Friday, October 19, 2012

The Calling Card - a lesson in social history

Did you ever wonder how people contacted one another before there were telephones? I mean, let's say you were in town and wanted to meet a friend for coffee or tea. These days you'd just call or text and set up a time and place. But back before there were such things as telephones and texts (The Regency specifically -  although Calling Cards were used throughout the 1800s*), you left a card at the house of those persons you wished to notify of your presence 'in town, ' with town being London during the Season and the Season being the months Parliament was in session (more on this next Friday...).

The leaving of cards was primarily "an activity of ladies" and generally took place in the morning. The protocol went like this: "At each house, the footman took a small card bearing your name and two cards of your husband's ... and gave them to the butler, who would put them on a salver inside the front hall, or, in less fancy establishments, perhaps on the mantlepiece. Visitors then had the chance to see whom the family numbered among its social circle and be suitably impressed." The idea was to renew - or solicit - acquaintance.

Now, if you were a bold person, you might forgo the card and simply call upon the person. However, by doing so, "you took a risk of rejection" since it was easy enough for the lady of the house to have a peek at you and then decide whether or not she'd see you. If she did, your visit was to be short and any conversation would be "light and touch on safe, general topics like weather." If this was someone you did not know well the call would made in the late afternoon and if "you were somewhat better acquainted, between five and six. These were all referred to as morning calls," even though they never took place in the morning and in fact "no one but a great intimate would presume to actually call in the real morning, i.e., before one o'clock."

These are my kind of people.


* according to WHAT JANE AUSTIN ATE AND WHAT CHARLES DICKENS KNEW by Daniel Pool

29 comments:

  1. Ah yes, the calling card! Had to research this myself. My editor questioned whether or not calling cards would be used in a rural Pennsylvania town in the 1860's. I discovered that in a town where there were ladies who wished to establish some status among their peers, they were still very fashionable.

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  2. Back when everything was prim and proper!

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    1. actually, the Regency was not as prim and proper as you might think. In fact, there was a lot of naughtiness going on. The Victorian era was much more prim and proper.

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    2. I was gonna say, the cards were also a way for lovers to set up clandestine meetings. Prim and proper my butt! Those people knew how to play underhanded games like no bodies business!!

      However..I do have a question...I noticed the pic you have is hand drawn? Did they generally do hand drawn by artists, or typeset? Typeset became really widespread when,early 1900? or was it late 1800's?

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  3. Back before the Twitter and blog "follow" obviously. :P

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  4. I want that card - how beautiful!!!

    My husband doesn't have business cards, his company gives out calling cards, the same size as a traditional calling card - it's strange to see since I'm so used to the business card size, and the calling cards are a bit bigger, but they wanted to keep up with the old tradition, and I think it's pretty sweet :)

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    1. I know, it is awful pretty.

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  5. I miss those days. Not that I actually experienced them, mind you. I'm no immortal creature at all. But the idea of being proper, with strict social guidelines is right up my alley. In a world that wants to get in touch with us 24/7, it might be a nice change.

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    1. Yes, I definitely like the idea of no one ever calling upon you before 1pm!

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  6. we love to communicate!
    fascinating! i love it! looking forward to the next historic post!

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    1. Oh yes, we do love to talk! next time, I'll dish on The Season :)

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  7. i don't think i could stand all that visiting at any hour--fascinating subject!

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    1. I agree, it would get old quite quickly - but if you wanted to make contacts this what what you did.

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  8. I had no idea. Fascinating.

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    1. social history is full of interesting little tidbits and the Regency period in England is especially fun - imo.

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  9. I've occasionally wondered about this whole "calling card" business only because I didn't know what it was and I've heard it referenced by older folks who consider "going visiting" a matter of "calling upon" these friends. Now I think I understand a little better.

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    1. It is an interesting thing and no doubt where our modern business cards come from.

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  10. Interesting. I hardly knew anything about calling cards before I read this, other than the fact people left them when they visited.

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  11. I love the idea of calling cards. In the Austen books, it was always done and I remember when they became a "fad" in the Little House books, a century later.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. The Regency is a fun era, so prim and proper on the surface, so naughty underneath!

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  12. People who know me at all know better than to "call" in any medium before 10am on a day off. I'm likely to ignore you :)

    I like the concept behind the calling card, and I still think it holds true today. Everyone wants a business card - including agents/publishers at conferences and workshops. I have a pocket in my purse full of calling cards. They do come in handy sometimes.

    ........dhole

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    1. yep, I'm definitely a night bird and everyone in my family knows not to call too early.

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  13. I read your article and I get such useful information about social history of calling cards. Its too good and amazing information. You have done great job.

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  14. I live in CANADA but most of my relatives lives in other countries so I am looking for a international calling card service provider which offer cheap international calls . Can any one suggest me something. www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/18vjfc/cheap_international_calls/

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