Blogging from A to Z: V is for Visiting Cards

AtoZ2019tenthAnnWe had barely settled in to the house when neighbors began calling, leaving visiting cards in a salver on the foyer sideboard. I dreaded the afternoons when I was “at home” to guests. Our first caller was Lady Alice Harrington, who lived two houses away; she had iron-colored hair, a jaw to match, and a bosom like the prow of a ship. She left a calling card, and invited us to a musical evening at their home just a few nights hence. Lady Harrington informed us that her daughter, Olympia, would be performing several songs and asked that we prepare something ourselves, should we be so inclined, to share with the gathering.

I purchased my own visiting cards, which proved to be something of an ordeal. At the stationery counter at Selfridge’s Department Store, I ordered my two sets, plain ivory stock with “Madame Erik LeMaître” on the front and an address on the back of one set. The other set was blank on the reverse; those were for people to whom I did not wish to be at home. I thought the custom unspeakably impolite, but was told by the shop girl that this was what was done. She also explained, in an exasperated tone, that I could only have my own name, Claire, on the card if I were widowed. — Excerpt from In The Eye of The Beholder


Visiting cards, also referred to as calling cards, had a rather complicated etiquette. They were about the same size as a modern-day business card, and were left at homes or handed out for various social purposes.

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Example of a lady’s visiting card, giving her “at home” day. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the etiquette I described above; for example, a lady might have two sets of cards, one with her address and the other with only her name. Married women were Mrs. Husband Name, not Mrs. Her Name. If you were “at home” to someone, they would have your address because you left a card for them, and could come to visit during your “morning calls” (which were actually in the afternoon.

Another complicated custom involved bending the corners of visiting cards when handing them to a butler. This meant the card was left in person, rather than by a servant acting on their behalf.

In France, a photographic carte de visite was also popular. They were similar in size to visiting cards and carried the photograph of the bearer. They were considered highly collectable.

6 thoughts on “Blogging from A to Z: V is for Visiting Cards

  1. Fascinating. About the only place where this custom is still followed, at least in the US, in a simplified form is among Army officers. At least when I was in some 30 years ago.

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  2. Mm, maybe I should fold the corners of my business cards for a “personal” effect? On the other hand, most people won’t “get” it.

    Ronel visiting with the A-Z Challenge music and writing: Various Artists

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    1. Right? These days, it seems like people barely look at them. I have colleagues from Japan, and I have adopted their etiquette of accepting the card and reading it right in front of the giver before putting it into my case. That way, they know attention has been paid.

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