Monday, February 26, 2007

Calling Card Information

I've (finally) put together some of the information I've found on calling cards. There's a lot of information out there and it's taken awhile to put it together in a more readable form. I've just listed the links out in the open. Maybe I'll get around to "hiding" them later. Not enough time now!

Some of the pictures are of the three calling cards Sweetheart gave my for Valentines Day to add to my collection. He's been apparently saving these. They are some of the nicest ones with my favorite flowers. They are called "hidden name" cards as the names are printed on the white cards and hidden behind the colorful scrap pictures. He's been giving these to me for years, so I have amassed quite a collection! They are lovely, much prettier than our boring business cards of today.

As you can see, they came in different shapes and sizes. Many of the same pictures and symbols appear in varying forms on the cards. Most have hands for friendship, hearts for love, and doves for peace. The flowers are often roses, whose Victorian meanings vary with their color, pansies/heartease for thoughts, and forget-me-nots whose name says it all! Anchors may be found symbolizing steadfastness, and interestingly enough, the Cross.

Preprinted messages may be found wishing the receiver "Kind Thoughts", "Best Wishes","Kind Regards", "Faithful & True", and "God's Blessing Upon You". Some even managed little rhymes like "May ev'ry blessing God can give Bring peace around you while you live!" and "The trees of the forest may perish, The flowers of the valley decay, But let our friendship last forever, While all earthly things pass away" and "While this short greeting I indite, I pray God grant you prospects bright". That's a lot to get on a little card!

Sweetheart has blessed me with so many of these little treasures. Most of them appear to be from the 1870s-1900's, although I do have a few monochrome cards that appear to be from the 1860's. I hope to find an old friendship album someday to place them in. Right now I have them tucked all around the house. They can be found in a silver tray on the table in the living room, nestled amongst teacups and saucers in the dining room, under the glass of my tea cart, and in the frame of my bedroom mirror. They are small, but brighten wherever they may be found. (I believe he's purchased most of them on Ebay. Ruby Lane also sells them sometimes as well.)

So, go get your cup of tea and settle in for a read. Here's some articles and links you may enjoy:

An Article on Victorian Calling Cards, Friendship Cards, Advertising Calling Cards, Surnames & Customs
by Debra Clifford, Town Historian of Ancestorville

"Each family member had their own card; parents, brothers, sisters, older children, newlyweds. Cards were also printed announcing the joyful birth of a child. Calling cards were first introduced in France in the early 1800's and caught on through Europe and America as an important social craze. The height of the popularity of the calling card era coincides with the reign of Queen Victoria, Queen of England from 1837-1901, which is commonly referred to as the "Victorian era". Queen Victoria truly lived her life in celebrity status, influencing both a generation at home and "across the pond."

The Victorian era had its own distinct style, language, culture, literature, arts, architecture, artifacts, traditions, beliefs, values, and behaviors that contributed to the influence on all aspects and classes of American 19th c. culture. Role, status, and social class was very important in describing the interactions of individuals and social etiquette, thus filtering down to all classes.

The use of calling cards was perceived as "high style", carried by "well-to-do" ladies and gentleman who made a point to call on friends and family on specified days of the week or month. Also known as "visiting cards", each one is different and beautiful. Most are unique and one of a kind, with early examples of stone lithography printing, hand tinting, the handwritten word, die cut papers and cardstock, unique fonts and typefaces indicative of the era, and exhibiting unusual paper delineations.

Below we see a "hidden name" card, whereby a fancy "scrap" (as in "scrapbook", another Victorian era craze) was lifted to reveal the caller's hidden name. We find both fancy male and female cards in our travels. The card below has the Victorian symbols of a woman's hand and flowers, to convey the message of friendship. Hearts, doves, birds, scrolls, urns, cupids, forget me nots, roses, and women's hands were common calling card themes.

The term "Calling" or the verb "to call" was a common Victorian term for making a visit. The card was left at the door, or in the front parlor in a silver urn, basket or "Card Receiver". These receivers were placed to hold cards for the family, whether they be home or not. Cards left reminded the family of who had called, thus requiring a visit in return. This served as a mode of communication, to receive messages, greetings and announcements of who was in town, births, deaths, sympathy announcements, engagements, and general social events. As a form of communication, the calling card in itself was considered a very important message. It was also an exciting day in the social life of a young Victorian era family member to be granted their first calling card.

