The Gentleman’s Guide to the Calling Card

The calling card is an old-fashioned way of presenting yourself, your title or occupation to the person you are visiting. It’s like a personal business card for people who don’t have email yet! They can be made from materials as diverse as leather and paper; they may even take the form of jewelry that bears your name. What do you use?

The “calling card dating” is a term that refers to the practice of using a pre-paid calling card for romantic purposes. The idea is that it will be harder for someone to trace your phone number, as you are not tied to one carrier.

Vintage Victorian gentlemen illustration calling card.

The visiting card is a small and inconsequential piece of paper to the uncultured or unbred, yet it transmits a deep and clear intelligence to the cultivated follower of social law. Even before his manners, words, or countenance have been able to convey his social standing, the texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of leaving it combine to put the visitor whose name it carries in a pleasant or unpleasant attitude. -Our Etiquette

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, social contact was a highly refined and orderly affair. The calling card was the instrument that made these connections possible. Calling cards sped up introductions and served as a reminder of new acquaintances and upcoming appointments. Your social identity was also branded via your calling card. Your position and connection with the recipient were expressed by the way your card looked and felt, as well as the manner you delivered it to them. The calling card, which had gone the way of top hats and underwear, is making a return. The following is a short history of the calling card, as well as suggestions on how modern men might revive the custom to add some style flare to their social encounters.

The Origins of Business Cards


Vintage calling cards in tray.The practice of “calling” on or visiting one’s family, friends, and acquaintances was a middle and upper class social ritual defined by a plethora of norms and conventions throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. The usage of a calling card was an important part of visiting etiquette. Every gentleman had a quantity of calling cards on hand to hand out throughout his trips. A guy offered his card to the servant who answered the door while visiting on a friend. The card would be put on a silver tray, which the servant would be carrying. If the gentleman’s caller was at home, the servant would deliver the card to them and they would come to greet him. If the person who was being summoned was not at home, the servant would leave a card for them to pick up when they returned.

When a guy paid his first visit to a residence, he would usually leave a card and then go. If the new friend wanted to pay him a formal visit, he or she would send a card. If no card was sent, or if the return card was enclosed in an envelope, it meant that the new friend did not want to meet in person. This signal (the card in an envelope) might be issued after any visit in which the visited party indicated that they no longer wanted to be contacted by this individual. It was essentially the polite dismissal. When a gentleman wanted to visit someone at a hotel or parlor, he utilized a calling card. While waiting for his friend or business colleague to arrive and welcome him in the reception area or office, he would send up his card.

The design of a man’s calling card was straightforward and uncomplicated. They were approximately the size of a playing card and were carried in a carrying case tucked into one’s breast pocket. They included a man’s name and, subsequently, his address. The name was written in the center, sometimes with and sometimes without a middle initial. Mr. was not prefixed to the name of a young man. A military officer’s rank and branch of duty were listed. A physician’s professional title, such as “Dr. Robert Smith” or “Robert Smith M.D.,” might be included. Honorary titles like Prof., Hon., and Esq., on the other hand, were not acceptable. The name of the gentleman’s club or fraternal organization to which a man belonged was occasionally put on the card.


Vintage gentlemen's calling card.

A guy could have a set of calling cards with his address on them and another set without it. This card would be bigger and engraved with more elaborate wording. The empty spot would be filled with handwritten letters asking a friend to dinner, the theater, or another social event.

The most distinguished style was believed to be an engraved card, followed by a gorgeously handwritten one, and if none of these were available, a tastefully printed card would suffice. Each year, the exact laws regulating card gifting and card design, from the kind of font to whether or not to add your middle initial, varied, making it difficult to keep up with what was now fashionable.

Etiquette for Calling Cards in the Nineteenth Century

Giving and receiving calling cards evolved into a complex system of rituals and norms that all gentlemen attempted to grasp. While contemporary sensibilities may find these rigorous protocols amusing, I have to admit there is something appealing about them. Isn’t this much more respectable than poking someone on Facebook? Here’s your calling card etiquette survival guide in case you slip through a time warp and end up in the nineteenth century.

  • On his first visit to a home, a gentleman presented each woman in the house a card.
  • A married man’s card was medium in size, while an unmarried man’s card was smaller. The cards of males were usually smaller than those of women.
  • If the lady of the house was not at home, but her daughter was, the gentleman sent in his card and left, since it was not common for a young girl to receive visits from gentlemen unless they were extremely close friends.

