Why Victorian Calling Cards Are Like Facebook

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.


Those Victorians really like their hand-flower combination.

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?

Beauty Marks, Patch Boxes, and Their Hidden Messages

At one point in history, the fashion-conscious wouldn’t leave home without sticking a beauty mark or two on their face. And what better object to hold such things than a tiny ornamental box?

Small, beautiful and intricate boxes owned by ladies of high class between the 1600s and early 1800s did more than sit on a lady’s night stand all day. These hinged boxes have a more practical use than one might think.

A rare enamel patch box, available here.

A rare enamel patch box, available here.

The history of the patch box goes back to the 1600s. Using small patches (also known as beauty marks) cut in circles, hearts, crescent moons, insects, and even more intricate designs, women placed the patches as a kind of accessory on their face to hide smallpox marks or spots. In 1760 and beyond, men started using them too. The patches were made of various materials like velvet, taffeta and leather and were stuck on with a sticky substance.

One patch fad had people putting profile patches of their family and friends on their faces. No joke.

The alternative to patches meant putting on a thick coat of face powder full of flaked lead – not something modern science would advise!

One patch shape was an entire coach and horses, about which the author of England’s Vanity wrote in 1653 in a humorous account of the patch craze:

‘Methinks the mourning coach and horses all in black, and plying on their foreheads, stands ready harnessed to whirl them to Acheron, though I pity poor Charon for the darkness of the night, since the moon on the cheek is all in eclipse, and the poor stars on the temples are clouded in sables, and no comfort left him but the lozenges on the chin, which, if he please, he may pick off for his cold.’

Patch boxes were given as gifts, often as tokens of love. If your antique box has a mirror or a portrait in the lid, it was likely used as a patch box.

Even today, beauty marks are seen as a sign of beauty, though without the hidden message.

Even today, beauty marks are seen as a sign of beauty, though without the hidden message.

These patches not only hid unseemly marks but, according to some sources, gave a message depending on where the wearer stuck them. Take a look at this list, courtesy of The Louisbourg Institute:

  • The middle of the forehead – dignified
  • The middle of the cheek – bold
  • Heart shape to the right cheek – married
  • Heart shape to the left cheek – engaged or committed to a lover
  • Touching edge of lower lip – discreet
  • On nasolabial fold – playful
  • Near corner of the eye – on the look out for a new ‘friend’
  • Beside the mouth – will kiss but will go no further

Ladies might not have stuck to the codes since the messages probably changed too often to keep track of. But if you humor the possibility, the patches would be a great party trick, like wearing your Facebook relationship status on your face.

The trend disappeared when the smallpox vaccination was invented in 1796.

If patches were still in style, where would you wear yours?