At the beginning of the 19th century, calling cards became part of the social rituals for introductions, invitations, and visits. The etiquette began in England for the elite social circles and would be used to help keep out the unwanted or screen the person at a distance.
Calling cards were designed to impress. The woman’s cards were larger than the men’s, because the men had to put it in their breast pocket. Originally the cards were simple but as time went on became more elaborate with fancy borders, pictures, vibrant colors, and individually hand- calligraphy cards.
The engraving was in simple type, small and without flourishes, although script became more elaborate as the century went on. 'Mr.' Or 'Mrs.' was stated before their name with the except of special titles (Earl, etc.). Early Victorian cards had only a person's title and name, with the name of their house or district sometimes added. By the end of the century, the address was added.
Etiquette of Calling Cards
During the 1800’s until the 1900’s, calling cards would be left on the visit and may have corners folded. The meaning of the folds were as follows:
- A folded top left corner - the visitor had come in person
- Top left corner unfolded - a servant was sent.
- A folded bottom left corner - farewell
- A folded top right corner - congratulations
- A folded bottom right corner - condolence.
- Black band around the edge - the carrier was in mourning over the loss of a loved one.
Calls and Leaving Cards - A lady would make calls as soon as she arrived in town, to notify everyone that her family had arrived. She remained in her carriage while her groom took her card and brought it to the residences. The mistress of the house would decide whether or not to receive the caller. If the mistress was 'not at home', it was a rejection of the visitor. A reciprocal card may be given to the caller, but if not presented formally, that usually meant there was no desire to further the acquaintance. If a formal call was returned with a formal call, there was hope for the relationship to grow.Cards from visitors were placed on a silver tray in the entry hall. In less wealthy households, china bowls were used to hold cards. The mistress made sure the impressive names were displayed on top.
First time call - leave the card without inquiring as to whether or not the mistress was at home. It is her decision to take the next step.By mid-century, a wife could leave her husband's card for him. She left her own card, plus two of her husband's--one for the mistress of the house, and one for the master. The names of grown-up daughters could be printed on her card when they accompanied her on a call as long as they were still living at home.Calls should be made only on “At Home” days. The days and times for calls to be made were engraved on visiting cards.
A newcomer waited until she received cards from neighbors. It was then good manners to call on those neighbors who left cards.
Formal calls were made following ceremonial events such as marriage or childbirth, and also as acknowledgement of hospitality.
Calls for condolence and congratulations were made about a week after the event. Ceremonial visits were made the day after a ball which leaving a card was acceptable. For dinner parties, it was adviseable to leave a card one to two days after and within a week of a small party.
Times were allocated for each type of call.
'Morning calls' were made in the afternoon.
'Ceremonial calls' were made between three and four o'clock, semi-ceremonial between four and five, and intimate calls between five and six.
Calls were never made on Sunday because this day is reserved for close friends and relatives. Visits were always short just lasting from twenty to thirty minutes. If another caller arrived during a visit, the first caller leaves within a moment or two.
A call should be returned with a call, a card with a card, within one week, or at the most, ten days.
If a family was temporarily leaving the area, they wrote P.P.C. (pour prendage conge) on their cards when they called.
It is amazing how during this time they could keep up with the etiquette and rules of calling cards and visits.
After hundreds of years, calling cards are a past memory. Business cards are the modern day calling cards used to announce arrivals for visits, connect with others much similar to the calling cards. Next time you exchange cards with someone, remember that is a tradition from the past that still has purpose to be successful at connecting with other.