Why are they called ‘Manila’ envelopes?

For a few years now, I’ve wondered why some envelopes are called Manila (or manilla) ones. Initially I thought it might have been that, like Champagne and Melton Mowbray pork pies, manilla envelopes had to be made in Manila to be ‘official’. But, after a bit of digging, I’ve found out that’s not the case. Apparently it’s because Manila envelopes were originally made out of Manila hemp. (Though they’re not necessarily made from it now.)

Before certain types of readers start getting excited, I should point out that ‘hemp’ is a misnomer.   Instead, Manilla envelopes were made from a fibre that came from the ‘abaca’, a relative of the banana, of which the Philippines is the world’s largest producer. (And, just in case, Manila is the capital of the country.)

While all this is news to me, the United Nations has known about it for a while. In 1989 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization released a report called – and excuse me while I take a deep breath – ‘Impact of changing technological and economic factors on markets for natural industrial fibres’. Phew!

The report says that ‘For many years abaca has been used in paper-making mixed with wood pulps in order to increase the strength of certain final products and at the same time to reduce their weight, e.g. manila envelopes.’ It goes on to say that ‘Special papers with high tear and tensile strength [their emphasis] such as currency paper, light weight onion skin paper, dust filter papers, packaging tape and some cigarette papers are also made with abaca pulps.’

Safe to say that, when I go to bed tonight, I won’t be kept awake wondering where Manila envelopes get their name. Now, in case you need some envelopes of your own, we’ve got a  special offer on our 5 Star peel and seal boardbacked manilla envelopes – buy two and get one free! Instead of me telling you all about them, you can find out more by watching our little video.

P.S. Here’s a BBC article on the Melton Mowbray pork pies.

PPS. Here’s the UN report.

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