The History of Wedding Invitations – 18th Century to Present Day

April 13th, 2017 by Ivy Ellen Tags: , , ,
Posted in Ask the Experts | No Comments »

Why do we have wedding invitations? What is the history of wedding invitations? Wedding stationery is now a must have part of every wedding – the colours available are unimaginable, the designs, styles, techniques and shapes are that of a stationery marvel. However it hasn’t always been that way. We decided to do a little research of our own to find out how wedding invitations, and therefore our little company, have come about. We also thought we’d let you in on how we started Ivy Ellen Wedding Invitations and how we’ve grown since.

So the history of wedding invitations all started at the turn of the 18th century when reading and writing was a sign of eductaion. Therefore only the elite could actually use this form of correspondance and send invitations. Usually a monk, who had the skills of calligraphy, would hand write each elaborate and luxury invitation for the family. The invite was often closed with a wax seal of the family crest – another sign of status. Before this, in the middle ages, a town crier would simply announce the wedding in the square and whoever was in ear shot was essentailly invited to the celebrations. Unless of course you had been shunned by the family – oh the despair!

By 1447 Johann Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, craftsman and inventor, created letterpress printing. He invented the moveable type and by combining it with exisiting technologies he was able to compete with the handwritten invites created by Monks. His method of printing from lead moveable type, a novel letterpress, and oil based inks allowed for the first time the mass production of books. Letterpress printing is done by inking type, or an engraving, and pressing that form into paper with the use of a letterpress.

Traditionally, there would always be a layer of tissue paper in with the letterpressed invite as the ink would not always dry quickly and may run/smudge. This invite and tissue paper layer would then be placed inside a pristine envelope and then inside another larger one. The larger envelope would have instructions for the courier as to how to deliver it and would keep the main invite clean and dry. Each wedding invitation was delivered by hand, often by servants. At this stage the outer envelope was thrown away and the recipients’ butler would deliver the pristine invitation to the family on a silver tray.

history of wedding invitation - 1895

Image courtesy of Pinterest

By 1600 marriage announcements were made in the local paper. By this time more people could read and the wedding was celebrated as a public event.

The next proper attempt at mass producing wedding invitations came in 1798 with the invention of lithography. This involved using chemicals to make images, producing a very crisp and fast result. This type of mass production allowed the more ‘common’ people to have wedding invitations. It was a much cheaper process than letterpress and by the 19th century the majority of wedding invitations were created like this. However, many elitists still opted for letterpress, as they thought mass production was cheap and more for the common people. The invention of photothermography came about in 1960 and completely changed the history of wedding invitations. Using heat to create raised lettering, it provided everyone with a fantastic way to duplicate the eye catching effects of metal engraving. Of course it cost much less and was therefore much more popular.

Fast forward to 2009 and you have Ivy Ellen. Ivy Ellen is an award winning British wedding stationery brand founded by greeting card publishers Jo and Jeremy Corner in 2009. Named in memory of Jo’s grandmother, Ivy Ellen. We started small, a few different designs that were digitally printed by an outsourced company. The styles reflected that of the trends in 2009, with a vintage feel to them. Our designs were print heavy, colourful and embelished with genuine swarovski crystals. For example a few of our very first designs included; Vintage Garden, Butterfly Love and Vintage Floral. To date, Vintage Floral still remains as one of our more popular and recognisable wedding invitations. See below.

vintage floral history of wedding invitation

2009 was our first year in business and we took all the opportunities, such as exhibiting at The National Wedding Show in London. A bold step that paid off – we loved it! We have since exhibited every year at The National Wedding Show and now take with us over 40 designs. Ivy Ellen are now featured in all the top bridal magazine including; Brides, Wedding Ideas, Perfect Wedding and more. In 2013 was our big win, the Wedding Ideas Award for Best Wedding Stationery. We were also runners up in 2011 and 2014. Most recently in 2017 we received the award for ‘Highly Commended Wedding Stationer’. We have even been featured in a wedding movie, ‘The Wedding Video’ which was released in 2012 and featured our stunning ‘Freya’ wedding invitations.

Although many of our initial designs are still available, Ivy Ellen has grown significantly since 2009 and we now offer over 125 different styles and designs. Our most popular designs through the years continue to be; Fairytale, Bunnies, and Vina. In 2014 Ivy Ellen released a set of 18 new designs that were bold, colourful and completely different. People of the middle ages would have marvelled! The new collection were are all belly band wedding invitations. Belly bands are fantastic for holding additional information inserts, RSVP cards and more – while still looking beautiful, obviously. In modern day, there is so much more to wedding stationery, for example, Save the Dates. Most popular in the USA, save the dates are often sent out up to a year in advance of the wedding to ensure guests…save the date! These are a fab option for weddings abroad, weddings in peak season or simply as a nice touch. Here at Ivy Ellen every wedding stationery range comes available with every item from save the dates and wedding invitations through to on the day stationery such as; menu cards, order of service, place cards, table plans and numbers etc.

