Monday, September 08, 2014

Bringing Back the Calling Card!

Mr. & Mrs. S. J. Iveson - at home Essex PA - or so says this tiny little visiting card.

In cleaning up my studio today, I rediscovered a tiny treasure I picked up at Brimfield*. This little calling card is the precursor to what we now call a business card. The etiquette was entirely different, as was the information they conveyed.

The back side of the tiny little calling card - 7 o'clock
Want a little history lesson?

In the late 19th century (Victorian times), the calling or visiting card was used to set up a visit, announce an arrival or departure, send congratulations, or other similar communications.

If Elizabeth wanted to chat with Mary, she would hop in her carriage with her calling card in hand and would have her servant (probably her chauffeur) take the card up to the door at Mary's house, and place it on a silver plate (less wealthy would have used china) or give it to the butler who would have placed it on the plate.

If Elizabeth was feeling sassy, or if she walked over without a servant, she could deliver the calling card herself and bend over the top left corner--this was code for "delivered in person."

Each corner has a different meaning. Don't send mixed messages!
Other bent corner messages:

  1. Farewell
  2. Congratulations
  3. Condolences

Next Elizabeth would leave. That just floors me. You'd get all dressed up, get the horses harnessed (ok you probably wouldn't harness your own horses, but somebody would), ride across town, wait outside, and then turn around and leave.

If Mary wanted to see Elizabeth, she'd let her know by responding with a card delivered to Elizabeth by her servant, most likely with a date and time to visit. If Mary didn't want to see Elizabeth at all, she could send the Elizabeth's card back by servant in a sealed envelope. Talk about unfriending!

If you had been out of town (perhaps at your country house, yes?), you could send out cards to all of your acquaintances when you returned that had the "at home" written on it, like this example which says "Mr. & Mrs. S. J. Iveson at home Essex PA". This is like the equivalent of a modern-day Facebook Status update.

Old calling card vs. New business card - Who wins?
The back of this card says "Wednesday Eve 7 o'clock"--which makes me totally want to start writing out "o'clock" everywhere I go.

Now, if Elizabeth and Mary manage to work out all the details and meet, it will only be for about 15 minutes. Seriously? You can't even get through the Starbucks line in that amount of time. And if someone else came by while Elizabeth was there, etiquette states that she should leave momentarily.

I am just fascinated by the ritual of it all. Today we get business cards made next day that have photos, our artwork, our email, website, handle, blog and more. Do you have your own business cards? The one in the photo is my old card that I just adored. They are letterpress by Paper Source and I almost hated giving them away. Now it's time for new cards for me--I'm most likely to choose,, or Moo cards. Do you have a favorite?

Non-fiction that reads like fiction.
Once I figure out where I'm going to print them, I just have to decide what to put on them. Which reminds me of the following passage from One Summer by Bill Bryson who in this quote, is talking about Pilot Captain Charles Nungesser.

"Nungesser had so many injuries that after the war he listed them all on his business card. They included: six jaw fractures (four upper, two lower); fractured skull and palate; bullet wounds to mouth and ear; dislocations of wrist, clavicle, ankle, and knees; loss of teeth; shrapnel wound to upper body; multiple concussions; multiple leg fractures; multiple internal injuries; and contusions 'too numerous to list.'"

I think I'll keep my list shorter. Let me know where you stand on business cards--where do you get yours, how do you use them, what info do you put on them? Inquiring minds, and all.

Oh, and what would you do with this little calling card? I would love to know your ideas!

*Brimfield (aka Brimfield Antiques Show) is New England's largest outdoor antique show that happens in May, July, and September every year.


Tilla Rodemann said...

Thanks for the lesson on calling cards! Very interesting. Check out

Lisa Chin said...

That is fascinating information about the calling cards! I had no idea. I now have a new crease in my brain. ;)

I purchased my business cards from vista print because I was able to get a great deal on them and they did come out very pretty. I mostly use them to attach to fabric I've created or slip into items I sell on Etsy. I also have them set out when I teach so that my students know where to find me. The only problem with the great deal I got at vistaprint is that I ordered more than I may ever use in my lifetime. Haha Actually I am bored with them already and wish that I had ordered fewer so that I would have an excuse to order new ones!