-run kingdom. From the very first the Crown, or central government, not only organized the posts but operated them as a monopoly of the state.
Henry VIII of England appointed Brian Tuke as his Master of the Posts in 1510, and from that time on such terms as royal posts and King's Highway are encountered in literature. The modern postal system was at least on its way! In the 16th Century official letters, and letters sent by important people, were mailed, as Grand-Cartiret puts it, "under cover or envelope." The message was enclosed in a paper that was folded and sealed.
Each sender had to take care of his own "enveloping," and would cut the paper as he saw fit.
The few specimens that have come down through the years are obviously individually made, with no uniform cut or pattern.
No one will ever know who it was that first conceived the idea of cutting paper for envelopes from a standard pattern. No doubt it was a stationer who sold paper, and realized that there was a need to be filled. The stationer who first folded and fabricated envelopes by hand has no monument to mark his achievement, unless the hundreds of envelope-producing plants all over the world be considered as such.
On July 31, 1635, King Charles I issued a proclamation from his court at Bagshot establishing the first State postal service for the conveyance of private letters in England and Scotland, and appointing one Thomas Witherings, Esquire, to organize and manage the new system.
A strikingly modern idea was tried out in France in 1635. M.de Valayer obtained the permission of King Louis XIV to establish a postal system in Paris. He set up boxes at street corners, and announced by handbill that he was prepared to deliver any letters placed in them provided they were enclosed in the envelopes that he place on sale at certain stores.
These envelopes were in the nature of wrappers, but as they contained a printed receipt for postage paid, they were, at least in idea, amazingly like the government stamped envelopes that came along nearly 200 years later.
De Valayer's scheme failed, and it is generally thought that it was sabotaged by certain interests who feared its success. At any rate the whole idea was ridiculed, and any chance for success that it might have had was ruined by the dumping of refuse and live mice into the receiving boxes. Naturally, the public would not use a service so undependable, and de Valayer had to give up.
A schoolmaster from England, Rowland Hilll invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837, an act for which he was knighted. Through his efforts the first stamp in the world was issued in England in 1840. Hill created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight, rather than size.
Greeting cards started out as simple slips of papyrus, that were exchanged by both the Egyptians and Chinese as messages of goodwill. As the concept of greeting cards evolved, Europeans began to send them to one another for holidays such as Valentine's Day, and this occurred as early as the 1400's. Of course, these cards were handmade and expensive so not everyone could afford to send greeting cards for their holiday well-wishes.
Greeting cards really hit the mainstream in the 1850's, when commercial printing as well as the invention of the postage stamp started to allow people all over the world to send greeting cards to their loved ones. Now, greeting cards are a billion dollar business, with people purchasing and sending cards for holidays including religious celebrations, birthdays, and even just as a simple thank you or gesture of love. The two largest greeting card companies, Hallmark and American Greetings, offer cards that are perfect for any occasion, with themes and illustrations that are great for all tastes.
Of course, you don't need to buy your greeting cards in a store. Computers and home printers have made it easy to create and print out your own cards at home. Many people have also taken up paper crafts, and have taken to hand making their own greeting cards out of many different materials, with embellishments ranging from ribbons to beads. Some even go as far as to make their own paper, which is a time consuming process but definitely shows your recipient just how much you care. Hand painting and rubber stamping with ink can complete your homemade creation.
Greeting cards have evolved from an item used only by the rich to an everyday tradition. Whether you want to communicate with far-off relatives, or just let your sweetheart know how much you love them, greeting cards make a great (and inexpensive) way to brighten up someone's day!