Happy Birthday to the Envelope!

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The humble envelope was 200 years old in July 2020.  The Association of the German Envelope Industry was planning a 200th birthday celebration, but this celebration will now take place in the autumn of 2020.

COVID-19 has been responsible for the delay of many birthday celebrations around the world as family and friends have had to maintain a safe social distance between them.

Through this time, people have turned to different communication methods to stay in touch – whether social media, video conferencing tools or even rediscovering the lost art of letter writing.

The history of the envelope

While we have turned back to the letter in these times of coronavirus, the planned celebrations for the 200th birthday of the envelope sadly had to be put on hold.

The Association of the German Envelope Industry (VDBF e.V.) was planning special celebrations during July 2020.  These were planned to mark the 200th anniversary of the invention of the envelope by English paper dealer K.S. Brewer.

Prior to this, letters were protected from unauthorized reading through complicated folding processes and wax seals and slips.

The production of the envelope

In July 1820, Brewer began to make and sell the first envelopes commercially.  At that time, his envelopes were cut out using sheet metal templates and then glued.  The invention was immensely popular and over the following decades, the production process became increasingly industrialized.

British inventor Edwin Hill launched his envelope-folding machine in 1840 (patented in 1845). It was a steam-driven machine that cut out the envelope shape and then creased and folded the paper.

In 1853, American Russel Hawes advanced production further by ditching the steam power and creating the first automatic paper envelope manufacturing machine, capable of producing up to 12,500 envelopes every day.

Around this time, the first German envelope factory was opened in Nuremberg.  When it was founded in 1850 the production processes were still manual.  It wasn’t until ten years later that the first German factory acquired its first industrial envelope manufacturing machine, supplied by French machine manufacturing company Eugen Leppenau.

By 1920, there were 67 companies producing envelopes in Germany alone.  The flourishing industry employed some 5,500 people in the country.

Happy Birthday to the envelope!

With more goods than ever being sent by mail, the envelope industry continues to develop and expand.  The desire for sustainable packaging and the innovation in paper production means that on the 200th anniversary of the paper envelope, its future remains very bright.

Why not celebrate its invention yourself this autumn by sending a letter by post to friends and family?

Discover the lost art of letter writing here.