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.