Over time, stationery changed more than writing instruments. There were three types of changes. First, there was a change in the quality and thickness of the writing paper sold. It seems to have become uniform, so that only one quality was sold in catalogues. However, that quality seems to have been more in keeping with the real needs of letter writers. The social status that had long been associated with the choice of writing paper seems to have become less and less evident. According to letter-writing manuals, the paper used was a clear indication of status so it had to be chosen carefully. However, mail-order catalogues, which reached a very large percentage of the population in rural areas, made no distinction when it came to paper.

The second change that becomes apparent when looking at catalogues is the way writing paper was sold. In catalogues published in the late 19th century, paper was sold only by the quire, with a set number of sheets (25). Envelopes were sold separately. All that changed. Stationery sets with matching envelopes and paper appeared. The number of sheets included in such sets varied and that had an impact on the price of writing paper. Boxes for storing writing paper were also sold through catalogues. They were similar to the wooden writing cases of the 19th century but were not used as a writing surface. Since they cost less than writing cases, more people could afford them.

The variety of paper available also became more limited. That was the third change. Calling cards and mourning paper gave way to greeting cards for various occasions that were pre-printed by the manufacturer. Companies that produced mail-order catalogues knew how to cater to the new tastes and needs of the population by offering a range of products that kept up with the trends.
by Bianca Gendreau

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