Calling Cards

I have been requested to review the conventions for use of the calling card.

As you are likely to know, calling cards have been used for decades in polite society. They are an important part of the custom of paying calls on ones friends and neighbors. Upon arriving during calling hours on a lady’s calling day, or upon calling on a gentleman, one presents a calling card to the servant who answers the door. One waits patiently in the receiving hall while the servant determines if the person you are calling is “at home.” The receiving area usually has a display of the calling cards of previously received callers. Reviewing these is a good way of catching up on the connections of your friend. Most gracious households provide some other amusements such as well-chosen prints or perhaps a Bible tract in their hall.

Should the person you are calling not be home, the leaving of your card is considered exactly to have been as if you had passed a pleasant time calling on him or her. The person called on is obligated to return the call under most circumstances. Of course there are many more fascinating details of proper etiquette for calls that we may discuss at some future time.

The calling card itself is of high quality thick paper or light card material. Gentleman’s cards are 3 inches by 1 ½ inches, while lady’s cards are 3 inches by 2 ½ inches. During the 1860s there was a positive craze for elaborately designed color lithographed cards with flowers, ornamentation, and so on. But even then the very best society used a plain card. Cards may be tastefully engraved or hand-written. Indeed, a well-written card shows the skill and breeding of the writer.

A gentleman’s card has his name centered on the card. If he desires, he may place his address on the lower right corner. Should he be using the card for his business or profession, he may place the name of the business immediately under his own name. My business card, for example is:

Edwin B. Crocker, Esq.

Central Pacific Railway

O St.

My personal card omits the name of my business.

A married lady’s card includes both her and her husband, using his name. Should she have unmarried daughters who are of age to receive, then they are listed as “Miss X” or “Misses X” below her name. A lady may place the day she receives visitors in the lower right of her card. For example, Mrs. Crocker and daughters Mary, Kate, and Nellie use this card:

Hon. Mr. and Mrs. E. b. Crocker
Misses Crocker


O St.

(I am titled “Honorable” because of my judicial title. Most men simply use “Mr.”) Should Mrs. Crocker be widowed by my unfortunate demise, her card would change to show “Mrs. Margaret Crocker.” If both Margaret and I have passed on, then the girls would have a card that showed “Misses Crocker.” Boys do not use calling cards if calling with their father. If they have earned the right to be recognized in society as men, then they are treated as men and have their own cards.

The custom of paying calls during the Christmas holidays, coupled with the use of decorated calling cards for that occasion resulted in the idea that the new postal service could deliver a calling card to absent friends and family who lived too far away to actually pay a festive call. I understand that this custom of Christmas Cards has continued to thrive in your century. I understand that the advertising cards that many businesses use have also lived on.

Alas that the custom of a specific day for a lady to be “at home” to receive visitors has vanished.

Perhaps you would consider substituting your “web home page” in your calling cards where we place our home address?