The History of the Calling Card

by Cara on July 9, 2015

Article by  Eric Villiers

Calling cards, not to be confused with business cards, have a long and fascinating history and can be a useful and fun inclusion in anyone’s social stationery.

It is believed that calling cards first came into use in China during the 1500’s. From there they moved to Italy and then onto the rest of Europe gaining the most prominence in England during the 18th & 19th centuries. Calling cards were originally used by the nobility and emerging middle classes (pretty much any character from a Jane Austen novel). Calling cards had many functions including announcing a person’s arrival to or departure from town, as a means of introduction, a way to further an acquaintance, or to express condolences or congratulations.

A traditional calling card from the 1800’s.

There was a strict etiquette involved in the usage of a calling card. When calling on someone for the first time one would go to the recipient’s home and just leave their calling card with the servant who answered the door. Then one would wait for a reply. If you received a calling card in return then you could proceed to meeting face-to-face. If you received a calling card in return but it was in an envelope it meant that the person did not want to meet with you.


People kept their calling cards in cases to protect them.
This is an enameled case form the 1800’s.

One of the more interesting rituals with calling cards was the turning of the corners of the card. If you were visiting in person (versus sending your servant with the card) you would turn down the right upper corner. For a congratulatory visit you would turn down the upper left corner, and to announce your departure from town you would turn down the bottom right corner. For a condolence visit, you would turn down the bottom left corner.

Nowadays there is much less pomp and circumstance associated with calling cards but they are still very useful. When out for social occasions like a party or networking event handing someone your calling card leaves a bigger impression on the receiver than just simply giving them your phone number for them to enter into their cell phone. Though calling cards are traditionally very simple in look and design, there are still lots of ways to personalize them to reflect your personality and make them stick out in people’s minds. In Vroman’s Pen & Stationery department we have a number of options for creating and personalizing calling cards. Please visit us and let us show you a classic standard with a modern twist.


This was the calling card of Kaiser Wilhelm, giving us an example of a card with a royal title.