There is a long history to the evolution of invitations. Knowing the history and the traditions behind the invitation will help you in your selection. Invitations to social events were used by the aristocracy in England and France beginning in the 18th century. It may be possible to go back another hundred or two hundred years to find the foundations of the invitation.
Kings, queens, lords, ladies, dukes, duchesses, or in today’s vernacular, “high society” would invite their peers to their social events with hand written announcements. These were written by the wife, butler, or secretary. Writing was a mark of education. Even after the printing press, the aristocracy hand wrote invitations since mass production was in bad taste.
In those days, most who could read and write had excellent penmanship. They wrote with a quill, made of a feather with a carefully cut tip. As one wrote, while holding the pen in one position, the characters that were formed were thin in one direction and broad in the other. For example, a circle or ‘o’ might be thin at the top and bottom and wide on the sides. When you couple excellent penmanship with the writing instrument of the day, handwriting, by today’s standards, was a work of art.
The actual wording was very similar to the socially correct wordings used today. The major difference was that the wording, in most cases, included the name of the guest. Everything was spelled out, including the event date and time.
Once written, each invitation was placed in a protective enclosure (a handmade envelope). That envelope, what is now called the inner envelope, would include the invitee’s names. When finished, a hot wax seal was affixed to the envelope. (Wax seals were often the crest of the family.)
Without any form of postal service, these invitations had to be hand delivered. This was the task of one of the servants, who delivered them on horseback, under all weather conditions.
Thus arose the need for an outer envelope. This outer envelope served a dual purpose. It was used to protect the inner envelope from water and dirt and to provide directions to the recipients estate, castle, or farm.
Once the servant arrived, he would remove the outer envelope, give invitation to the doorman and wait for a response.
The printing press appeared in Europe in the mid 13th century. Even so, the printing of wedding and other social invitations did not begin until the start of the 20th century. Some of the elite, fascinated with industrialization, began using mass produced invitations—probably as either a novelty or simply as another expression of wealth.
The real beginning of the commercially printed wedding invitation began in the United States after World War II. One of the great features of the combination of democracy with industrialization was giving the common man the ability to mimic the life-styles and materialism of society’s elite. About the same time, Amy Vanderbilt and Emily Post appeared on the scene to help correct the fumblings of society.
Since printer’s ink took some time to dry, as each invitation was removed from the press, a tissue was place over it so that the next invitation laid on top would not pick up the ink from the one below.
One might ask why it became common place to send the invitations with this protective tissue still in place. One could guess it was simply a way to clearly show that the invitation had been printed using this new and fascinating technology. The inclusion of the tissue continues to this day.
Ordinary printing is a messy process and does not produce very high quality lettering. Lithography, on the other hand, is a method of printing which retains a very high quality replica of drawn or sketched artwork. It produces very sharp and distinctive inking.
Once everyone could afford to order printed invitations, the socially elite needed a new, special way to make invitations. They elected to have them engraved. This served a second purpose. It permitted the printed invitation to emulate hand writing since engraved copper plates were made by hand.
Engraving, as the name implies, requires an artisan to hand write, in reverse, into a metal plate using a carving tool. To this day, the finest invitations are engraved.
The less elite, not to be outdone, again tried to mimic the quality of the very wealthy. Along came a cheap version of engraving called thermography or raised ink printing. Unlike ordinary printing, engraving actually cut the surface of the paper. The print quality was beautiful and you could feel where the ink was deposited in the slight cuts in the surface of the paper. The thermography process, unlike engraving used ordinary lead type washed with ink. When the printed paper was removed from the press with wet ink, a plastic powder was sprayed on the wet ink and then blown off. The plastic powder absorbed the ink color. The paper was then heated until the plastic powder melted leaving a raised ink which you could feel. Thus inner envelopes and tissues are simply tradition. Similarly, envelope seals are the mass produced equivalent for replacing the hot wax seal.
If you want the finest invitations possible, you must purchase the finest paper and hire an artist and a calligrapher. The artist will personalize your invitation with a hand drawing on each. The calligrapher will hand write your invitation and address your envelopes. Of course, an experienced printer can make you gorgeous invitations, too.