Early History of Business Cards
As early as the 15th Century, the people in China were using an early ancestor of the business card to announce the arrival of important people. Servants would rush ahead of visiting dignitaries, to deliver a card to the servants of the person to whom the card owner wished to pay a visit.
Visiting Cards – The Great-Great-Grandmother of the Business Card
By the early 16th century, aristocrats and royalty in parts of Europe had begun using visiting cards, or visite biletes, to announce their arrival ahead of a visit to another dignified person. During the reign of King Louis XIV, a time of notorious aristocratic decadence and courtly entertainment, elaborate rules of etiquette developed regarding the use of visiting cards.
Calling Cards – The Great-Grandmother of the Business Card
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, “visiting” cards gave way to calling cards. While the purpose was much the same, the use of calling cards extended to all members of the middle and upper classes. Anyone who was anyone had at least one version of a calling card. Additional rules developed for the leaving of cards, when they must be left and by whom. Women were often the conveyors of the family calling cards and would usually carry cards of their husband and of-age sons with them when calling. It was understood that men had other responsibilities and couldn’t be making visits during the afternoon. Therefore, the women of the house would visit back and forth, leaving calling cards for their men-folk, as they did. If a man desired to call on an unmarried woman, he had several calling card options, in order to make his intentions clear. He could not simply offer a calling card to be delivered to the woman he desired to see. He could either present several calling cards, one for each member of the household, including his intended, or present a single card, folded in the middle, to indicate that he was there to visit the entire family. It was generally understood that he was there to visit a particular young lady, but it wasn’t spoken of. And, in any case, he would never be permitted to visit with her alone, so a family visit is what was considered appropriate. If the calling card was refused, the man was left with no alternative but to accept that the young lady did not wish to see him. And, he would typically leave off pursuing her, altogether.
Trade Cards – The Father of the Business Card
The Trade Card made its appearance during the 1600s, as well, but for an entirely different purpose. Print advertising was scarce, if available at all, and trade cards were a way for tradesmen and businesses to advertise their services and wares to the public. Maps and/or directions were a part of the trade card, which was first created using a wood press and, later, lithographic printing. Trade Cards were never used as calling cards, however, and the upper classes looked upon trade cards with disdain. They were a dirty necessity for business, but not to be considered by those in polite society.
Modern Business Cards
During the Industrial Revolution, the entire world began to see a loosening of societies rules, and a blend of trade cards and calling cards emerged. We know it today as a business card. Business cards began to be freely traded among men of good standing, as a way of exchanging contact information and informing others of business and trade opportunities. Business cards were still not an acceptable calling card, however. If a person were to send a business card, as an announcement of an impending visit, the person being visited could assume that the visitor was coming to collect a debt. Even today, various countries around the world observe different rules of etiquette, when it comes to the giving and receiving of business cards. It is important when visiting another country, to have business cards that are translated on one side for the hosting country and to know the proper rules and procedures for presenting and receiving business cards in that country. Business cards are more than just a means of transmitting contact information. The appearance of your card, the quality of the paper, even the type of font used for printing, all speak volumes about who you are as a person and as a representative of your company. In some parts of the world, the way you give and receive a business card can mean making or breaking a business deal. Used properly, the business card can serve as a brand ambassador and door opener now, and in the future.