The History of the Calling Card

A society woman’s calling card “follows her everywhere she goes, remains when she is gone, and is the recognized representative in the payment of social debts when personal attention is impossible.” Gentlemen and children also dropped visiting cards along with these “ladies of fashion,” primarily in the 18th through the early 20th centuries.

Calling or visiting cards first employed in 15th century China and later used by the aristocracy of 17th century became popular with England’s nobility and rich in the 1800s. The cards served a number of social purposes, such as a means of introduction, to further acquaintanceship, to express congratulations or condolences and to provide notices of arrival or departure. Card etiquette had strict rules.

Generally, the bearer waited in a carriage, enlisting a servant to deliver the calling card. The bearer folded a corner if delivering the card in person. This first call rarely resulted in a face-to-face meeting as the conveyor generally expected to deliver the item to a servant and leave. Stringent rules prevented awkward situations. Socialites desiring a relationship with a particular person or family dropped off a card and returned home. The receiver replied with their own card in a few days, inviting the initiator back for an in-person visit. If the aspiring socialite received the answering card sealed in an envelope or did not receive a return card, it meant to maintain social distance.

Appearances mattered in genteel society. Most visiting cards reflected simplicity and elegance. Women’s cards measured approximately 2.75 to 3.5 inches wide by 2 to 2.75 inches high. Men’s cards took on a longer, narrower aspect from 3 to 3.4 inches long by 1.25 to 1.5 inches wide. Post recommended a shaded-block font or a simple, engraved script, but advised against anything too ornate. Some cards bore neoclassical designs, portraits, a coat of arms and more. Today’s social calling cards diverge far from those parameters, as bearers now order more stylized forms.

Pinstriped Calling Cards are perfect for young professionals with slender pinstripes against black form the perfect backdrop for your information.

Black Band Calling Cards a dramatic black and white band decorates these functional calling cards which are great for moms and dads, young business professionals, or people on the go.

Brocade Calling Cards are great for busy moms and young professionals with pretty brocade design in black forms the perfect accent to your information.

Melrose Calling Cards are elegant square calling cards that feature a stunning black and white vine pattern border accented with cheery lemon yellow.

A man’s calling card was simple and plain in design. About the size of a playing card (they were toted about in a carrying case tucked in one’s breast pocket), they bore a man’s name, and later on, his address as well. The name was written in the center, sometimes with a middle initial and sometimes not. A young man did not preface his name with “Mr.” A military officer included his rank and branch of service. A physician could include his professional title, as in “Dr. Robert Smith,” or “Robert Smith M.D.” But honorary titles such as Prof., Hon., and Esq. were not acceptable. The card sometimes also included the name of the gentleman’s club or fraternal organization.

A man might have a set of calling cards that included his address and a set that left that space blank. This latter type of card would be larger and engraved with fancier writing. The blank space would be used for written notes inviting a friend to dinner or the theater or some other social event.

An engraved card was considered to have the most distinguished style, followed by a handsomely handwritten one, and if these could not be obtained, a nicely printed card would do. The precise rules governing card giving and the style of the card, from the type of font to whether to include your middle initial or not, changed each year and could leave a person a bit anxious about what was currently in fashion.

Initialing a Calling Card

Gentleman would also inscribe initials upon the card to denote the reason for his visit. The initials stood for the following French words:

p. f. – congratulations (pour féliciter)

p. r. – expressing one’s thanks (pour remercier)

p. c. – mourning expression (pour condoléance)

p. f. N. A. – Happy New Year (pour feliciter Nouvel An)

p. p. c. – meaning to take leave (pour prendre congé)

p. p. – if you want to be introduced to anybody, send your visiting card (pour présenter)

Turning the Corner

  • A visit in person (as opposed to being sent by a servant): the right hand upper corner
  • A congratulatory visit: the left hand upper corner
  • A condolence visit: the left hand lower corner
  • Taking leave (if you were going on a long trip): right hand lower corner
  • If there were two of more ladies in the household, the gentleman turned down a corner of the card to indicate that the call was designed for the whole family.

When the household servants moved out, and the new fangled talking machine moved in, the practice and etiquette surrounding the sending and receiving of calling cards suffered a slow death. The only place where calling cards survived was in the U.S. Armed Forces. Officers still carry on the tradition today.

During the heyday of calling cards, using a business card for a social purpose was considered bad manners. Today, while business cards are great for making business contacts, they still aren’t really suited for social situations. They probably have your work number and work email, and not much else on them. Think of all the times you meet someone you’d like to see again. Handing them a business card is too stiff and formal.

A calling card can tell a new acquaintance more about you and help them better remember you. It provides a chance to enhance the first impression you make and gives your new acquaintances the ability to pursue a relationship with you in the way they feel most comfortable.

Your calling card should reflect your personality. When someone puts your phone number into their cell, they may look at this entry some time later and fail to remember much about you. A calling card should include something to jog their memory.

Bluebird Calling Cards has a cute little bluebird that decorates these calling cards.

Ladybug Calling Cards has two cute ladybugs that decorate these calling cards which are perfect for moms meeting other moms.

Pink Dot Calling Cards has a border of black dots and one lone pink dot that make a dramatic statement on these calling cards.

To call upon a friend in the Victorian age, there was only one option-drop by their house. In our modern society, technology has provided a myriad of ways for a new acquaintance to contact you, and your card should reflect this.

In addition to your name and phone number, consider including some of the following pieces of information:

Blog or website address

Social Network User Name

Email address

Instant message name

If you decide to go for a very traditional design with only perhaps your name on the front, you can then tailor the information you wish to give to each individual you meet by simply writing on the back and making the desired additions.

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