Proper manners, and acceptable social etiquette were paramount to one’s social standing in a community, and "Calling" or "Visiting" was the most important leisure activity of the period. Calling card etiquette itself dictated the clothing, length of stay, time of visit and how long to stay. Women were the more frequent callers, this being an important ritual of daily life of upper class women. It was simply the job of the woman of the house to keep the family in good social standing in the larger social world.

There were strict rules on how a woman was to behave, with men's calling habits showing less strict rules or ceremony. A call may only last fifteen minutes, with several calls being made in a single afternoon. It is noted that the folding of card corners communicated different meanings, such as an upper left corner fold might say congratulations and a lower right fold might signify a goodbye."


Background Information on Calling

"Calling was a highly ritualized activity in the Victorian Era. Calling was a way to preserve friendships and establish new ones. Etiquette books were full of suggestions on how to leave a card, how to behave if invited to see the mistresses of the house, and how to host a caller at one’s own house. Calling, the Victorians believed, was one way to attain elegance and establish one’s social standing. It was a way for them to demonstrate to themselves and others their manners and good breeding.

The calling card played a major role in the calling ritual. The design of card and typeface chosen said a lot about a woman. Plain white or off-white stock cards engraved with a name in confident type were admired while a card decorated with gaudy monochromatic flowers denoted a woman of lower rank (and taste.) Once calling was established between two individuals of equal rank, the ritual continued until one party either moved away or died. Among those of unequal rank, trading calls could be halted when the higher ranking individual ignored the lower ranking woman.

For the most part cards were to be left in person. It was considered poor taste to send a card with a second party or a servant. When paying a call, one would hand a card to the servant who answered the door. The servant would either tell the visitor that the mistress was not at home or, would take the card to the mistress for further instruction. Upon receiving the card, the mistress would either tell the servant to send the person away (a sign that one had fallen out of the mistresses favor), or come down in person to visit with the caller.

When a person was invited to call at a certain time, like tea time, it was considered very rude to refuse. However, if one did have to refuse an invitation a call was required a day or two after the event. A good hostess would make her guests comfortable with engaging conversation and would provide “conversation starters” in the form of books, needlework, or photographs so that her guests might converse with each other on common ground. Again, etiquette books were full of suggestions for proper behavior:
Etiquette for the hostess: You should be dressed at least a half hour before your guests are to arrive. To come in, flushed from a hurried toilette, to meet your first callers, is unbecoming as well as rude….As each visitor arrives, rise, and advance part of the way to meet her….If appropriate, introduce your guests to each other…always introduce the younger one to the elder…It is a good plan, to have books and pictures on the center table, and scattered about your parlors. You must, of course, converse with each caller, but many will remain in the room for a long time, and these trifles are excellent pastime, and serve as subjects for conversation….A well-bred lady, who is receiving several visitors at a time, pays equal attention to all, and attempts, as much as possible, to generalize the conversation, turning to all in succession.
Etiquette for the caller: After you have received an invitation to a party, call within a week or fortnight after the evening, whether you have accepted or declined the invitation…When the servant answers your ring, hand in your card….When the servant announces you, enter the parlor…Greet the hostess and sit down quietly, do not walk about the parlor, examining the ornaments and pictures, it is ill-bred….Never sit gazing curiously around the room when paying a call, as if taking a mental inventory of the furniture. It is excessively rude….instead make polite and agreeable conversation with the hostess and other guests.

For the Victorians, the ritual of calling was an integral part of good society. While we have lost the subtle nuances of the ritual today, the calling card, to some degree, still exists. Business cards are our calling cards and telephones are our calls. The secretary or answering machine is the servant who announces the caller, giving us the opportunity to accept or claim that we are unavailable."


