Monday, November 1, 2010

Invitation Week - a short historical overview

The first installment of Cake Week went down so well that I thought I'd go thematic again this week - and talk about the history of wedding invitations.

There's so much to say that it's likely we'll revisit this theme more than once - but lets kick off with a bit of historical perspective, shall we? Lets look at the people and the inventions that shaped the invitation as we know it today.

The Town Crier played a pivotal role in days gone by.

Mostly because people were illiterate.

Anything of importance - including weddings - was announced rather loudly. Consequently this meant that anyone within earshot was invited to the wedding.

This may have worked for the population at large - but the nobility had a rather different view of things.

Religious monks were known for their beautiful work, and it was very fashionable to pay monasteries large sums of money to create hand-drawn and illuminated wedding invitations when sons and daughters of the upper crust were being married off.

These invitations were then delivered  by a specially-appointed courier.

As the Middle Ages wore on, changes swept across Europe. Between the birth of printing and the Protestant Reformation, literacy became something to aspire to.

Basic printing did not produce high quality invitations, however. Mainly because the ink was merely stamped on the paper.

By the mid-1600s, metal-plate engraving had been invented. A carving tool allowed words to be engraved in reverse onto a plate - and this gave invitations a more sophisticated look. 

Smudging, however, was still an issue.

So a piece of tissue paper was placed over the invitation. This is one of the traditions carried over from the early days; although today the effect is purely decorative and for the most part vellum is used.

Another important milestone of the 1600s was the newspaper - and the tradition of announcing one's upcoming nuptials started gaining popularity.

early newspapers

The next big invention to impact wedding invitation design was lithography.


Not only was the result crisp, it also eliminated most of the time constraints that metal-engraving had placed on design.

Things remained pretty much unchanged until the end of World War II. People's lifestyle changed fairly dramatically as incomes increased, and the 1950s ushered in a stylized way of looking at and dealing with matters.

Thermography (in this case the use of heat to create raised ink lettering) lent itself beautifully to wedding stationery - and most important, it was within the budget of the average couple.


Over the past few decades wedding stationery has really taken off. The days of sterile wedding invitations are over - and everywhere you turn people are infusing themselves and their personality into their creations. Suffice it to say that you can truly get anything these days.

On Wednesday we'll be talking to the fabulous ladies of Praez Occasions; a full-service design firm with an unconventional flair for the fine details. Till then I'll leave you with a photo of an invitation I am partial to.

It isn't what you might expect, though. This is not an invitation to a wedding, but an invitation to be in the wedding party. 


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