Invention of Envelopes
Envelopes originally were intended to protect important documents
and shield them from prying eyes. Like writing materials, they were
made of cloth, animal skins, or vegetable reeds. The Babylonians used a
thin sheet of clay that was wrapped around a message, crimped together,
With the advent of postal service, envelopes
acquired yet another
purpose. An enterprising Frenchman named De Valayer in 1653 obtained
permission from King Louis SIV to establish a postal system in Paris.
He set up boxes at strategic corners and announced that he was prepared
to deliver any letters placed in them if they were enclosed in
envelopes that he alone sold. The scheme failed, but only because an
enemy of De Valayer’s began posting live mice in his boxes.
Early in the 19th century, postal authorities
in England faced
another problem. Because the recipient of a letter paid the postage,
correspondents learned to transmit brief messages (“Arrived safely.
Returning Thursday.”) by means of prearranged envelope markings. The
addressee would decipher the code, hand the letter back to the postman,
and refuse to pay. Postage stamps were designed to put an end to this
In a modest way, envelopes have experienced
their share of
technological refinement. First came the gummed flap, then the
see-through window, then the tamper-proof closure and
pressure-sensitive seal. Most recently, a chemical company introduced
envelopes made of “spunbonded olefin.” The substance looks like paper,
and can be written on like paper, but it is lighter than paper,
insensitive to water and chemicals, and virtually impossible to tear.