I love sending messages, I love receiving messages. I enjoy writing letters – by hand, typing emails and texting messages.
Recently, my youngest son and I went to Paris for the day. We spent our morning at the Musée de la Poste at the exhibit d’Hermès au SMS… ou la Saga du Message tracing the history of communication from Greek god, Hermes to sending text messages via cell phone. As I am an avid message writer/sender, I found the exhibit truely captivating and I learned so much!
Visiting the Musée de la Poste has been on my list of new things to do, though until now I’d never gotten around to going. I subscribe to the museum’s newsletters and although I am not a stamp collector, receive their philately updates.
Hermes was the messenger for the greek gods. I suppose he was the one to give us the idea to exchange tidings. In 1476 the Royal Poste was created for use by the King only, everyone else used Messengers to deliver their messages carried in special boxes, maids too delivered notes. Monogrammed seals were used to close folded notes and letters, first with lead, later on with wax.
In 1653 the idea of a post office was put into practice but failed. It wasn’t until 1760 Claude-Humbert-Piarron de Chamousset established the Petite Poste (small town-farmers post office) in Paris, and later in 1780 that the Grande Poste (official main post office) was created. Many major cities followed the Paris model, creating their own post offices… 1766 Bordeaux, 1777 Lyon, 1778 Reims and Nancy, 1780 Strasbourg, 1781 Marseille, 1784 Lille…
Parchment was ideal for rolling messages, but paper was better for folding notes and letters. Often people folded their letters quite ornately, sometimes adding ribbons to the folds of their letters, sealing the ends with wax to ensure that the no one but the receiver would read their note.
Mail was delivered sporadically until 1830 when delivery changed to every two days and eventually became a daily occurrence in 1832. From 1740 to 1828 mail was transported by horseback and in 1840 by train. In 1845 the post office traincar was created, a traveling post office so to speak and was operational until 1995.
In the 17th century envelopes were hand made by the sender of the letter; decorating envelopes became a trend, special thought being given to make the envelope extra special for the receiver. An undecorated envelope meant that you did not think highly of the receiver of your letter.
In 1820 envelopes began to be made by artisans. A small business thus began and in 1840 envelopes began to be mass produced, folded by a machine. In 1915 the little window appeared on the envelope; in 1945 the window was perfected using improved glue and superior transparent paper.
In 1627 a tax was imposed for sending/ receiving mail. It was the receiver who paid to get his letter, not the person who sent it. It was decided in 1791 that mail would have a fixed fee, based on weight and distance and would be paid by the sender. In 1873 stamps appeared to pay this tax. First stamps were adhesive and in 1878 stamps were printed directly on the post card; in 1882 the stamp was printed directly on the envelope. In 2009 the first scratch ‘n snif stamps appeared depicting a chocolate bar.
During WWII, around 1944 pre-printed/pre-paid mail stopped being printed altogether and Airgraph and V-mail appeared. It wasn’t until 1984 in Isère and later 1991 for the rest of France that prepaid envelopes began to appear again.
Lessons given at school on the proper way to write an address began around 1863 so that children in boarding schools could write home to their parents. In 1950 mail began to be sorted by a machine making it even more important to properly address mail. The five digit zip code was invented in 1972 and in 1990 the five boxes appeared on the envelopes in which to write the zipcode to better assist mail sorting.
In 1920 letters to Santa began to appear so in 1962 the Post Office created a system to receive and respond to these letters to Santa (Lisbourne). Every year, Santa’s secreteries help him to respond to each child with a handwritten note. In 1997 Santa created a website and email address so that kids could log-on and write to him via the web!
Exchanging letters evolved drastically with modern means of communications and inventions like the telegraph machine and cell phones. In 1838 morse code was invented for military use, and used by the public in 1870. In 1876 the telephone was invented and became more common in households in the 1940’s. In 1978 the first email was sent. Commercial cell phones began to appear in the 1980’s and in 1992 the first SMS was sent.
How our methods of correspondance have been remodeled and replaced yet communication still remains an important priority!