For many of us envelopes spell the delivery of a bill, but that doesn’t change how we feel about seeing them on our doormat. A simple folded piece of paper can carry so much promise…maybe it’s a card or a £2 postal order from your gran? It is thought that envelopes were invented by the Babylonians, perhaps inspired by pitta bread, who used clay ones to carry clay ‘letters’. Their carrier pigeons retired prematurely with damaged backs, and so a lighter material was sought. In 2BC China used their invention, paper, to wrap tokens and money and these were the earliest examples of what we know today.
It was only in the 1800s that envelopes became used on a mass scale across Europe, thanks to a machine patented by Edwin Hill and Warren De La Rue. Rather fortuitously this was around the same time that the postal service began in the UK.
Since then the basic format has not changed greatly but we the mechanism has been elaborated on. Now the envelope is seen as a tool for fine presentation as much as for sending the most mundane of things. As an everyday object it has now become fetishised, perhaps due to the digital world we live in. And as an item which carries a certain nostalgia envelopes also make for a wonderful blank canvas. Now all that needs to be improved is the flavour of the glue.