Friday, March 25, 2011

Calling Cards

Today I'd like to talk about the Victorian custom of the calling card. This custom started in France in the early 1700s with merchants and tradespeople using them for business purposes. It then made its way into social customs as a way to formally introduce ones self to others. It spread from France, throughout Europe, and then into England and North America. During the 1800s it continued to gain popularity, and reached it's height during the later part of the Victorian era.

Calling cards started out being simple monograms handwritten by calligraphers, but as the 1800s progressed, the cards became more and more fancy. The Victorians added embellishment like elaborate fringed and scalloped edges, intricate borders, and layers that you could lift to reveal the callers name or a picture beneath.

There were also gelatin cards, transparent cards, and in the late 1800s photographic cards. Generally the more elaborate and expensive the card, the higher the person's social status.
A caller would deliver the card, when calling on another person, or get a servant to deliver it, leaving it on the calling card tray in the front entrance. The trays could be as just as elaborate as the cards. Wealthier households would use silver trays, and poorer ones would sometimes just have a china dish.

There was elaborate etiquette surrounding calling card customs. One would fold the top left corner if they sent it with a servant, the bottom left to say farewell, the top right to express congratulations and the bottom right to express condolences. Even the colors of borders could deliver a message, such as black borders which showed that you were in mourning for a close family member.
As they became more popular, many calling cards were mass produced. These cards, called common cards, made this social custom more accessible to the masses. People even collected the cards and put them in special scrap books.

In a way I wish this was still going on (I guess it is in the form of business cards, but let's face it, that's not as fun). It would be kind of neat to collect cards from friends, especially if people designed them to express their personalities. I think I am going to design my own and give them to friends anyway.

On another note, I saw some really cute card cases on Etsy. I am enjoying these two.

If you had a calling card, what would it look like?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. I have always loved the idea of calling cards. They just ring of a formal propriety that is simply extinct these days. Ever since I first watched the movie Harvey in high school (where Edward P. Doud passes his calling card out to everyone), I thought that was the coolest thing. I just ordered business cards for my blog - I guess that's close enough. Kinda in between a business card and a calling card (since my blog isn't a business). :)

    Sophistique Noir

  2. Hmmm, my calling card would probably be pretty ridiculous and Monty-Python-worthy. It would almost certainly include something to do with sidesaddles. Maybe a sidesaddle attached to a hot air balloon. With wings. And portholes. And a mermaid is in the saddle. Yep.

  3. @chloris That sounds amazing! And so you.
    @Victorian Kitty I like the idea of a business/calling card for your blog. :)

  4. This is such a great site! I like the way you set this up! Great content! Thanks for sharing this!...Daniel

  5. I love idea of calling cards. Mine would most definitely have all manner of sweet treats upon them. Or, I'd have several cards with different treats to indicate the day: cupcakes for Monday, lollipops for Tuesday, Cinnamon buns for Wednesday, and so on and so forth. Yep.

    Now I want cupcakes.

  6. Absolutely fantastic information you are sharing. But there seems to be many dimensions fo calling cards. Some for business purposes, some for making phone calls. weird world

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  8. Useful stuff regarding Calling Card. thanks for sharing.