GIFT WRAPPING PAPER IS DISTINCT FROM THE ONCE MORE COMMON FORM OF WRAPPING PAPER USED IN SHOPS TO PROTECT OR PARCEL UP GOODS. We still see this of course when we shop in the delicatessen section of the supermarket, where the wrapping paper is often decorated with a business name or usual products. This is in contrast to the butcher whose large sheets of ‘blank’ paper are well known to think tanks, work place meetings and primary schools. Gift wrap is fancy paper.
Gift wrap is made up of ‘repeated designs created to appeal visually, whether seen in part or in whole, in this respect they are different from other repeated products like wallpaper and tile’. The original motif is called a repeat and can be from 10cm to 40cm. Some art directors do not like the repeat to be too large as desirably even a small package should display most of the repeat. The repeat can be used ‘straight’ or ‘locking’. Straight repeats are made up of a square or triangle and are built up by putting duplicates around the original repeat. The locking repeat has slightly irregular dimensions, not straight lines. It requires more bleed space. The repeat usually overlaps rather than just touching – too hard. There is no definite top or bottom.
My interest in this was sparked by my general determination to collect and encourage contemporary local greeting card publishers, and this led, as collecting does, to the related material, wrapping paper. Which I properly need to call gift wrapping paper.
Among the ephemera that comes my way was a wonderful little set of chemist material from 1975 – a letter from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia offering members bags (sizes and prices) and samples of that year’s Christmas and general use wrapping paper. I liked the bags and the paper and wrote a post on it, if you missed it follow this link.
I was sparked up further when browsing in Readings and Dymock’s bookshops, and saw that Hardie Grant were publishing a series of books of wrapping paper designed by Australian artists with gift stickers called All Wrapped Up since 2018, see more at this link. The first I found was by a one time ESA member Alice Oehr subtitled Australia. There are 20 sheets of flora, fauna and kitsch in the book. There turn out to be six books in the series published from 2018 to 2021 and the other titles and artists are Party Sophie Beer and Botanicals Edith Rewa (textile designer), from 2020 Dreamscapes by Laura Blythman (designer and illustrator), Spirit by Rachael Sarra (First Nations designer and illustrator), Megan Hess (a fashion illustrator)(2021).
Wrapping paper originates in China where paper was apparently invented in the second century BC. The Japanese also had a tradition of wrapping gifts. In the West, papers developed for different purposes were trialed as gift wrap. There is a record of early wallpaper being used but it wasn’t suitable for folding.
In 1745, there is a record of ‘shop-paper’, which was brown paper used to wrap goods.
In 1843, Charles Dickens describes a past era when presents were wrapped in brown paper.
In 1857 toilet tissue as a product is developed and tissue paper is another type of paper that comes from this new product. In the 1860s, tissue paper is used for sewing patterns and then gift wrapping.
In the long Victorian era there is reference to another style: Christmas papers were intricately printed and ornamented with lace and ribbon. Decorated boxes, loose bags, and coronets bore cutout illustrations of Father Christmas, robins, angels, holly boughs and other seasonal decorations (“How is wrapping paper made?” by Gillian S. Holmes).
In 1890, a printing development, flexography is patented: foldable stiff paper can be printed with coloured inks. In 1912 cellophane is used to wrap Whitman’s candy, with the development of moisture proof cellophane sales triple in the late 1920s.
The Hall Brothers’ revolution
In 1917 in Montana, Joyce Clyde and Rollie Hall (the founders of Hallmark cards) ran out of the solid colour tissue paper used for Christmas wrapping. They substituted French envelope lining paper – which was thicker and colourful. ‘It sold so well they began printing their own.’
The official Hallmark historian has written a blog with photographs and links to films about their gift wrap history. In 1956, Hallmark increased marketing of gift wrap with in-store demonstrations, how-to manuals and then films, first in 1958 and a follow up in 1968.
We have published an article about business specific ‘gift enclosing envelopes’ These dates from the 1940s and 50s. They all come from the collection of ESA member Andrew H, here is a reminder in case you don’t follow the link.
Prosperous 1950s & 60s
Post World War II greeting card manufacturers were building new plants and some began to diversify into card-related products like gift wrapping paper.
Australia seems to have been on the same wavelength as Hallmark as in 1955, the local trade journal Ideas for stationers, booksellers, newsagents, libraries, fancy goods published articles about fancy wrappings ‘fast becoming BIG business’ just like ‘cards for all occasions’ had become over the previous decade. Ideas strongly advised establishing a Wrapping Paper section with an open display case, at least 4-6 feet wide.
John Sands were local leaders with plain and fancy wrapping paper. (In 1955 other suppliers like Spicer’s, Robertson & Mullen’s and Wrappings Pty Ltd were only advertising Christmas fancy paper.) John Sands supported these advertorials with examples of their wrapping paper and the results of marketing research: gift paper is a solid business and gift wraps and accessories sell very fast. ‘when your customer selects an appropriate card and a gift tag she must also have wrapping paper and ribbon tie to make her parcel just right.’
Shopkeepers were advised to look very carefully through the range of patterns. Special effort was also required for display – display several patterns like a lady’s fan (ideally three fans) or wrap parcels showing off the paper. Sales tickets might read ‘Fancy wrapping adds much to the value of your gift and costs only a few pence’. The final urging was to be a brave leader by embracing a wide range of papers rather than dabbling.
Sadly no examples to hand. Does anyone have any? Here is a lonely example, probably from the 1980s. Googling shows that Valentine and Sons of Clayton, established 1919, were taken over by John Sands in 1989. This paper’s printed information states ‘Designed and Printed in Australia’, Valentine Sands. A correspondent on FaceBook remembers using this for her very young son, who was born in 1980. So was there a soft takeover of Valentine with a sharing of the company names pre 1989? Does anyone know?
Possibly late 2010s
Scanned in two sections because of the large pattern, this LaLa Land paper might be from the late 2010s. Following on from our zoom session in July 2022, the range of animals and birds goes way beyond the regular players – kangaroo, koala and emu. In fact it mainly features the less seen like the echidna, possum, kookaburra and wombat. Their website advises that:
As one of the first brands to focus on the beauty of Australian flora and fauna.
This was La La Land’s key theme, created in 2009 when across a beautiful range of greeting cards.
My post office used to sell double-sided gift wrap by FoxKraft, which was ‘made in Australia too’. I buy Australian designed wrapping paper to use and collect. I usually collect designs with obvious Australian references. Here are a selection from Earth Greetings.
And currently from La La Land (currently have 30 Australian artists producing cards but only six wrapping paper designs). (The ones I have chosen are from the two in-house designers.)
The largest range for me to collect seem to be at Inky Co., who have 140 papers designed and made in Melbourne. The changing name of the publisher just legible.
Others venturing into wrapping paper design
These include Beekeeper Parade, a local bag maker and Who Gives a Crap, a local toilet paper manufacturer who once a year wrap the rolls in new designs – 2021 set could be used for gift wrap with a message space included in the design.
NEXT STEP We aim to look at various types of ephemera in about 500-1,000 words; if you would like to contribute – let us know. We can publish longer pieces and colour examples on the website.
Parts of this article were published in the Ephemera Newsletter no.15, March 2022.