Ain’t No Email Postmen (A Blog About Envelopes)
Item #1 – A Short, Fictitious History Of The Envelope By Way Of Introduction: Since well before the sixth century, the circulation of human correspondence in folded paper constructs known as envelopes has contributed to the continuing orbit of the planet Earth around the sun – indeed, before the industrial revolution and the introduction of steam-based technology, we were almost entirely reliant on postal movements to get us around the sun on a yearly basis. Now, thanks to numerous other worldly developments, envelope-passing is no longer needed for this purpose, though it does continue. In some places it has become an artistic form with a number of new ideas being applied to the design and decoration of the humble envelope. And, as always, change continues to happen – scientists predict that in the future it will be possible for humans to send post to each other without use of physical envelopes by using computers instead, and mind-to-mind mail transfers cannot be far away either. But whatever happens you can be sure that a glimpse of an envelope will remain a sight to quicken the human pulse, and that the internationally-recognisable symbol for an envelope – whether used in conjunction to physical or non-physical post – will serve as a symbol of the visceral thrill of post, and a reminder of our humble beginnings.
Item #2 – Envelopes, A Puzzling Journey Through The Royal Mail by Harriet Russell (Book Review): There are not, that I know of, a whole lot of books about envelopes. Therefore, I am going to go ahead and arbitrarily proclaim Harriet Russell’s ‘Envelopes’ as the best (um, that I know about, and have read). It is a thrilling stormer of a biography, charting each and every fold in the production of an envelope, every lick and stick of it’s envelopey life and a thrilling hare-brained tumble through every step of the postal service and then the recycling process. Not really! Ha, um, yes. No. It’s better (even) than that. Harriet Russel is an artist who seems to be incapable of addressing an envelope in a straightforward manner and this beautifully put together book collects some of the examples of her work as she set about her project to stretch the boundaries of what will find its way through the postal system, and testing the wits and inadvertently enriching the lives of some of their employees on the way. She delights in taking something straightforward and functional and turning it into something interesting – her post may have taken longer to sort but each envelope is a miniature work of art itself. Some examples include an envelope in which the address is hidden in crossword clues which needed to be solved before it can be delivered and one which features just the postcode and a drawing of the house to which it is supposed to be delivered. One of my favourites is an envelope sent from New York to London, covered in a comic strip in which the sender tries to persuade a NY taxi driver to drive to London to deliver the post.
Item #3 – Grow Your Own: Unlike Ms Russell, I wasn’t clever enough to think of more mischievous ways to address post (though I did do a few experiments, posting chocolate bars with addresses written on the front and letters with limerick-style instructions for the postman) but a few years ago I received a homemade envelope from a friend and decided to pick it apart and learn how to make them myself. I built a template out of a cereal box and got obsessed with making my own envelopes (see illustration). Ok, it doesn’t sound like the most interesting hobby and it’s difficult to rationalise it and explain why I enjoy it so much – it’s repetitive and as such takes minimal brainpower, and at the end of it you have some interesting envelopes. I now have far more envelopes than I could ever need to use, they just pile up everywhere and I have to make things like this just to stop it getting ridiculous. All you need is some tools (scissors, pencil, bonefolder (and once you start folding things with a bonefolder you won’t want to go back to folding things without)) and some ingredients (slimline double-sided tape, paper (the more interesting the better, usually pictures which are at least A4 in size – full page illustrations in magazines are good (food magazines always make for tasty envelopes, though paper from newspaper magazines can be a bit too flimsy), old calendars are good (big pictures and sturdy material)) and you are away (I could try and explain exactly how to make them, put it would probably come out confusingly, and anyway it’s more fun to try and work it out yourself). Hours of very quietly exhilerating fun await.