That’s Amore: Victorian Calling Cards

I believe the Victorian's had it right when they studied the fashion of calling cards for both ladies and men. These were primarily used by genteel society during the time of the 1800 through the 1890's in England. There are many different designs when one starts delving into the subject, but above all I think of them as little works of art, a snapshot in time. victorian-calling-cards
(Picture Source)
I find social graces an absolutely fascinating subject and calling cards definitely had an etiquette all their own. In the Victorian day even the design, style, and color border of a card actually carried a message to the receiver. The meaning of the folds were as follows:
  • A folded top left corner meant the visitor had come in person; this corner unfolded meant a servant was sent.
  • A folded bottom left corner signified a farewell
  • A folded top right corner meant congratulations
  • A folded bottom right corner expressed condolence.
  • If there was a black band around the edge, it signified the carrier was in mourning over the loss of a loved one.
  • These various customs for folding corners fell in and out of fashion and the by 1900's, the folding of corners went out of style. cc7 There were literally hundreds of designs printed, plus over the years at least a dozen major style progressions were made. There were even cards with 'scraps' which could be lifted to reveal a callers name / information. victorian-calling-cards-inside
    (Picture Source)

    So you have a beautiful calling card, but what do you carry it in?

    Visiting card cases were made of a variety of materials, including silver, ivory and papier-mache. Their lids during the 1830s often depicted views of castles, such as Warwick or Winsdor. By the 1840s, after Queen Victoria's purchase of Balmoral, Scottish views became popular. Cases during the Regency were primarily of filigree, leather and tortoiseshell. Victorians preferred ivory, tortoiseshell and woodwork. Because gold and other metals were expensive, only the wealthy could afford cases made of these substances. case Tortoise shell visiting card holder with mother-of-pearl inlay, etched designs, sterling cartouche engraved, "M. E. Smith, 10th Feb'y, 1879" ( Picture Source ) Victorian cards were larger than their earlier counterparts, so only a few were carried at a time.


    Printers of the age did charge a bit for these trinkets of high society. pricelist
    (Picture Source)

    Of Calling and Callers

    A lady would start making calls as soon as she arrived in Town, to notify everyone that her family had arrived. She would remain in her carriage while her groom took her card and handed it in. The card was conveyed to the mistress of the house, who would then decide whether or not to receive the caller. If the mistress was 'not at home', it was a rejection of the visitor. A reciprocal card may be given to the caller, but if not presented formally, that usually meant there was no desire to further the acquaintance. If, however, a formal call was returned with a formal call, there was hope for the relationship to grow. Cards from visitors were placed on a silver salver in the entry hall--the more impressive names displayed on top. The trays had a pie-crust rim so the cards would not slip off. In less wealthy households, china bowls were used to hold cards. cardstand Victorian era Reed & Barton silver plated card tray with swinging birds and footed stand ornamented with faces at the center. (Picture Source)

    It's All About Timing

    For a first call, one was wise to simply leave the card without inquiring as to whether or not the mistress was at home. She would then take the next step. There were times allocated for each type of call. 'Morning calls' were made during the afternoon. 'Ceremonial calls' were made between three and four o'clock, semi-ceremonial between four and five, and intimate calls between five and six--but never on Sunday, the day reserved for close friends and relatives. Visits were surprisingly short, lasting from between twenty to thirty minutes. If another caller arrived during a visit, the first caller would leave within a moment or two. A call should be returned with a call, a card with a card, within one week, or at the most, ten days.

    In Conclusion

    There are many many more graces associated with the etiquette of calling cards, but perhaps this article has perked your interest to research further. Have fun!
    That's Amore , ,

    1 comment

    1. Lisa Philbrick

      Your website is most helpful. I had just stumbled upon the beautiful “dish” you have posted and wanted more information. I found this site to be not only informative, but I was also fascinated by all the little bits of etiquette that accompanied, what one might think, a simple means of communication. Who knew the calling card was so complex? Thank you very much for your site, I truly enjoyed reading.

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