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History of the Visiting Card Case

A visiting card- also known as a calling card- is a small card used for social purposes. This was an essential accessory for the upper classes during the Regency and Victorian periods. These cards were carried in silver card cases, which were also used to enhance the status of the user.

During the late 1700s, the upper classes in France and Italy left calling cards that were decorated with images on one side, and a hand written note on the other. These were used to either announce a guest’s arrival, or to let hosts who weren’t home know they had stopped by. These early versions of visiting cards quickly became popular throughout the rest of Europe and the United States.

These cards were called ‘une carte d'adresse’ or ‘carte de visite’ due to their French origins. As they grew in popularity, the customs and etiquette surrounding them also developed.

Cards were used as a tool to represent ones status or intentions in society. Knowing the etiquette surrounding visiting cards was an example of one’s high-standing in society. If a particularly impressive visitor arrived and left their calling card, hosts would then display this on a silver tray for as long as possible, so other guests were aware of their high societal standing.

Eventually, the ritual surrounding visiting cards dictated that numerous cards should be left at one address. For example, a married woman was expected to leave one of her cards for each adult female in a family she was visiting. She also had to leave two of her husband’s cards.

history of the visiting card case
history of the visiting card case
history of the visiting card case

Silver visiting card cases developed as a response to this ever growing number of calling cards.

Visiting card cases came in several distinct forms and sizes. Some had ‘sleeve’ lids which slid off completely, whereas others had small lids with tiny hinges. A common, novel, type was modelled as a book with a press button catch. When opened, this revealed a kid skin lining often divided into compartments for cards and stamps. Many were also fitted with ivory aide memoires and tiny pencils.

Women’s card cases were larger than men’s. This is presumably because they were carried in handbags rather than in breast pockets, which were much tighter. Gentlemen’s cases were also much slimmer and plainer for this reason. Raised decoration would catch on pocket linings. Many gents’ card cases were curved to fit pockets.

The decoration on visiting card cases was fairly simple until the 1830s. Then, shaped cases became popular, which were heavily decorated with heavy silver die-stamped with arabesques.

As the century progressed, cases became simple once again. Many were decorated with bright cut designs of flowers and foliage. They also featured a small cartouche for the initials of the owner. ‘Aesthetic’ Japanese style cases were also popular. These were decorated with birds and flowering branches, within fan shaped parcels.

Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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