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”.
“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.