Calling, Visiting & Business Cards

Calling, Visiting & Business Cards


18th & 19th Century

Visiting cards (like a business card but to introduce someone of importance), adopted from the French, were embraced in America and Europe but not used among the country folk or working class. Etiquette called for a card to be presented to each lady of the household on initial visits. Upon ringing the doorbell visitors were greeted by a servant offering the card tray on the outstretched palm of his or her left hand. The visitor deposited his card in the tray and waited while it was delivered to the lady of the house for examination. Only upon her approval would an actual face-to-face visit occur.

While waiting it would have been considered the height of rudeness for a visitor to examine other cards in the hall. If the upper right hand corner of the card was folded it indicated that the card’s owner had presented the card in person. A card folded in the middle indicated the call was meant for several or all family members. Lettering on the cards (abbreviated from the French for the phrases in question) could include “p.f.” for a congratulatory visit or “p.c.” for a condolence call. Such details of card etiquette were understood by all members of polite society.

There is a rigid distinction between visiting cards and business or trade cards. Business/trade cards were widespread amongst men and women of all classes with a business to promote. It was considered to be in very poor taste to use a business card when making a social call. A business card, left with the servants, could imply that you had called to collect a bill.


In the Victorian Era visiting and social calls were of the upmost importance. Victorian ladies spent a good part of their time visiting with their friends over a cup of tea. The calling card was used to let people know that they had been “called” on.

Victorian Calling Card Etiquette:

  • Women would often leave her husband’s calling card as well. In this case she would leave one card for herself and two for her husband, one for the hostess and one for the hostesses husband.
  • In large cities it was customary to make only one social call per year to an acquaintance. Also, leaving a card while attending an afternoon tea was commonplace.
  • One was obligated to leave a card after a wedding breakfast, luncheon, dinner party, or after any evening event.
  • It was impolite to write on cards to accept or to decline an invitation, a formal letter is appropriate in this situation.
  • If a call has gone unanswered for a period of time, it should not be taken personally. After the call is returned the hostess must accept the caller politely and accept any excuses with courtesy and not mention it again.

Calling, Visiting & Business Cards

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