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Random Thoughts

The envelope please

Hudson Cooper
Posted 7/23/21

Holding a fistful of envelopes containing my payments of monthly bills, I stood in line at the post office to buy some “Forever” stamps. As I waited for the person at the counter to …

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Random Thoughts

The envelope please


Holding a fistful of envelopes containing my payments of monthly bills, I stood in line at the post office to buy some “Forever” stamps. As I waited for the person at the counter to purchase seven money orders, it seemed like I would be in line forever. So, it dawned on me that I was being stationary as I held my stationery.

The word stationary means not moving, whereas stationery refers to paper and envelopes used for writing letters. Traditionally there are two ways to remember the difference. Many are taught that the “er” in stationery refers to paper. But for me, I simply remember that the “e” in stationery is for envelope.   

Way before the paper envelope was developed to send in a phone bill or your Publisher’s Clearing House entry, the Babylonians created an envelope-like folder made of clay. After they made a food shopping list by carving “mutton, hogget and barley” into a tablet, they encased it in clay to seal it. The clay was then baked and hardened to safely guard the contents until they cracked it open. Then realizing that they forgot to get mutton, they raced back to the sheep farm to purchase some.

Many hundreds of years later, only wealthy people could afford to use another piece of paper to make a crude envelope for their correspondence to safeguard it for mailing. The less fortunate simply folded their letter, wrote the intended address on the blank side, sealed it and hoped for the best.

In the 1800’s the traditional envelope was developed by cutting paper from a template, folding and gluing it to hold correspondence. The process was advanced in England when Edwin Hill invented the first hand-operated envelope folding machine. His simple machine was improved over the years and made using an envelope a common occurrence.

Another big advance came in the 1850’s when Russell Hawes invented the first automated envelope folding machine. Then in 1876, D. Wheeler Swift created the first machine to make a self-gumming envelope. In 1902 Americus Callahan patented the window envelope that is still used today to eliminate having to put a shipping address on the envelope.

So, for hundreds of years, manufacturers and inventors struggled to find a way to mass produce envelopes. Through trial and error eventually the ideal machine was developed.

The development of the home computer and the internet has drastically reduced the necessity of using so many envelopes. In today’s world, a substantial amount of business is conducted over the internet. Banking, filing your tax returns and paying your monthly bills can all be accomplished online without the use of envelopes or postage stamps.

Social media has reduced the need to correspond by mail when you can instantaneously communicate via tweeter, bookface or toc toc. In a similar way, modern technology has reduced the use of cell phones to verbally connect with people when you can text.

If you have advanced to using the computer to conduct your business, the amount of your received mail has decreased. But there is one ongoing correspondence that cannot be stopped. From the opening salvo that reads “You May Win A Million” the weekly missives begin.

With each additional mailing, the envelopes get thicker and the enticement to enter the sweepstakes get more exciting. Who can ignore, “Congratulations. You Have Been Selected to Participate in Our Grand Prize” or “Millions of Dollars are Waiting for You”?

So, instead of throwing out these envelopes, you eventually capitulate and open one. After buying subscriptions to magazines like “Compost World” and “Time Share Tips” you wait for your life changing millions.

Soon you realize that nobody is probably showing up at your house with an oversize check for two reasons. First, you did not win and secondly no envelope is large enough to hold that oversize check.


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