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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Envelopes Back in the Day – How we Got Here

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jun 27, 2011 11:14:00 AM

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Randolph, MA,envelope history

In my last post, I mentioned Samuel Raynor and Co, the New York company in the 1800s that seems to be responsible for the numbering of different envelope sizes.  At this time, envelope sizes had not yet been standardized among manufacturers. So if you ordered a #9 envelope from Samuel Raynor you’d get one that measured 4 x 8 ¾”. That would not necessarily be the size you got if you ordered some #9s from a different company.

In 1876, Samuel Raynor came out with chart that listed the various sizes they offered  using the numbering system that has mostly carried over to what we use today.  Raynor lists the #10 which he calls “Bond Size” as 4 1/8 x 9 ½. That is the only envelope size on the chart which matches what we use today.  Many of the other sizes are close. The numbers 11, 12 and 14 (interesting that there wasn’t a number 13 then or now - I’m guessing it must have something to do with superstition) are all within an eighth or a quarter inch or so in both dimensions.

The “Letter Size” envelopes were small: 3-1/8 x 5-3/8 and 3-3/8 x 5-7/8. They were designed  to be compatible with what was the common notepaper size of the day.  As I’ve mentioned, during this period, most envelopes were made for personal use. Those were the days when most people actually wrote letters and mailed them to their friends and family.  Business to business mail was not common at the time.  The larger envelopes:  #10 size and up; what we now refer to as letter-size envelopes are called  “Official Size”.  That term is still used by some companies today but rarely.

Some of the descriptions are quaint and reflect the times. The Number 3 envelope measuring 2- 5/8 x 4 ¾ was called “Ladies’ Note Size”.  Presumably the ladies of the day used smaller notes.  Such a description today would most likely cause protests.  The Number 2 envelope, measuring slightly smaller than the Ladies Note at 2 ½ x 4 ¼ was called “Billet-Doux Size”. The French phrase for “love letter” must have been in common use at the time for a company to use it like that.  Wonder what the French for “love text” would be?  Doesn’t have quite the same ring does it?  There were three different sizes;  small, medium and large of “Drug” envelopes. They were all very small, the smallest measuring 1-3/8 x 2 ¾ .  Drug envelopes are still available today but they tend to be larger; around 2 ¼ x 3 ½.  Not sure what that says about us:  do we take more prescription drugs these days or are the pills just bigger?

Envelopes in those days were used as packaging for a variety of products such as combs and toothbrushes. I can hear many envelope manufacturers emitting a nostalgic sigh.  Sometimes the “good ol’ days” were better.

Topics: #10 envelope, letter size envelopes, envelope manufacturer, history of envelopes, #11 envelopes, #12 envelopes, #14 envelopes

Envelope Terms – Where Do They Come From?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jun 23, 2011 12:45:00 PM

We all go through life using phrases and terms passed down through the years without much thought.  I grew up using the term “gypped” to mean cheated or defrauded without ever realizing that it referred to Romani gypsies who engaged in such practices.  It’s now considered un-PC to use and while in general I’m not a big fan of the PC language police, I agree with this one as it clearly stigmatizes a large group of people on the basis of the actions of a few.

Which brings me to the #10 envelope (how do you like that segue way?).   How many times have those of us in the printing and envelope industries used that term without ever giving a thought to where it came from?  The #10 envelope is just one of the interesting descriptions of various sizes of envelopes that seem to have little relation to the actual size of the piece.

I asked Barbara Monson at the Envelope Manufacturers Association (EMA), whether she could provide any information about the origin of these terms.  Barbara very helpfully sent me some pages from a book entitled The History of Envelopes by Robert H.Ramage published by the EMA in 1952.

Samuel Raynor started Samuel Raynor & Co in the Bowery section of New York in the mid-1800’s which eventually became one of the largest envelope manufacturers in the country. Apparently either Mr. Raynor or one of his employees first came up with the idea of numbering envelope sizes. This was issued as the Stationers’ Handbook in 1876. Excerpts from the handbook show where many of the terms we use today came from:

              “Envelopes are made in all sizes, but there are certain sizes which are termed regular. These regular sizes, however, vary according to the manufacturer, each manufacturer making envelopes to suit his taste, without regard to any rule”.

             Elite Envelope & Graphics Randolph MA“Envelopes embrace nearly one thousand different kinds,…from the smallest Note size to the largest Official, with Drug, Pay, Glove, Wedding and Mourning Envelope patterns;”

 According to the History of Envelopes, early use of envelopes was confined mostly to personal letters and bill paying. It was only after the advent of machine made envelopes that the cost came down to the point where businesses could use them as part of mailings to boost their sales.  So in the pre-direct mail era, a “commercial” envelope was smaller than 3 5/8 x 6 ½ and anything larger than that was designated an “official” envelope. The History continues, “In the broader sense we sometimes speak of commercial envelopes as opposed to personal correspondence or social stationery envelopes, in this instance using commercial to cover both “commercial” and “official” sizes.

Today, Elite Envelope along with most other envelope companies use the phrase “commercial sizes” to mean anything from a 6 ¼ regular up to a #14.

My next post will continue on this theme. Please let me know if you have any other information on this topic.  Your comments are always most appreciated.

Topics: envelope manufacturing, elite envelope, Envelope terms, Envelope sizes, Envelope Manufacturer's Association, #10 envelope, commercial envelopes, official envelopes

Yet Another Blog Post

From Jerry Velona - co-owner,

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc.

Jerry offers pertinent, often useful information on envelope converting and printing, web printing, direct mail, the post office, songs that have to do with mail and letters, digital overload and much more!

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