The Story of Stickers from Ancient Egypt to Now

At Abacas Studios we have a real passion for stickers, in all their different shapes and forms. But how long precisely have stickers been around?

Often we forget that commonplace items have a history too, and often one that can be equally compelling. Just like clothes and transport, stickers have changed to reflect the times and meet the needs of people at the time.

Yes, the history of stickers is actually more interesting than you thought…

This type of labelling has actually been around since the 1700s, when Mozart was writing his Sonatas and the French Revolution was kicking off. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely Mozart could use them to label his work- at this time they were only used for tax stamps, to collect tax or other fees on items. There would be no gold stars stuck on those beautiful Sonatas!

However, it has been suggested that the Ancient Egyptians also used ‘stickers’, with archaeologists finding pricing and product descriptions plastered to the walls of ancient cities. These were written on some kind of early paper but we’re not sure how they were stuck to surfaces. Perhaps they used the same adhesive that kept their mummies wrapped?

In the UK, however, they didn’t make an appearance until 1840 when the first adhesive postage stamps were used. Early stickers were used to decorate crates and make them more attractive during this time. These early stickers were stuck with gum glue.

As with many products, nobody knows precisely who invented the sticker as we know it. But the first stickers with peel-off labels were invented in 1935 by R Stanton Avery from Oklahoma in the USA. Yet the first adhesive paper was actually invented by a British man called Sir Rowland Hill.

However other people say that it was advertising gurus in the 1880s who espoused the use of ‘colourful labels’. Because there was massive competition among European fruit sellers at the time, stickers were used on both sides of fruit crates, to make them stand out.

Bumper stickers, meanwhile, are believed to have been invented by another American, Forest Gill, a printer who used them to advertise Rocky Mountain’s Rock City attraction. So the usage of stickers in advertising has been around a long time!

Since many stickers were hard to apply, they often involved licking or wetting the back- something you probably remember from using traditional stamps.

The popularity of stickers really boomed during 1981, when America was emerging from a recession and an adhesive researcher, John Keaton, was struggling to create a permanent adhesive for his home office. He wanted to create an adhesive to advertise rock bands, because posters in run-down areas were always ruined.

John spent hours trying to concoct the perfect adhesive, but to no avail. During one particular attempt his son kept trying to distract him, but failing, threw drawings in his father’s face. The drawing ended up landing on his latest vat of adhesive, which when dried and turned out to be the perfect solution.

John’s invention meant mirrors, guitar cases, laptops and more would never have to be sticker-less again.