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The history of the calling card and today's ever-important need to make a memorable introduction.

Updated on February 2, 2012

Calling cards originated in 15th century China. During the 1800's, the practice of "calling' upon relatives, friends and acquaintances was a social ritual of the middle and upper classes. When a gentleman stopped to visit a friend he would hand his card to the servant answering the door. The servant would place the card onto a silver tray and deliver it to the home's occupant. If the home-owner was unavailable, the card would be left sitting on the tray until the owner's return.

Victorian era etiquette was of the utmost importance. The use of the calling card had strict rules.

When a gentleman caller first visited a home, he would simply leave his card and depart. If his visit was desired, he would be sent a card in return. If his return visit was not desired, he may receive a card in an envelope or no card at all. Either meant that his visit was unwelcome.

The 'visiting card' bore the individual's name and was spartan in design. Although card sizes varied, the typical gentleman's card was the size of a playing card. Eventually, addresses were added, but little else. Honorary titles were allowed, although not until later would it be permissible to add Mr. or Mrs. Additional information would be handwritten on the card for more specific requests, an invitation to dinner, for example.

A man could choose a card of either 3 3/8" x 1.5" or 3.5" x 2" dimensions. Sizes then ranged down to that for a married woman, a single woman, an unmarried daughter still living at home, and a child, who had the smallest card at 2.25" x 1 3/8".
A man could choose a card of either 3 3/8" x 1.5" or 3.5" x 2" dimensions. Sizes then ranged down to that for a married woman, a single woman, an unmarried daughter still living at home, and a child, who had the smallest card at 2.25" x 1 3/8". | Source

The calling card was an essential part of the social introduction. It was also used as a communications method. There was significance to the turning down of the card’s corners:

  • A personal visit requiring no servant to make your announcement was indicated by the right hand upper corner being turned down
  • The left hand upper corner was turned down indicating a congratulatory visit
  • A condolence visit: the left hand lower corner
  • If you were going on a long trip, the right hand lower corner was turned down

Gentleman would also inscribe initials on to the card to denote the reason for his visit. The initials stood for the following French words( a modern text message):

  • p. f. – congratulations (pour féliciter)
  • p. r. – expressing one’s thanks (pour remercier)
  • p. c. – mourning expression (pour condoléance)
  • p. f. N. A. – Happy New Year (pour feliciter Nouvel An)
  • p. p. – if you want to be introduced to anybody, send your visiting card (pour présenter)

Today, we tend to think personal branding is a modern day marketing statedgy, however, in the 19th and 20th centuries, networking may have been in it's hayday.

The calling card was used to make introductions and help remind people of needed visits. Perhaps one of the most important elements of the calling card was to brand your social identity.

Business people quickly adopted the calling card, initially referring to them as' trade cards', recognizing their usefulness. The social formalities of the 1800's has changed dramatically, but the use of the business card remains today. While business cards have become increasingly more inventive:Fold-overs, pop-ups, shaped, die-cuts and various unique materials other than paper, their primary purpose remains the same. To make you memorable.

The number of people pursuing supplemental income increases daily. For many, it's important to carry more than one business card. Employers often provide business cards with the expectation that you'll hand those to your contacts, but what if your newest contact is interested in your freelance work?

With the advent of social media it may seem arcane-the business card-but we are a nation obsessed with immediate gratification. When an interested party asks to exchange information, you don't want to direct them to your LinkedIn profile or your Facebook page. You want to hand them your card and make an instant connection.

These days it is not only possible to have inexpensive cards printed, but you can make your own at home with readily available templates.

What Information Should I Put On My Personal Card?

-blog or website address

-Twitter username

-Facebook of Myspace page

-email address

-instant message name

-home phone number

-cell phone number

-visualcv link

What information you provide should take some consideration. You want enough information, but too much. The information should be relevant to your purpose. If you're sideline business, for example, is selling jewelry, be sure to include your website or etsy link that showcases your work.

Whether you call these little slips of paper calling cards or business cards, they remain a very practical method of networking.

I've known an individual that passed out thousands of cards each year. That may seem a bit much, but his manner in doing so was genuine and productive. He would often scribble helpful notes on the back of his card such as a recommended restaurant, a good movie or a nearby golf course. I can't image how many times his card must have been tacked to the refrigerator door as a constant reminder of him.

Yes, the card should be in good taste and, yes, you should have a professional looking card if you're selling insurance, but I think it's important to mention that it's okay to make your card witty and funny, too. This statement is especially true if you carry several cards. You have many facets to your personality and to your life. It could benefit you to express them.


Here is one last suggestion for any of you techies out there: QR Code business cards.

With a swipe of a cell phone, your contact information can be inputted effortlessly and make you unforgettable.

Please Leave Your Cards- I Mean Comments- Here. Thank You.

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    • alifeofdesign profile image

      Graham Gifford 6 years ago from New Hamphire

      I found it fascinating myself. I'm pleased you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 6 years ago from Alabama

      I certainly enjoyed the history of the calling card. I didn't know it went so far back. Great hub and good advice on business cards.


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