From fairy tales to historical literature, much is made about the written letter. Handwritten correspondence—addressed, sealed, and mailed has been so central to centuries of life stories that it can be overwhelming to attempt specifics. Today, to take out a sheet of paper and pen and write and mail a letter to someone is so rare as to be thought old-fashioned—at best, charming. Even the skills to do this are being removed, as elementary schools abandon the teaching of cursive penmanship. Education authorities agree that keyboard skills are far more important for the future than handwriting.
A completed letter is usually folded and finally placed inside an envelope, the outer wrap that shelters the contents from prying eyes. Some might call the envelope's job a lowly one: protect the contents and carry the information to its destination. The postage stamp gets most of the attention, imbuing the envelope with a sense of national pride, art, and design. Stamps also give envelopes the ability to cross borders and travel. One could safely say that each is dependent on the other—stamps go nowhere without its envelope, and vice versa. While stamps are lovely, the keen eye would give the envelope high marks for its own unique, built-in architecture. Paper color, texture, angles, and folds complement the address and postage.
The hard-working envelope arrives at its destination dinged, bent, postmarked—taking the brunt of being transported from place to place. While stamps give value, postmarks give approval, and must exist with any number of handwritten notations and seals that may be added along the way.
These international envelopes, selected for their accidental sublime beauty, remind us of a golden age of correspondence, when envelopes carried the written interpretation of every human thought imaginable.
Envelope from French India, 1947
Envelope from Bolivia, registered and addressed to New York, 1940
Envelope from Burma, 1895 on registered cover
Envelope to Brazil by German Airmail, with 1913 Seahorse Stamps, strip of four
Envelope to Germany, 1948
Envelope from India, Silver Jubilee, 1935 on registered cover
Envelope to India with postage and wax seals, date unknown; collection of John Foster
Envelope from Costa Rica to Canada, 1937
Envelope to Bombay, India, 1957
Envelope from Thailand to USA, 1960s
Envelope from England, 1939
Envelope from Egypt to NYC, 1956