Calling Cards - A Study in Victorian Decorum By Walter & Kimberley Lemiski

"The tradition of leaving one’s calling or visiting card goes back some 300 years. It was considered the duty of the women-folk to pay the social calls, such as calls of condolence, congratulation, and calls on the ill. “Occasions when other calls are obligatory. After a wedding breakfast, a luncheon, a dinner, a card party, or any evening entertainment to which one has been invited, a call should be made after the event whether one has accepted or not.” - the Delineator, c.1880. Often times the ladies would leave their husband’s cards along with their own. In a Delineator magazine of that era it is stated that: “It is generally understood that women leave their husband’s cards. The custom is for a married woman calling formally on another married woman to leave one of her own and two of her husband’s cards, one of his being for the hostess, the other for her husband.”

The arbiters of good taste in Victorian times set out the proper forms of conduct down to the last “t”. One of the most fascinating of traditions was that of the “at home”. This was a set visiting time on weekday afternoons, generally between 2 and 4 p.m. Each household would let it be known on which days their own “at homes” were to be held. (The hostesses could indicate their own “at home” days by having a day of the week engraved on the lower left of their calling or visiting cards.) The proper amount of time spent in visiting at such a function was between twenty to thirty minutes. Tea would be served along with the appropriate cakes. The hostess would have taken care not to serve too elaborate a presentation so as to appear to be aspiring beyond one’s station. The more skilful at this social game could fit in two or three visits in an afternoon. And of course one must return a visit within a suitable time despite how distasteful this duty might be it would otherwise be considered a social gaffe. The Delineator also suggests appropriate frequency of calls: “As a rule, it is impossible to do more than make a single call a year on acquaintances in large cities, and this is supposed to be sufficient.”

In the middle part of the 19th century hand-written cards were often made to order by experts in the art of calligraphy. These experts in penmanship might be considered the lineal descendants of the old “letter writers” of the 16th century. It was these chirographers (artists of pen decoration) who would ply their trade in the streets, parks, and fairs, quickly tossing off a dozen or so cards for a very reasonable sum. Their script had the appearance of copperplate printing with its elaborate ornamental style of lettering and flourishes of fanciful birds, ribbons, swans, quill pens, and flowers. [see card 1] For the more affluent, handpainted cards were produced by professional artists. And of course, amateurs, those scores of young ladies at home, would often strive to create their own tastefully personalized cards. Calling cards besides always displaying the name of the donor would often times also contain an appropriate phrase or a short, often sentimental, verse.

When we are old we’ll smile and say
We had no cares in childhood’s day
But we’ll be wrong.
Twill not be true.
I’ve this much care.
I care for you.
[American verse c.1880]

The writers for Godey’s magazine, that magazine of fashion and good taste, in the 1870’s even went so far as to prescribe the appropriate details on calling cards: “ Its texture should be fine; its engraving, a plain script; its size not too large or small to attract attention in either way.” While it was deemed appropriate to present small white cards for formal calls, for less formal calls, or for those in less fastidious circles, coloured ones could be utilized. These more elaborately embellished ones might have been Decalcomanias (c. 1880) - in more simple terms decals. According to Webster’s Dictionary: Decalcomania - the art or process of transferring pictures and designs from specially prepared paper (as to glass). To those in the know a calling card was truly a mark of one’s breeding. From the 1879 volume entitled Social Etiquette of New York one learns that: “The friendliest sentiments are expressed by a timely card. It tells its little story of fondness or of indifference, according to the promptness and the method of its arrival. It announces a friend, and it says adieu. It congratulates delicately, but unmistakably, and it is the brief bearer of tidings which a volume could explain with no more clearness.”

The vast majority of calling cards available were those created commercially by lithography. Up until the 1870’s, the lithography was generally monochrome - that is of a single coloured ink. Some cards can be obtained that were done in black ink then labouriously hand painted. By the third quarter of the 19th century card manufacturers were experimenting more and more with different papers and effects - embossed cards, die cut edges, coloured cards, striped papers, linens, marbleised papers, and most importantly of all multiple colours.

The advent of chromolithography started slowly enough through the 70’s with innovative printers attempting the combination of two or three colours at a time. By the 1880’s and 1890’s the art of chromolithography had reached its golden age. Magnificent combinations of fifteen to twenty colours created wondrous pictures with fabulous colour contrast and depth.

