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One of the first considerations for a couple planning a wedding is the type of invitations they will use to inform their guests about the occasion. However, how and when did this formal wedding invitation process start?
The first type of wedding invitation was actually announced by word of mouth, before the days of printing and the Internet. During the 12 century, town criers would stand in the village square and announce weddings to everyone within earshot. A town crier got paid to stand on the corner and announce the daily news, much like news reporters on television today. As a result of the town crier's efforts, everyone within earshot was invited to share the wedding with the bride and groom - imagine trying to get a head count for that event?
The first written invitations were made during the Middle Ages of Europe, by religious monks. Because of the Plague, literacy rates were very low and only nobility and religious figures had the opportunity to learn to read and write. Wealthy nobility seeking to marry off their sons and daughters would pay incredible sums of money to monks to hand-craft wedding invitations to announce the special day. Monks were learned in the art of calligraphy and royalty appreciated this decorative skill. When the invitations were complete, they were delivered to the potential guests by a courier on horseback. During the Middle Ages, the coat of arms was also developed in response to the need to identify a person and this personal crest was often affixed to important papers, such as wedding invitations created by monks.
By the 1600's, metal plate engraving was invented, which is the same process used today. As a result of metal plate engraving, fancy engraved invitations on paper became popular. After the process was completed, a sheet of paper would be placed on top of the engraving so that it would not smudge - this is the same tissue you see left inside invitations today.
During the 18th century, wedding invitations were also published in newspapers. As literacy rates grew, more people were able to read and write. As a result, an increasing number of "regular" people began to send paper invitations to invite people to their wedding celebrations. Fine stationery was created in the 19th century because of the development of machines, which made sending paper wedding invitations even more popular. The postal system was also created and used for the delivery such invitations, along with personal couriers for those folks that felt the new mail system was unreliable. These methods of delivery encouraged the use of the double envelope to protect the invitation from being soiled or damaged en route. Although delivery methods today are cleaner and more reliable, the use of a double envelope has remained a tradition for formal wedding invitations.
Today there are numerous ways to invite people to a wedding. Invitations can be engraved or use imitation engraving known as thermography, which is less expensive. Informal invitations can be done with offset printing, home computer printing or handwritten in calligraphy and beautiful penmanship. Personalized invitations are even created on blocks of chocolate, thick paper stock or other wedding-friendly media. Some people even send their wedding invitations over the Internet!
Despite the many developments to wedding invitations over the centuries, the most popular and socially acceptable manner to invite guests is by using classic paper invitations that are carefully chosen the reflect the spirit of the event. The beauty of a traditional wedding invitation remains unsurpassed.