The History of Stationery

November 22, 2012 by  

Stationery has been the mainstay of written communication for thousands of years. The Egyptians developed the form of parchment which was made from very thin animal skins such as goatskin or sheepskin. Only the very wealthy were able to afford parchment paper at the time. Parchment had its drawbacks; however, as it was limed but not tanned like leather so it very easily split and did not handle humidity well.

Societal advances were made by the Egyptians and as the hierarchy wanted to document their successes on a longer lasting writing surface, new stationery was developed using a pithy plant known as papyrus. It was made by stem strips put together in single lines, layer after layer and crosswise. After being moistened and hammered into a solid sheet, they were left to dry for several days. This new form of stationery held up better under humid conditions and did not mold or rot. It was used throughout Europe through about the 12th Century, giving it a shelf life of about 200 years. It had to be imported, so it was very costly. The word ‘paper’ is believed to have derived from ‘papyrus.’

Contrary to the less than desirable status of papyrus in Europe, the dry, hot weather in Egypt provided longer use for papyrus which is evidenced by historical documents still in existence today.

Papyrus still exists today and is a plant much like a tough reed – it is an aquatic flowering plant that has stems strong enough to be used for other items, including boats. It is more commonly used in ornamental plant arrangements these days.

Three thousand years later

A Chinese man named Ts’ai Lun is credited for inventing paper. He utilized the inner bark of a mulberry tree and combined this with bamboo fibers. He then mixed water with the bark and fibers and pounded them, leaving them on a woven cloth for the water to drain. This created a quality writing surface that spread into other countries and become a standard for centuries.

Soon the wood and bamboo were replaced with linen fibers which created a much higher quality of paper. With papermaking refined and spread throughout most of the world by the 12th Century, the printing press was invented by a German man by the name of Johannes Gutenberg. His new machine eliminated the painstaking process of writing by hand as reproduction of documents could be handled more proficiently, thus creating a substantial demand for paper.

A new industry comes to America

By the early 1800s there were over 180 paper mills in the United States creating hundreds of jobs including those for stationery printers. As the USA became more refined and money became more free-flowing through enterprises such as mining, oil drilling, and lumber processing, many people enjoyed increasing wealth. With increasing wealth came the desire for supplies of a higher quality, such as fine stationery. The stationery consisted of many different items such as monogrammed paper to be used for letters, notes and announcements. Wedding invitations were requested of stationery printers for elaborate weddings. Birth announcements became a frequent stationery printer request.
Stationery printers expand products

As the early 1900s brought about many technological advances in the United States, stationery printing expanded to include color printing and so more products became available. Stationery printers could produce greeting cards, full color paper, event announcements, sales solicitations and calling cards.

By the middle of the century, stationery printers had sophisticated machinery at their disposal that could produce any kind of printed stationery product quickly and efficiently. Flyers, brochures, business cards and more extensive products were ordered from stationery printing services by businesses and individuals.

The stationery industry today

Stationery printers are now considered printing companies and offer full service printing including digital processing. Businesses probably couldn’t function without the services of printing companies. Marketing plans are dependent upon printed materials which utilize many forms of stationery. Consumers also use various forms of products provided by stationery printers today including albums, books, signage, tablets, cards, magazines, school supplies and many other items that involve stationery.

There are almost 600 stationery mills in the USA today employing thousands of people throughout the country. Various techniques are used but with today’s technology the process is much simpler than it was centuries or even decades ago. A stationery printer or full service printing company can generally complete orders in a short period of time. They are staffed with experts in all printing disciplines so are able to work with clients from beginning concept to final production.

Discussions with a stationery printer

Historically, stationery printers were limited in their knowledge and experience. Today they generally have full service experience and can handle most any kind of projects. To ensure the printer is clear on what is needed, certain topics should be covered from the start.

When there is a need for a printing service, it is important to have the opportunity to speak with a representative in depth about what is needed and expected with the project. Every detail should be discussed and an experienced printer will make suggestions and provide guidance throughout the process. Expectations should be made clear from the very beginning and discussions and check points should be employed throughout the process to ensure all is going according to plan. If a client is not satisfied at any point, concerns should be addressed immediately rather than after the project is completed. Hence, the importance of having an assigned account representative from the beginning. This person will work with the client to ensure complete satisfaction with services provided.

No limit on printing opportunities now

It is arguably amazing to see how the invention of stationery many centuries ago has led to a multi-billion dollar enterprise today. Stationery printers have experienced many advances throughout history stemming from the early development of papyrus to the advanced technology used today for paper production as well as printing. There is virtually no limit to the type of stationery choices, what can be printed or how the printing is done today.