The turning down of the card’s corners was given special significance:

  • A personal visit (rather than one dispatched by a servant): the right hand top corner
  • The top left hand corner receives a celebratory visit.
  • A sympathy visit is made to the bottom left corner.
  • If you’re going on a lengthy journey, take leave in the right hand bottom corner.
  • If there were two or more women in the home, the guy lowered a corner of the card to signify that the call was intended for the whole family.

Putting your initials on a business card

In addition, the gentleman would engrave his initials on the card to indicate the cause for his visit. The letters stood for the following words in French:

  • p. f. – best wishes (pour féliciter)
  • p. r. – expressing gratitude (pour remercier)
  • p. c. – statement of sorrow (pour condoléance)
  • p. f. N. A. – Best wishes for the next year (pour feliciter Nouvel An)
  • p. p. c. – to go on vacation (pour prendre congé)
  • p. p. – send your visiting card (pour présenter) if you wish to be introduced to someone.

Card Etiquette for Special Occasions:

Congratulations on your achievement

Although it was preferable to convey congratulations in person, sending a card in place of a visit was acceptable. A month following the birth of a kid, friends were supposed to call to express their joy.


Intended for Weddings

If you were unable to attend the reception, you would send a card and then wait for the couple to announce their new address before sending another or paying a visit. However, you were supposed to contact the parents or relatives who had hosted the reception in the meanwhile.

When a man’s wedding was limited to his immediate family and closest friends, he would send his bachelor’s card, sealed in an envelope, to those of his acquaintances with whom he intended to keep in touch. Those who received this card were instructed to contact the couple within 10 days of their new home’s arrival.

Following a wedding, the bride and groom’s acquaintances were supposed to send their calling cards to the newlyweds. The pair would have all of their friends’ contact information on file and would be able to communicate with them in this manner.

Condolence Greeting Cards

When someone died, friends would send a sympathy card, which was signaled by folding down the left hand bottom corner of your ordinary card, as previously explained. This card was given in person, and before leaving, the visitor inquired about the family’s health. When the bereaved felt ready to receive visitors again, they would send cards to the friends and loved ones who had left them, signifying their willingness to visit with company once again.

In the Modern Age, Resurrecting the Calling Card

Modern gentleman's calling card John Kluge distinguished gentleman.

The ritual and etiquette surrounding the sending and receiving of calling cards died a gradual death when the home staff went out and Alex Bell’s new fangled talking machine moved in. The US Armed Forces were the only area where calling cards remained. The custom is being carried forward by officers today. They are, however, making a resurgence in civilian life, which is great news for the contemporary gentleman.

While technology has provided a plethora of communication options, a part of us still yearns for the transmission of something physical, something more civilized and polished.

Insert the business card.

Why not use a business card instead?

Using a business card for social purposes was frowned upon during the heyday of calling cards. While business cards are still useful for developing professional relationships, they aren’t particularly well adapted to social occasions. They most likely know your work phone number and email address, but not much else. Consider the number of times you’ve met someone you’d want to see again. It’s too stiff and official to hand them a business card. It’s the same if you just tell them to enter your phone number into their phone.

When you meet someone for the first time, the connection you make is sometimes too new for your acquaintance to feel comfortable contacting. Perhaps they’d prefer to check out your Facebook page or blog first, or write you an email, before seeking further contact. And how many times have you been told about someone’s website or blog during a discussion, and you promise you’ll go check it out, only to forget what it’s called when you get home? A calling card is the solution to all of these problems. A calling card may assist a new acquaintance learn more about you and remember you better. It allows you to improve your initial impression while also allowing your new acquaintances to develop a connection with you in the manner that suits them best.


Making a Business Card

As previously stated, the design of men’s calling cards during the heyday of calling card usage was quite minimalist, consisting just of their name and address. Today, it is increasingly acceptable to make a calling card design that allows you to express yourself.

How to Make a Greeting Card

Your business card should be a reflection of who you are. When someone enters your phone number into their phone, they may not recall anything about you when they check at it later. Something to spark their recollection should be included on a calling card (although in truth, currently simply giving someone a calling card should render you fairly unforgettable). Choose a color scheme, typeface, and design that reflects your personality. But keep in mind that you’re still a guy, not a girl, so don’t go overboard with the flowery or cartoony touches. You may still go with a standard, basic card on the front with only your name on it. This, of course, reveals a lot about your personality.

