Think you know paper? Think again!

Here at, we’re all about paper. Not just paper in the form of stationery, postcards and wedding invitations, but also in the form of things like paper planes. That’s why we wanted to dig a bit deeper in the history of paper and, more specifically, were looking for some ‘firsts’ for paper and its uses. We also included some surprising facts for you, so you can brag about your new found knowledge to all your friends.

The first paper house?

No, I’m not talking about the 1988 British dark fantasy film, directed by Bernard Rose. I’m talking about an actual house made of paper. It’s been around for longer than (most of) you, too. Elis F. Stenman built his own house made out of the white stuff in 1924 and it is still standing to this day. You can go and visit it, but I am afraid you’ll need to take a (paper?) plane to the other side of the pond, as it is located in Rockport, Massachusetts.

Fun fact: To construct his house, Stenman made his own glue out of water, flower and….apple peals! Apparently the peals added the stickiness that was needed so that it stands ‘till this day. You can read more about Stenman and his paper house here.

The first wedding invitation

Illiteracy was widespread in the Middle Ages, so the most common practice to announce a wedding was by Town Crier. The practice of sending written wedding invitations emerged first among the nobility. These Lords and Sirs would commission a monk, skilled in the art of calligraphy, to handcraft their invitations.

Even after the invitation of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg, those initial printing techniques proved to be of too low quality for a stylish wedding invite and handwriting remained the norm.

 Fun fact: The tissue paper sometimes wrapped around an invite is now purely decorative but when it was first used, it did serve an important purpose: it prevented smudging and blotting, especially for those invitations that were poorly printed or hastily mailed before the ink had time to fully dry.


The first paper money 

The first paper bills were invented by the Chinese, who started using the new form of money during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). Incredibly, it took over 500 years before Europe caught on to the practice of using paper money in the 17th century.

Fun fact: All notes eventually wear out. The smaller the value, the more often you use it and the shorter its lifespan. The life of a Bank of England banknote in normal circulation can range from between 12 to 18 months for the £5; three to four years for the £10 and £20; and over five years for the £50. Over that time, of course, owing to inflation, its value will decline—a perfect excuse to spend it quickly.


The first business card

Most experts agree that the origins of business cards can be traced back to 15th century China. Known as ‘visiting cards’, they served as a calling card to declare one person’s intention of meeting with another individual.

For the nobility, the cards were an indispensable tool for self-promotion and served as a personal advertisement to create an introduction. So in other words, they were the Tinder app of their generation.

Fun fact: There are 25 billion business cards printed every year which is roughly three for every adult, pensioner and child on the planet. To put this in context, if you make a big pile of all those business cards you would need to have very large rolodex to accommodate them all.  


The first newspaper

We have to go back all the way to Ancient Rome for the first newspapers: Acta Diurna, or government announcement bulletins. They were carved in metal or stone and posted in public places. For the first paper newspaper we have to return to—you guessed it—China. The ‘tipao’ were news sheets produced by the government and circulated during the late Han dynasty (second and third centuries AD).

Fun fact: A rare copy of the first ever printed British newspaper was up for sale in 2013. The very first edition of The Oxford Gazette was published on November 7, 1665 and fetched £15,000 in auction last year.

What unusual items have you seen made out of paper? Let us know by commenting below.  



08 Sep 2014 00:51
Some fun facts here.
Ian McNeil
09 Sep 2014 13:48
If there's ever a paper question on the pub quiz now, I'm ready for it.
Sam Parker
09 Sep 2014 14:28
Who knew there were so many interesting facts to learn about paper!
Tina Mammoser
10 Sep 2014 17:52
I'm with Ian, bring on the pub quiz! I don't know if it's the first of its kind but I draw on a paper made of stone instead of trees. Since I'm drawing coastal cliffs it's fun that I'm drawing on limestone. :)
Wayne Hewitt
19 Sep 2014 12:03
Who knew ill be reading facts about paper on a friends lunch time.
Su Mwamba
07 Oct 2014 22:22
Fascinating stuff!
Stuart Glegg
25 Mar 2015 21:45
Wow, good piece, thanks for sharing
Bryony Bishop
10 Oct 2017 15:10
I actually didn't know any of those! Great facts!

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