Victorian Calling Cards, Stationery and 19th Century Social Invitations

In the early part of the 19th Century another tradition arose very quickly on the scene.  That of the ritual society which had formed a way of contact for their small Victorian circles - the leaving of Calling Cards.  

This ingenious way of leaving cards formed part of a social etiquette which ranged in separate meanings.  They were an imperative part of introductions, invitations and welcomed visits. Calling cards fashionably spread throughout Europe, including England as a way for people to get into the elite social circle, and to keep out the unwanted socialites. Calling Cards kept social aspirants at a distance until they could be properly screened.

Just over a century ago, one of the favourite pastimes was to collect these ingenious, yet petitely illustrated advertising cards that we now call "Trade Cards or Calling Cards".  These cards evolved from the cards of the 1700's, where tradesmen used them to advertise their services.  Early samples of cards from the late 1800's, were brought to America ranging from stunning to that of brightly coloured cards which were generally pasted in Victorian keepsake scrapbooks.  

The fashions of many of the calling cards were diverse, depending on the immediate trends.  Some were found to contain initials, fanciful artwork or romantic poems which were commonly fashionable.  Others were of a strictly business nature, more common used for the gentlemen.  

The lady's card was larger in size versus the small breast pocket size of the gentlemen's.  Cards during the Regency Era were smaller than that of the Victorian Era which were approximately 6 x 9 cm.   A lady's card may be glazed, while her husband's was not.  Victorian cards were larger than their earlier counterparts, so only a few were carried at a time.  

The need for Cases was soon established which offered easy transport of such cards.  These were made of various different materials, including ivory, silver, and a lighter papier-mâché. The top of the lids during the 1830's often resembled prominent castles views, such as Warwick or Windsor. By the 1840's, after Queen Victoria's purchase of Bal moral, Scottish views became popular. The cases during the Regency were primarily of filigree, leather and tortoiseshell. Victorians preferred ivory, tortoise shell and woodwork.  Only the wealthy could afford such cases made of gold and other metals which were very expensive.  

The engraving was in unelaborate font, generally small and without flourishes, although ornamental scripts soon became widely used as the century went on. A simple 'Mr.' Or 'Mrs.' before the name was sufficient, except in the case of acknowledgement of rank (Earl, Viscount, etc.).  The earlier Victorian Cards contained only a person's name, household name and/or title.  By the end of the century, the address was then displayed on card, and when applicable, a special occasion, such as a lady's reception day.

Rules for Calls and Leaving Cards

Aesthetic Silverplate Calling Card ReceiverAn inviting front entrance with wood floors was an essential part of all Victoriana homes.  A proper entry hall was considered the first impression and most important to all its visitors.  The entry hall was narrow, but allowed enough room for a couple of chairs or a bench, mirrors, a coat and umbrella stand, and maybe even a hat rack or hall tree.  In addition, the calling card Fancy Arch Calling Card Receiver stand with bouquets of flowers, accompanied by the silver calling card receiving tray which elegantly displayed the most prominent names on top.  Most receiver trays displayed classic features of popular aesthetic styles.  Although not all could afford the sterling silver trays, the less fortunate households displayed glass or china dishes, which were used for the same purpose. 

A lady would start making calls immediately upon arriving in town.  This would notify everyone that her family had arrived. She remained in her carriage while her groom took her card and handed it to the appropriate parties.

The card was conveyed to the mistress of the house, who would then decide whether or not to receive the caller.  Out of respect, no questions or inquiries as to the whereabouts of the residents or the mistress were asked during the initial visit.  

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 none was given formally, this generally indicated less desire to further the acquaintance.  However, if formal calls were given, there was hope for the relationship to grow.

By mid-century, a wife could leave her husband's card for him. She left her own card, plus two of her husband's--one for the mistress of the house, and one for the master.  Other names which also appeared on the calling cards were offspring which included grown daughters living at home who accompanied her on a call.

A message could be left without actually greeting the family by turning down a specific corner or folding the card to express sympathy, congratulations or affection.  This generally indicated that the card had been delivered in person, rather than by a servant. Some more elaborate cards noted phrases, some of which were in French.  They were generally imprinted on the reverse-corner side of the card, stating words such as: Visite, Felicitation, Affaires, and Adieu.  The card would then be turned side up, showing the explanation for the visit.

Calls should be made only on at home days. Days and times for these were engraved on visiting cards.  A newcomer waited until she received cards from neighbors. It was then good manners to call on those neighbors who left cards.

Formal calls were made following ceremonial events such as engagements, marriages or childbirth, and also as acknowledgement of hospitality. After a specific event, it was courteous to make a call within a week for all condolences and congratulations.  A visitor may ask for a more personal admission.  If not so intimate, they inquired to the servant as to the person's well-being.

Each visit had a significance and were noted with specific times.  Ceremonial visits were made the day after a ball, between three and four o'clock, when it sufficed to simply leave a card. Or the semi-ceremonial calls were made within a day or two after a dinner party between four and five o'clock, and within a week of a small party.  It was part of general routine to set aside times for these types of visits.  

Remembrance of the beloved, 'Mourning calls' were made in the afternoon.  Victorian mourning artifacts offered women with a means of creating a particularly feminine historical memory that allowed them to preserve and communicate their stories, and those of their families, while engendering and transmitting a meaningful sense of feminine identity and social role. 

Sunday was never a day of visit, this day was reserved for close friends and relatives.    Visits were brief, lasting less than thirty minutes.  During the visits, it was courtesy to leave within a few minutes if another caller arrived.  

Standard practice of all calls were returned the same as presented.  Example of a call, a card with a card, within one week, or at the most, ten days.  If a family was temporarily leaving the area, they wrote P.P.C. (pour prendage conge) on their cards when they called.

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