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A Brief History of Letter Writing

At Indelible Cards, we believe in the value of the handwritten letter and have blogged about the reasons why, how to write a letter, and who should receive handwritten letters. Just like everything else, there had to be a beginning to letter writing, so we thought we would give you a brief history of the written word. We take our alphabet and writing for granted, but how did this form of communication begin and evolve throughout generations? Below are a few of the critical moments in history that helped to form the exchange of letters as we know it today.

Earliest Writings

The first known writings appeared in about 3400 B.C. in Mesopotamia in the Middle East. These documents were primarily economic and administrative tasks marked on clay tablets. The markings are called cuneiform, which consist of wedge-shaped marks on the tablets. Over the years the markings became more advanced and eventually they started recording stories, songs and poetry on the tablets. These recovered letters give us an insight into their worlds and helped form much of what is in our History books.

The Alphabet

The markings eventually were replaced by a group of symbols that represented the sounds of language, or what we would call an alphabet. It is believed that the first alphabet was created in the second millennium B.C. and was spread by Phoenician traders. This was extremely important, as it made the writing available to the people and not just the highly educated. The alphabet continued to evolve until the 8th Century B.C. when the Greek alphabet was created, and became the foundation for alphabets and languages around the world.

The First Letter

It is believed the first handwritten letter came from the Persian Queen Atossa around 500 B.C. As letter writing became more and more popular ancient civilizations created relay and transportations systems, couriers and even pigeons to make sure the letters moved from location to location. For the first time, this allowed people to communicate without having to physically be in the same location.

The Stamp

These systems continued until 1840 when Great Britain created a prepaid stamp. This allowed letters to be exchanged without the recipient having to pay upon arrival, which gave the sender confidence their letter would be read. The United States saw the success and by 1847 had created a standardized stamp for the country.

The Future

Where will communication go in the future? If you would have told ancient civilizations about phones, text messaging, email and social media, they probably would not have been able to comprehend these concepts. Will the same be said about us in the future? Possibly, but as modes of communication have changed over the decades, the value of the handwritten letter has not. People still get excited and appreciate any time they open the mailbox and see a letter with their name on it. At Indelible Cards, we don’t see that changing.

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