Manila Envelopes

When was the ball point pen invented? What about paper clips, or fax machines? Vic Hollefruend, our Retail Furniture Manager, is on the case, researching and compiling everything you would want to know about who, where, why, when, and how of office supplies. We are pleased to present Vic’s History of Office Stuff.

Bananas in the Office

When offices and office supplies began to specialize and inventions designed to make office life easier appeared on the scene, people started going bananas….literally!

Yep! You read that correctly. They went bananas. Specifically, they went “abacàs”. You see, the abacà is a species of banana that grows abundantly in the Philippines. But it’s the fiber in the leaves of the abacà tree that caught people’s attention.

The abacá plant is native to the Philippines, which explains the origin of the word “manila” used with some envelopes. The term comes from the city of Manila, the capital of the country.

Originally, the stout fiber was woven into cordage called “Manila rope” as well as fashioned into “Manila hats”, matting, strong fabrics and fishing nets.

However, like the papyrus of ancient Egypt, the fibers were also used to make a type of highly durable paper from which manila folders and envelopes were made.

Modern Manila

Manila folders were as heavy as cardboard when they were first commercially produced in the 1800s. No longer are they plantain-based, today’s manila folders and envelopes are made of heavy tan paper designed to evoke the original color of the versatile plantain fiber. As long as the paper is brown, drab and sturdy, it gets tagged with the name… “Manila”.

Although manila folders and envelopes are not made of manila hemp anymore, the term has come to refer to any cheap, unbleached beige folder or envelope.

Just to be clear, this manila hemp has nothing to do with actual hemp – It’s just that the long fibers from the leaves reminded the manufacturers of hemp.

Another interesting tidbit is that, for reasons that remain completely unclear, the paper that was made from those banana leaves was chosen to become the standard for full-size envelopes in pretty much every office around the world.

Well, there you have it…..everything you ever wanted to know about Manila envelopes but were afraid to ask!

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