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Victorians Went A-Calling…And Left A Card

Social life in the 19th Century was inseparable from most areas of a Victorian’s lifestyle. And so the calling card evolved into a key item for visiting.

The compact size of the card was disproportionate with its import. Bigger wasn’t better and a little went a long way in graphics. Armed Services worldwide often still remain rigid with the historically popular sizing of 1 and a half inches and 3 and a quarter inches.

Multi-layered in purpose, calling cards were good for everything ranging from casual visits to formal functions. They were considered as the person having been there in attendance if delivered by another. They were a formalized and efficient means of replying and reserving spots, invited or not. They were the forerunner to modern business cards but with more breadth of meaning.

Calling-cards were typically delivered or left often in haste at residences for open social call timeframes. Many a manor house left open their foyer for an hour or so in the afternoon for a possible stream of visitors or their servants or attendants to deposit a card into their receiving dish. Or if the person themselves wasn’t received for a proper quarter of an hour audience or casual visit, then they would leave their card.

All calling cards demanded a requisite response in kind. If one was visited, then an obligatory return visit was in order, or something in lieu of. In prior generations, they’d held even more nuances of meaning and import but with massive growth and immigrations that lead to a growing middle class and upper class. Formal details of the calling card were often not known. Or were kept proverbially close-to-the-cuff as one means of determining who was within which society.

Some calling cards were regionally specific, with both sides of the cards being printed so that any corner could be turned over dog-eared to have its message read. Not all corners were the same meaning, though, depending upon any number of reasons. Some were not printed at all and so the recipient would already be apprised of the inherent meaning.

Amusements or limericks were occasionally printed or tolerated on calling cards if they were true to the character or persona of the owner. Most calling cards were a fine heavy white stock paper and simply bore a name in fine script with occasionally an additional message in calligraphic style scrawled across it depending upon the occasion. Other traditions again were localized or within specific societies in use.

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1 Comment

  1. Jennifer Ross says:

    I’ve often thought we Scandalous Victorians should have our own calling card. Perhaps we could have one side with the same imprint for the Scandalous Victorians, and the other side could be printed with, say, the cover of a particular book, or left blank for when one has a book to promote. Hmmm, must investigate the cost.

    Jenn

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