Ah, the Victorians; so obsessed with politeness that almost every action had its own symbolic meaning. To achieve this almost unworldly level and layer of meaning, Victorians employed the calling card.
The calling card was used for social interactions as a method of leaving a first impression and reminding acquaintances of social visits. People would not see each other face-to-face until receiving a card.
The way it was given was important. How the giver stood and handed over the card, as well as the appearance of the card itself, were all vital details.
The man calling upon the family gave his card to the servant who answered the door, and the servant would put it on a silver tray. If the requested recipient was home, the servant would take the card to them to tell them who was waiting to see them.
Afternoons were reserved for these sorts of visits, with 30 minutes allowed per visit. The hostess would wear an afternoon dress and could often be found writing letters, working with lace or wool, or sketching.
If they weren’t home at the time, the calling card would be left on the tray as a memo of who called. The receiver could either send back a card in request of another visit or decline to send one back as a polite method of saying “we don’t want to ever see your face again.”
Also worth mentioning are carte-de-visites, small portraits, which were all the craze in the 19th century and traded between friends.
Think of it like today’s social media. You can try to ‘friend’ someone on Facebook, and they either accept it and you’re best buddies forever, or they ignore you and you’re left waiting for eternity for a reply that will never come.
Men’s cards only had their names and addresses or organizations they belonged to. Women’s cards were bigger in size but were often just as simple in format. However, there were very intricate calling cards as well, as you can see above.
Special attention was paid to the turning down of card’s corners:
- The upper right hand corner folded down meant a visit in person.
- The upper left corner folded down meant a visit to say congratulations.
- The lower left corner folded down gave condolences.
- The lower right corner folded down meant goodbye.
The rules of calling card etiquette could go on and on, and they evolved over time.
By the early 20th century the calling-card craze had gone down quite a bit. The Edwardian era still used them, just to a lesser extent, and the practice slowly died away.
Next time you friend request someone on Facebook, just be grateful that the etiquette is a little more straightforward.
What would you want your calling card to look like?