Calling Cards – An Elegant Social Custom

Today’s graphic image is an old photographic calling card that was in old cards and papers belonging to my grandmother.  She grew up in Lismore, Minnesota and this young man was probably someone she went to school with.  He’s quite the young dandy for someone from a small farming town on the Minnesota prairie.

I have become quite fascinated with these calling cards as I’ve been scanning the few that she had.  I knew that calling cards were used pretty extensively during Victorian times but I had no idea that there were so many rules governing their use.  For example, did you know that you often turned down the corner of your calling card depending on the nature of your visit?  The corner that you turned down was determined by what type of visit it was.  You also might write down some initials on your calling card which would indicate such things as “congratulations” or “With sympathy.”

When you arrived at a home, you usually presented your calling card to the servant of the house who extended a special tray to hold the card.  The servant, in turn, would take your card to the master or lady of the house to let them know who was at the door and desiring to see them.  If the family wasn’t at home, the card was left to let the family know that you had called.  A set of rules then governed how long after the initial call was made after which the person who had been called upon should then return the favor of the visit. 

There is a website called “The Art of Manliness” which does a nice job of giving you a history of the calling card and a brief explanation of the etiquette surrounding the use of these cards on their page “Gentleman’s Guide to the Calling Card” .  If you’d like to spend some pleasant minutes looking at examples of the various kinds of calling cards, visit Days of Elegance which has marvelous pictures of calling cards, salesmen’s sample books, and even calling card trays.
It’s been suggested that calling cards might even be making a comeback as a means of giving folks a card that will list one simple way to contact you or learn more about you (such as a website address) when you first meet them, without inundating them with all of your personal contact information.  I know I’ve been using a variation of this idea by using Moo minicards at knitting retreats and other gatherings to exchange with new friends and acquaintances.  Some of these are almost works of art.

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Hot Flashed Funk

  • interesting post, Dee! My son is a big fan of ‘The Art of Manliness’ and is trying to implement many of the ‘manly habits’ or whatever they are called into his life. From what I see, it is a very positive influence on those who read the site.

    Don’t think he is ‘into’ calling cards, though….at least, not yet.

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