A mini history of the gift hamper
The first hampers (1100 AD)
As the word originates from the Old French for a case for a goblet (see definitions below), it follows that hampers would be used to transport drink on long hunting expeditions. As you've got a case for goblets, and you're trying to pack as much as you can on long trips, naturally food might get packed in there too. Thus food and drinks hampers were (probably) born!
Hampers for long journeys (1700 AD)
The first stage coach company was formed in 1706 in the UK, and travellers would need to be able to dine en route. Considering it took nearly 5 days to get from London to Manchester, a smattering of meat, bread, pies, preserves and fruit cakes would be needed! Especially if the cart were to break, and you'd be in between towns.
Steam trains set off in 1804 which made sending hampers easier for the regular people.
Charitable hampers (1900 AD)
It also seems that hampers were used as charitable offerings full of food, drinks and clothing, designed to provide families in need with produce that could last them for weeks.
At Christmas, Prisoners of War would often receive a hamper provided by the Red Cross in the early 1900s.
The history of gift hampers (~1800AD)
Ready-made food hampers such as Fortnum & Mason’s have been made for hundreds of years (see The History of the Fortnum’s Hamper), and Fortnum & Mason dispatch over 120,000 hampers worldwide every year. Fortnum’s even offer monthly repayment services on the purchase of their hampers, as they can be quite pricey!
It seems that the Victorians turned them into true desirables though, through the tradition of gifting Christmas hampers. This was often done by employers wishing to bestow upon their employees enough to provide their family with a feast over the festive period.
Grocers, deli and supermarket hampers (1950s onwards)
Building on the reputation of the Fortnum’s hamper, large chains will often stock pre-made hampers for seasonal events such as Valentine’s day, Easter, and Christmas.
Dietary & speciality hampers (2000s onwards)
Increasingly today, meat-free, gluten-free and dairy-free hampers are appearing on the market. Sufferers of diabetes can also find hampers suited specifically to their dietary needs. As can those allergic to certain other foodstuffs.
International hampers (? AD)
With 4.5million Britons living abroad, and Britain seemingly being the birthplace of the hamper, hamper-gifting has become an international affair.
Truly a luxury and international gift - HRH Queen Elizabeth II presented Pope Francis with a hamper of British produce to mark their first meeting in 2014.
gotchibox hampers (2019 onwards!)
By collecting all known hampers in one place, and enabling independent shops to make, sell and post their own hampers all-year-round, gotchibox aims to spread this luxury form of gifting even further.
Within a few years, gotchibox aims to sell gift baskets of all types, for collection or delivery, from independent shops world-wide.
The meaning of Hamper in English
A basket with a carrying handle and a hinged lid, used for food, cutlery, and plates on a picnic. A wicker basket is both sturdy and ventilated, and as such hampers are often associated with picnics.
Note: in North America the term is often used in conjunction with clothes e.g. ‘A Laundry Hamper’ so this can cause some confusion!
The etymology of hamper
The term comes from ‘hanap’ which is Old French for ‘goblet’, which became ‘hanaper’ which means case for a goblet, and then finally ‘hamper’ in Middle English circa ~1140 AD onwards.
From 1244 until 1832 there was also a chap with the title 'Clerk of the Hanaper' who was a government official responsible for certain fines and fees related to the Lord's Chancellors Court (a division of the High Court of Justice).