Paper embossing dates back to the late 18th century when a British die-sinker named John Gregory Hancock patented the concept of 'ornamenting paper by embossing or enchasing'. Several years later, another fundamental patent of his was accepted for 'forcing or working the bolts of presses or engines used for cutting, pressing, and squeezing metals, horn, tortoise-shell, leather, paper, and other substances' – and from this crucial combination of theories, the ideology behind embossing was born!
The embossing technique itself derives from die-sinking processes in which metal dies with engraved images were mechanically pressed against a material to mould the design – however, paper embossing was a different story. Due to the delicate structure of paper, a second – duplicate – die was required to ensure each section of the cavity was filled, while sustaining a consistent pressure to not risk damaging the paper.
It wasn't until some years after Hancock's findings, during the 19th century, that the paper embossing technique was truly put into practise on a commercial scale. Dobbs & Co. were 'ornamental stationers and pencil manufacturers', originally situated in the heart of London and renowned for high-quality embossing. The company used this innovative process to emboss exclusive calling card envelopes, special reward cards, and even the tickets for King George IV's coronation.
But these embossed items weren't just limited to the rich – in addition, Dobbs produced a range of general-purpose cards for the wider population, featuring pattern-embossed frames for use as invitations, greeting cards and certificates. Embossing was a hit – but nothing like we know it today. Instead of having the great fortune of using plastic embossing folders, embossers would engrave patterns, designs and even portraits into metal dies by hand, requiring painstaking patience and attention to detail.
Embossing has come a significantly long way since that time. Not only can you emboss materials in your own home using compact, cutting-edge machines, but the patterns available to emboss are far more varied to truly extend your design possibilities. Today, embossing is a common technique used throughout crafting to add texture, an element of dimension, and detail to a project – and oh boy, is it popular!