Although letterpress has made a comeback in the past year or so, we prefer to print digitally or hot foil. Printing digitally gives us a huge range of colours, fonts and ability to print patterns and designs. Foiling has come and gone with trends however customized foiling such as names, monograms and logos etc. have stayed a popular option for more contemporary looking wedding invitations. For example, this year we have worked with a few couples tying the knot at The Shard, London. Foiling a gloss gold design and using genuine Swarovski crystals creates a modern and luxurious invitation that the wealthy aristocrats of the 1400’s would have envied! See here our new ‘Gatsby’ foiled wedding invitation – a subtle yet mdoern nod to the history of wedding invitations from the 1920 era.

From the past to the present the actual wording of wedding invitations has not changed too much. Traditionally the wedding invitation would be written in third person and the bride’s parents would invite the recipients on behalf of their daughter. This type of wording still exists today however it is seen as very formal option. Many people choose to have more relaxed wording, often excluding the mention of parents alltogether. This can often be down to divorced parents and of course financial reasons. For example if the parents are paying it is respectful to include them on the wedding invitations, but if you are paying then it isn’t necessary.

Although traditionally wedding invitations were dealt with by the parents of the bride, for the majority we now deal with the couple themsleves. This is often related to who is paying for the wedding, with more and more couples paying for all of/most of the wedding themselves these days. This can also affect the wording of the invites, for example a traditional wording would include the full parents names and often say “Mr and Mrs… request the honour of the pleasure of…. at the marraige of their daughter….”. However many couples now choose to be known as the hosts themsleves and often leave out the parents names completely.

rsvp card - history of wedding invitation

These days a wedding invitation can often contain alot more than simply the time and location of the wedding. Many brides and grooms choose to have extra information inserts to accompany their invites. These usually include information on; the location of the wedding and the surrounding area, dress code, gift list details, travel and accommodation details. It is also popular now to have wedding websites, the internet is so widely used in our day to day lives that it has become very convienent to have all the necessary details in one place online. Of course some couples choose to go paperless entirely and simply send an e-invite however it is more common to send a wedding invitation with the link to a wedding website.

Some traditions of wedding invitations remain, for example using the double envelope and tissue paper is still quite common in the Unites States. Letterpress as a technique has also started to make a big comeback, it looks set to be a big trend going forward for 2017 and 2018.

Wedding invitations have come a long way from the town paper announcements, for example wedding shows. The wedding industry as a whole as become a huge market place of suppliers, bloggers, magazines and even TV shows. Many of which will gather together at various shows across the country to sell themseves to the thousands of attending brides. Ivy Ellen typically exhibit at the National Wedding Show in London and then several smaller local shows throughout the course of the year. Wedding stationery is a competitive market and exhibiting ourselves at these shows is the best way to meet brides and gain more exposure! We have found with the rise in less traditional weddings, wedding invitations have played a huge role in the theme of the day and are no longer just a form of contact like in the 1600’s. More and more couples want their wedding invitations to reflect them as a couple with choices of personalisation, colours and themes, from colourful florals to bunny rabbits!

The rising cost of weddings has seen a huge increase in DIY wedding days in the past few years. Do It Yourself is the new shabby-chic and is not only cost effective but fashionable. Oh how they would have looked down on us in the 1400’s! For many people, wedding stationery is no longer seen as sign of aristocracy or wealth but more a reflection of the big day itself and what is to come. Here at Ivy Ellen we offer wedding stationery that starts from £1.20. Many of these are DIY available, of course we also offer some that can range upwards of £7.00 each – for those with a much larger budget!

diy store - history of wedding invitation

Whilst exhibiting at the National wedding Show last year we even conducted a DIY wedding invitation workshop. Every day we taught a group of eager brides and grroms how to DIY their wedding invitations. We taught them how to attach our genuine swarovski jewels, tie proper bows and even create a belly band. This proved very popular and we are keen to do so again next year. Of course youc an but all the DIY wedding items on our website too, for example; rolls of ribbon or twine, jewels and even our do it yourself mini bunting.

DIY - history of wedding invitation

The history of wedding invitations is most defintely an interesting one. As for the future fo wedding invitations? Well the competition is fierce these days, with graphic designers setting up their own businesses and high street stores selling their own too. For example Hobbycraft and Debehnams both sell wedding stationery, wedding planners and even guest books and decorations. The rise of popular sites such as Not On The High Street has allowed these smaller sellers to have a platform in front of thousands of customers. Hopefully Ivy Ellen will stand the test of time and our luxury wedding invitations will shine through!


I hope you enjoyed learning more about the history of wedding invitations. It was task and a half to research but very fun too!

For more wedding stationery blogs see: The 5 Styles of Wedding Invitations at Ivy Ellen

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