What Should Be on the Card?

In the Victorian era, there was just one way to contact a friend: drop by their home. In today’s world, technology has made it possible for a new friend to reach you in a variety of methods, and your business card should reflect this. Consider incorporating some (but not all—you don’t want it to be crowded) of the following pieces of information in addition to your name and phone number:

  • Address of a blog or website
  • Twitter handle
  • Name on Facebook or Myspace (if it differs from the one on the card)
  • Contact information through email
  • Name of the instant message

If you choose a more classic man’s design with merely your name on the front, you can then personalize the information you want to offer to each person you meet by simply writing on the reverse and making the necessary changes.

Design Concepts for Business Cards

Vintage inspired modern calling card.

Calling cards with a vintage feel

A modern take on the business card

A vintage man on a calling card.

Calling card with a steampunk theme

Joker playing card batman dark knight heath ledger.

A strange yet effective business card.


How to Put the Card to Work

In any social circumstance when you need to communicate information with someone, a calling card might be useful. Remember that you may write remarks on the back of the cards and encourage them to meet up with you again. “Join me for coffee on Saturday at 3:00pm,” you may write. On 51st and Harvard, there’s a Starbucks.” Alternatively, use the back to invite someone over for supper and provide them with your address. Here are some other scenarios in which a calling card might be extremely useful:

  • Reunions of former classmates. You’ll meet a lot of folks with whom you’ll want to share information. Rather of repeatedly pulling out the pen and paper, just provide them your business card.
  • Inter-job networking. You don’t have a business card since you aren’t presently working. Or, if you do, it contains information about your previous employment. Prepare a calling card to hand out to possible contacts and leads while you’re hunting for job.
  • Parties. If you’re throwing a casual get-together or party, jot down your address and the time on the back. Give them one of your cards and invite them over when you run into folks you’d want to see there. Small envelopes, tailored to hold your calling card, are sometimes included with calling cards. As a result, you may always use your calling cards as conventional mail-in invites. You may also use your calling cards as gift cards if they come with an envelope.
  • The classroom is where everything happens. Making the transition from “in-class” to “out-of-class” pals may be difficult. Give your calling card to someone in class with whom you love conversing. They’ll most likely begin writing on your Facebook page, and your relationship will blossom. Alternatively, you may utilize the card to form a study group.
  • Dating. It’s nerve-wracking to ask for a lady’s number while you’re attempting to meet her, and if you give her yours, she may not contact you. Giving your calling card to a possible woman friend is a terrific third alternative. First and foremost, it is non-threatening. She could be too timid to address you directly. She may want to start with a casual email. And she could not know what she thinks of you. Giving her your business card gives her the opportunity to check out your blog or Facebook page first. Second, handing her your business card offers you the opportunity to explain a two-minute history of the ritual. You’ll stand out from the rest of the jerks she meets right away, and she’ll think of you as a genuine gentleman. Finally, when she takes your calling card home, she will have something concrete to remind her of you, increasing the likelihood that she will contact you.

Where Can I Get a Business Card?

Here are a few websites that provide current gentleman-friendly calling cards. Most companies will provide you a sample before you purchase, ensuring that you don’t wind up with anything you don’t like.


Crane & Co. is a firm that specializes in the construction of cranes (Nice, quality cards, priced between the low and high end)

The Stationery Studio is a small business that specializes in stationery. (A large assortment, many of which are made for ladies but there are also several for males, all of which are reasonably priced)

Stationery from the United States (Only one design to choose from, but inexpensive)

Carroll and Dempsey (For the classic gentleman with impeccable taste.) Since 1878, Dempsey and Carroll have been in the business. Extremely good quality. Extremely costly. Made-to-order according to your preferences.)

Piccolo Press (For our friends on the other side of the Atlantic.) Piccolo Press continues to print and engrave its cards in the traditional manner.)

For the thrifty guy, or the man who is willing to sacrifice quality for variety, purchasing a box of business cards from Office Depot, downloading a business card template, and printing them at home may be an option. Of course, they’ll be flimsy, but you can always play with with the font and design, and print fresh ones that are tailored to a certain event.



The “regency calling cards” is a book that tells the reader about how to go about getting a Regency Calling Card. The gentleman’s guide will help you get your card and make sure that you are able to use it properly.

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