Writing very early became a device for making social affairs run more smoothly. Writing in the sense of books, newspapers, records, stories is one thing; writing in the sense of social correspondence, invitations, cards of greetings, congratulation, and condolence is quite another.
The North American Indians were among the first to use actual invitations. They burned their message on buckskin and sent it by runner to the person for whom it was intended. Tribes also had a smoke message which they used to call their people together for purposes of feasting, celebrating, etc... The smoke message was used sometimes in warfare.
It appears that among the Indians, ever a hospitable people, the development of the invitation was rapid and marked. Long before 1600 the Algonquins were sending out "dinner invitations" in the form of specially cut blocks of wood about the size of the little finger. All those who received the bit of wood with its curious picture message, knew that they were invited to attend the feast and celebration being given by the Algonquin. They came from far and wide to join in the merrymaking.
Among early European peoples the invitation developed slowly. The peasantry, of course, had no need for any such thing as an invitation; if one of their number wished to celebrate at the public bar or in his home, he merely called all his friends together with as much proud noise as he could command. Among the upper classes, a private messenger was sent to give the information orally.
By the time of Shakespeare the invitation had reached a fairly high point of development. The mode of the written invitation first found favour at court and then spread to the people in the cities. These invitations were written on huge sheets of white paper, by hand, the initial letters usually made by stamp and decorated with color.
"So many guests invite as here are writ," says Shakespeare. The invitations were carried by pages or messengers to the homes of the people for who they were intended, and usually an answer was required, in the manner of our acknowledgement. –Lillian Eichler
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