Hi there! Today I’m posting about collecting antique Victorian calling cards. Are you as in love with these itty bitty works of art as much as I am? Examples dating to the late 19th and early 20th century are especially lovely, containing beautiful lithography or charming Victorian “scraps” of flowers, hearts, and doves.
You know I love writing about all sorts of collections, so if you’d like to read about other types of antiques, just click here to see the whole list, or check out my collecting Christmas or collecting cocktail rings posts
People of high society in France began using calling cards, also known as “visiting” or “compliments” cards, in the 18th century as a way of announcing one’s arrival at a friend or acquaintance’s home.
At the door the butler (or “majordome” in French) would likely take your card and either announce you to his employers (if you were lucky enough to be granted a short visit) or offer you a tray on which to place your card. It would be examined at a later point and social plans might be made, depending upon the circumstances.
Early on, cards would have been simple black and white with one’s name imprinted–or even hand written. Over time, and with advancements in printing, they became more elaborate, like the one you see here.
Will M. Dings (quite a name) would have dropped his card off to wish a friend luck (for a horse race? a new job? a marriage?). The alternative would have been to send a note in the mail, but taking the time and effort to leave a card, and perhaps visit for a few moments, would have been viewed as more personal.
It’s the graphics on the cards, of course, along with their ornate typography, that attract collectors. Whether one stores them in an album, displays them framed, or uses them in art projects, they offer a small window into the social customs of the Victorian era. How would you use or display them?
This card with its feminine floral decoration leads me to wonder if Willie Reid might be a girl? (Not trying to be sexist or anything, just wondering.)
Lizzie chose a particularly lovely card with its graceful hand with a ribbon and lace “bracelet.”
I think Aurelia must have had a playful streak, selecting a cat and mouse to embellish her cards along with the sentiment, “In fond remembrance.”
Mrs. C.C. Cramer’s card bears one of my favorite messages: “May joy be around you.” Its not one I would immediately attribute to the Victorians who I think of as strict and prudish, wanting children like those depicted to be seen but not heard. It’s very refreshing.
Over time, cards became even more elaborate with late era Victorians embellishing them with decorative “scraps” like the basket of flowers that you see here. The specificity of some of these messages makes me wonder, did they have multiple cards for different purposes? Or would they use the same one for all of their visits?
This card, with a purposefully tacked-down corner, displays a lovely scrap that when carefully lifted on the right side, reveals the owner’s name, in this case, Mrs. A. Armstrong.
The scalloped edges add a nice touch to this card.
As does the inverse scalloping on this one.
This is perhaps my favorite, with delicately embossed scalloping and a beautiful envelope in the center.
Opening the envelope reveals the owners name and a blank card, perhaps to write a note on, if desired.
In our fast-paced world where communications travel at light speed, it’s difficult to imagine all the effort that would have gone into the calling card “process.” One would order (or make) a calling card, drop it off in person at the recipients home, and then return home to await a response. That’s communication at a snail’s pace by today’s standards, and yet there’s something truly special about the calling card, though their days are long gone.
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I’d love it if you’d pin me 🙂
For more info about calling cards:
Calling Cards & Visiting Cards: A Brief History