Philately Pictorial Envelopes

Envelopes are an item in our lives that often get overlooked. We handle them nearly every day despite being in an ever growing “paperless” world and yet, many times, we don’t even think twice about this simple and effective business tool. While it doesn’t appear that the exact origins of the envelope can be pinpointed in history, according to the Smithsonian the envelope makes appearances back in 1200 B.C. China as well as ancient Egypt and while we wish here in the NAMM Resource Center that we had our hands on some of these oldest versions of the envelope, we are happy to report we have a substantial collection that dates back to the 1840s that were donated by Henry Z. Steinway as part of the Steinway Philately Special Collection.

Each of the nearly 400 envelopes contained within this collection is unique in a sense that it has an illustration related to the music products industry on the front of the envelope. According to the Library of Congress these “pictorial envelopes” were conceptualized by artist William Mulready in Great Britain in 1839. A concept born out of art and quickly capitalized by the direct mailing business, these illustrations serve as an ingenious marketing and advertising tool. One can only imagine the sense of pride retailers must have felt when they had their own envelope with a depiction of their store on the front!

We’ve pulled just a few examples from our archives to serve as a small representation for this blog the breadth of Henry’s collection and we are eternally grateful that Henry saw fit for this collection to be donated to the NAMM Resource Center. 

Elizabeth Dale
NAMM Archivist & Oral History Coordinator

Dan Del Fiorentino
NAMM Music Historian
dand@namm.org