The Crown Card Company of Cadiz, Ohio (self-proclaimed “dealers in Fashionable Visiting Cards”) produced calling cards through the 1880’s. In their “New Sample Book” produced circa 1885, the consumer was offered a wide variety of cards ranging in very reasonable prices from 12 for 15 cents through to 30 for 10 cents — all in assorted designs. Of course one purchased cards according to one’s means and much more expensive cards could also be acquired. The following ad appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in the late 1860’s: “Visiting cards for the coming season are of unglazed card board, large and almost square. Tinted cards, especially buff, are fashionable. The lettering is in old English text, or in script. The expense of fifty cards is $3.50.”

One of the most intriguing developments in visiting cards in the 1880’s were the aptly named “hidden name” cards. In these creations, colourful die cut paper scraps were applied on the central portion of the card to conceal the giver’s name. These delightfully served to add a little spice of mystery for the recipient.

The paper scraps used standardized iconography of friendship such as extended or clasped hands, birds, floral flourishes or nature scenes. As in other Victorian decorative arts the creators of calling cards made ever increasingly elaborate offerings as the century progressed. The card pictured as No. 9 exemplifies this Victorian flair for the elaborate. Not only is the calling card a “hidden name” one, but the card has die cut edges, embossed paper and best of all instead of the paper scrap simply being applied over the individual’s name, this card features it applied on a die cut envelop whose decorated flap lifts to reveal the die cut name card enclosed within!

As with the giving of flowers, with leaving cards there was a special significance for the manner in which the card was left. One could bend a corner of the card to add a special message — the rather complicated “language of cards.” In his Learning How to Behave, c. 1880, Arthur M. Schlesinger wrote: “Quite apart from such details as the correct size and typography was the difficult symbolism involved in bending the edges. Turning down the upper right-hand corner signified a personal visit; the upper left corner, congratulations; the lower right-hand corner, adieu; the lower left corner, condolence; the entire left end, a call on the whole family. This practice, introduced from abroad shortly after the Civil War, commended itself to city dwellers who had little time or inclination for individual visits and yet did not wish to feel negligent of their duties.... Despite its conveniences, the custom was becoming passe by the 1890s. The sign language proved too great a tax on the human intelligence.”

Naturally, appropriate receptacles had to be devised for the proceedings. Calling card receivers were created out of glass, wood, and, most notably, silver. Typical early card receivers were approximately six inches in diameter, and were often mounted on a pedestal. That giant of silver plate manufacturers, the Meriden Britannia Company, produced but four different designs in 1861. Twenty-five years later, in 1886, Meriden Britannia was able to offer fifty-eight card receivers and six card tables! Decorative motifs on these receivers could include butterflies, insects, owls, elephants, children, cherubs, swans, frogs, peacocks, storks, fruit, squirrels, cats, dogs, deer, flowers, fantastical foliage. Some card trays even incorporated art glass vases in their designs. By 1890 the peak of formal elaboration had been reached. The next couple of decades saw the return to less ostentatious creations.

Calling cards can afford an interesting historical perspective of the development of printing through the 19th century. Directly associated with these innovations is also the progression of Victorian decorative style. We can as well catch a glimpse of the unique social customs of that day and age with their regimented sense of decorum. As with other ephemeral items one marvels that such beautiful little momentos has managed to survive some one hundred to one hundred and fifty years and now can provide us with so much delight and joy.


More Links:

I've love to institute an "At Home" day for callers to come and visit and stay for tea. Wouldn't you? Although, fifteen minutes does not seem long enough!


Kelli said...

Hi Kimberly! I love calling cards too and like how you have them displayed throughtout your home.
Thank you for all the wonderful articles and I remember reading about an "At Home" Day. I would LOVE that!

Susan P. said...

Kimberly, I loved reading all about the calling cards because it was so interesting and is a subject I wanted to learn more about. Thanks for all of your hard work putting that post together:)

Kimberly said...

I'm glad you've enjoyed it!

Robert said...

Great post. Very informative. Liked it very much. You can also take a look at My Blog on Friendship and Friendship cards.. take care.. ciao.


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