Antique Victorian Calling Card Guide + Free Printables

Hi there! Today I’m posting about 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

Collecting Antique Calling Cards
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.

Antique Calling Card with Horse ShoeEarly 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.

Antique Floral Calling CardIt’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?

Antique Floral Calling CardThis 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.)

Antique Floral Calling Card Lizzie chose a particularly lovely card with its graceful hand with a ribbon and lace “bracelet.”

Antique Feline Calling CardI think Aurelia must have had a playful streak, selecting a cat and mouse to embellish her cards along with the sentiment, “In fond remembrance.”

Antique Calling Card with Children in BoatMrs. 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.

Victorian Calling Card

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?

Victorian Calling CardThis 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.

Victorian scrap calling cardThe scalloped edges add a nice touch to this card.

Victorian Calling Card with hand, dove, red roseAs does the inverse scalloping on this one.

Victorian Calling Card with hand
This is perhaps my favorite, with delicately embossed scalloping and a beautiful envelope in the center.

Inside envelope of Victorian Calling CardOpening 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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Victorian Calling Cards

Bye for now,

I’d love it if you’d pin me šŸ™‚

Collecting Antique Calling Cards
For more info about calling cards:
Calling Cards & Visiting Cards: A Brief History

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  1. I have heard of those cards and have seen them in old movies, but never imagined they could be so elaborate.
    Great collection!

  2. I still have calling cards, although I don’t use them for the old purpose of calling. Sometimes, when you want to leave someone a message if they’re not at home or to give someone your phone number, they are ideal.

  3. Great collection; I thought they just had their name printed on them. I am trying to remember why they folded down a corner–maybe it was when they were just calling to leave a card, i.e., people were not “at home” or in mourning. I have read too many novels!

    1. Ooh, I read why they fold the corner down, but can’t remember, Kathy–I’ll try to find where I read it. You can never read too many novels, BTW šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚

  4. What a truly delightful story. Do you have any Dance Card collections? I’d love to hear about those, if you do.


    1. Hi! Glad you enjoyed the post šŸ™‚ No, I don’t have any dance cards, though I have had one or two in the past. I’ll have to keep a watch out for them and start a new collection —

  5. These are so neat! I’ve always loved vintage ephemera, and these are beautiful and just perfect for collecting. Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm! xo Kathleen |Our Hopeful Home (P.S. I perused some of your fall projects in your other party submission but there was no place to leave a general comment. My fave is the mum wreath! Thanks for sharing.)

  6. I have a beautiful old book filled with a small collection of these. The book was made for them, with little slots where they are inserted. They must have been collected by my mom’s father. They are all valentines. I am going to scan them all because I adore them, and the originals will be sent to my cousin because it belonged to her grandfather, and I believe someone in the family should have them. I was adopted so I feel they don’t belong with me.

  7. I have quite a collection of these calling cards. I purchased business card plastic sheets and they work perfect for displaying most of these. I just found baseball card sheets that will be used for the larger ones.

  8. I have 3 calling cards similar to some of yours. Iā€™m wondering about the value of these. Do you know how I can find this information?

    1. Hi Beverly! That’s so neat that you have some cards similar to mine šŸ™‚ Their values tend to range from $1-5 (possibly more) depending upon their condition, age, and complexity. I don’t think there are any price guides out there on them, but you could check out eBay and Etsy (just search for “Victorian calling cards” and see what pops up. Hopefully you’ll see some similar to yours and that will give you an idea of value. (Hint: conduct an “advanced” search of “sold” items to see not what items are listed for, but what they actually sold for.) Good luck!

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