To honor our Annual Calling Card Event, we wanted to share the history of the calling card and how its purposes have evolved over time. We hope that this piece inspires you to put your best card forward!
Before the age of the telephone, the calling card (or carte de visite in French) had a significant role as a social tool. In the days when ladies might receive visitors during hours they were known to be “at home,” the calling card served to announce a visitor to the house. Thought to have originated in China in the 16th century, the calling card flourished in France and England before coming to America, reaching its heyday during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.
A visitor would present his card to the butler, who would place it on a silver tray and, leaving the visitor to wait, take it to the lady of the house. Different corners of the card would be turned down to indicate the visitor came in person, or that the call was intended to express congratulations or condolence.
On an initial visit, a gentleman would give a card to the butler and leave; if the recipient wished to start a friendship, a card would be returned in the same manner; but no response or a card returned inside an envelope indicated the recipient did not wish the acquaintance to continue.
Although business cards existed, they were never used in social situations. Just as today it is usually considered rude even to ask a new acquaintance what he or she does to earn a living, the idea that a person might produce a card with business information in a social setting was inconceivable until the early twentieth century. So the calling card would have served that social function, and any information missing, or perhaps a short note, would often be written directly on the card.
The most formal calling card format features only a person’s full name, complete with title: Mr., Mrs. or Miss. “Doctor” is spelled out, as is “junior.” A home address, as brief as possible, is sometimes added to the lower right corner of the card; men’s cards sometimes include the name of a club.
Traditional calling cards are always engraved, using only black ink, the finest paper stock, and one of a small selection of conservative typefaces. Interestingly, the ornate social codes of American Society developed standard sizes to denote sex and marital status. These “proper” sizes were in use well into the twentieth century, though today it is acceptable to throw these rules out the window and choose a size – or create a different size – that suits your taste.
Single Men: 1-9/16” x 3-1/4”
Married Men: 2” x 3-1/2”
Single women: 2” x 2-7/8”
Married women and widows: 2-3/8” x 3-1/4”
Married couples: 2-1/2” x 3-1/2”
The Calling Card Today
Calling cards, sometimes referred to as personal cards, are experiencing a renaissance, particularly among younger people, who change jobs more frequently and may want to present themselves socially with a less work-related face. Though a standard business card size is still popular for calling cards, a more unusual size may be a surprise to the recipient. Ink color and typeface are other ways to make the card have more personality. And today, there is sometimes more contact information put on the card; a cell phone number and personal email address are very common, as they don’t change when a person changes jobs or home addresses. Still, many clients prefer the simple elegance of engraving only their names on the center of the card.
How to Use Your Calling Cards
Calling cards are the perfect “blank slate” for today’s social and business interactions. It is perfectly acceptable to jot a little note or a bit of information directly on to your calling card. For example, after a business meeting you might add your work email and hand it to a new acquaintance. After running into an old friend you might write “call me” and include your mobile telephone number. How you use your cards is entirely up to you. You should be comfortable and confident that your cards are a sophisticated reflection of your personality and are completely adaptable to any situation. Calling cards also make fabulous gift enclosures – simply write “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” on the card and enclose it with a gift.
We’re sure you’ll find hundreds of ways to use your cards. Be sure to visit our website or call us at 212.570.4800 to learn more!