Saturday Jan. 23, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Envelope

On this Day:

In 1849, the USA granted a patent for an envelope-making machine to Jesse K. Park and Cornelius S. Watson.

However, it wasn’t the first envelope by any means.

The first known envelope was nothing like the paper envelope of today. It can be dated back to around 3500 to 3200 BC in the ancient Middle East. Hollow, clay spheres were molded around financial tokens and used in private transactions. These first envelopes were discovered by Jacques de Morgan, in 1901, and Roland de Mecquenem, in 1907.

Paper envelopes were developed in China, where paper had been invented by the 2nd century BC. Paper envelopes, known as chih poh, were used to store gifts of money. In the Southern Song dynasty, the Chinese imperial court used paper envelopes to distribute monetary gifts to government officials.

Prior to 1845, only hand-made envelopes were available for use, both commercial and domestic. In 1845, Edwin Hill and Warren De La Rue were granted a British patent for the first envelope-making machine in England.

The “envelopes” produced by the Hill/De La Rue machine were not like those used today. They were flat diamond, lozenge (or rhombus)-shaped sheets or “blanks” that had to be pre-cut to shape before being fed to the envelope machine for creasing in order that they could be folded by the user to form a rectangular enclosure. The edges of the overlapping flaps were then treated with a paste or adhesive.

How the envelope or wrapper was secured was a user choice. The symmetrical flap arrangement meant that the envelope could be held together with a single wax seal at the apex of the topmost flap. (That the flaps of an envelope can be held together by applying a seal at a single point is a classic design feature of an envelope.)

However, nearly 50 years passed before a commercially successful machine for producing pre-gummed envelopes appeared.

The folded diamond-shaped envelope (or “blank”) was in use at the beginning of the 19th century as a novelty wrapper for invitations and letters.  It was used by those who had the time to sit and cut them out and who were affluent enough not to bother about the waste offcuts (paper being expensive).

Their use first became widespread in the UK when the British government took monopoly control of postal services and tasked Rowland Hill with its introduction. The new service was launched in May 1840 with the much-celebrated first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black.

The diamond-shaped wrapper acquired de facto official status and became readily available to the public notwithstanding the time taken to cut them out and the waste generated thereby. With the issuing of the stamps and the operation and control of the service in government hands the British model spread around the world and the diamond-shaped wrapper went with it.

Hill also installed his brother Edwin as The Controller of Stamps. In 1845, Edwin and his partner Warren De La Rue patented the first machine for mass-producing the diamond-shaped sheets for conversion to envelopes. 

Today, envelope-making machine manufacture is a long- and well-established international industry, and blanks are produced with a short-arm-cross shape and a kite shape as well as diamond shape. (The short-arm-cross style is mostly encountered in “pocket” envelopes i.e. envelopes with the closing flap on a short side. The more common style, with the closing flap on a long side, are sometimes referred to as “standard” or “wallet” style for purposes of differentiation.) (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Mike walked into a Post Office just before Valentine’s Day

He couldn’t help noticing a middle-aged, balding man standing in a corner sticking “Love” stamps on bright pink envelopes with hearts all over them.  Then the man got out a bottle of Chanel perfume from his pocket and started spraying scent over the envelopes.

By now Mike’s curiosity had got the better of him, and so I asked the man why he was sending all those cards.  The man replied, “I’m sending out 500 Valentine cards signed, ‘Guess who?’”

“But why?” asked Mike.

“I’m a divorce lawyer,” the man replied.

Second, a Song:

“Return to Sender” is a 1962 hit single recorded by American singer Elvis Presley and performed in the film Girls! Girls! Girls! The song was written by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell and published by Elvis Presley Music.

The song peaked at #1 on the UK Singles Chart, and was the UK Christmas number one of 1962. It was also the first Christmas number one in the Irish Singles Chart. In the United States, “Return to Sender” reached #2 on the American Billboard singles chart, kept out of the top spot by The Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”  However, the song reached number 1 on the rival Cash Box and Music Vendor singles charts. “Return to Sender” also went to #5 on the R&B charts. The single was certified “Platinum” by the RIAA for sales in excess of one million units in the US.

Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott were a team of songwriters who wrote songs for rhythm and blues artists such as LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown and Clyde McPhatter. To be able to make a living as songwriters, they decided to begin writing pop and country songs for the likes of Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, and Elvis Presley. 

After Blackwell wrote Presley’s hits “Don’t Be Cruel” (1956) and “All Shook Up” (1957), Freddy Bienstock, vice president of the record company Hill & Range, looked to the duo to write songs for Presley’s films. Hill & Range sought Blackwell to write songs for the Presley vehicle Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962); following the commercial disappointment of Presley’s pop ballad “She’s Not You” (1962), the record company wanted him to return to the rock and roll genre without alienating fans who enjoyed his crooning.

Scripts for Presley films would note places where a song was to be inserted into the film as well as suggested titles and genres for such songs. While other songwriters would adhere to these notes, Blackwell and Scott would not, as they were used to the creative freedom of the rhythm and blues field. The songwriters decided to write a great song without any concern for whether or not it fit into the film’s storyline.

After penning a track for the film about fishing entitled “Coming in Loaded” and other material they disliked, the two gave up on writing other songs until they found inspiration in a returned piece of mail. A demo that they had sent to a record company was returned to them with the words “Return to sender! No such person! No such zone!” stamped onto it. Blackwell and Scott decided to use those phrases as lyrics in a song about a failing relationship between “a spiteful woman and a heartbroken man.”

Upon finishing “Return to Sender,” Blackwell and Scott played it for producer Hal B. Wallis on a piano. Wallis liked the song and decided to release it as a single. The script for Girls! Girls! Girls! was rewritten to accommodate “Return to Sender,” much to the surprise of the song’s writers. Scott said that the experience taught the duo a valuable lesson – “Write a great song – and they’ll find someplace to put it”.

New Musical Express said that “Return to Sender” and another song penned by Blackwell, Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” (1955), stand as “some of the most enduring classics in the rock and roll canon”. In his book Untold Gold: The Stories Behind Elvis’s #1 Hits, Ace Collins says that while Blackwell wrote hits like Lewis’ “Breathless” (1958) and “Fever” by Peggy Lee (1958) and influenced artists like Presley and Stevie Wonder, “it is doubtful that he ever wrote anything quite as innovative as ‘Return to Sender.’ (per Wikipedia).

Here is a clip from Girls! Girls! Girls! where Elvis performs “Return to Sender.” I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Letters are expectation packaged in an envelope.” – Shana Alexander


Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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