Calling Card Etiquette, by Sue Barr

Calling Card Etiquette, by Sue Barr

To the unrefined or underbred, the visiting card is but a trifling and insignificant bit of paper; but to the cultured disciple of social law, it conveys a subtle and unmistakable intelligence. Its texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of leaving it combine to place the stranger, whose name it bears, in a pleasant or a disagreeable attitude, even before his manners, conversation and face have been able to explain his social position. The higher the civilization of a community, the more careful it is to preserve the elegance of its social forms. It is quite as easy to express a perfect breeding in the fashionable formalities of cards, as by any other method, and perhaps, indeed, it is the safest herald of an introduction for a stranger. Its texture should be fine, its engraving a plain script, its size neither too small, so that its recipients shall say to themselves, ‘A whimsical person,’ nor too large to suggest ostentation. Refinement seldom touches extremes in anything.

From “Our Deportment” by John H. Young, 1879 & 1881, p. 76.

Calling cards were a necessary accessory for a gentleman or lady when calling upon friends or acquaintances, or wished to announce their presence in Town. They also were a handy way to recall who had come to visit and which calls needed to be returned – or not. Cards were placed on a silver salver in the entry hall. A lady’s card would have her name, sometimes her address, and the day that she received visitors in the bottom left corner.

A turned down upper right corner indicated the card had been delivered in person, rather than by a servant. More elaborate cards had the words Visite (right upper hand)  Felicitation (left upper hand) Condolence (lower left hand) and P.P.C. – pour prendage conde (right lower hand) imprinted on the corresponding corners of the reverse side. That way, whichever corner was turned over, the reason for the visit was readily apparent. P.P.C. meant the family was temporarily leaving the area. Also, Adieu could be used in this instance.

Until a formal acquaintance was recognized, members of the families could not socialize with one another. Which explains Mrs. Bennet’s frustration that her husband has not called upon Mr. Bingley. She has visions of his $5000 a year flying toward another family’s daughter. It was the expected practice of the day for established members of the community to call upon new arrivals. Unlike the social restrictions in Town. There, a socially inferior family was expected to wait for the call from someone of higher social standing. Acceptance by those of higher status was the key to social mobility in Regency society, which explains the reason behind much of Caroline Bingley’s behavior. Mr. Darcy’s friendship with Charles opened doors to places the Bingley siblings would never attain on their own.

Only men called upon men. Women did not initiate the relationship themselves. However, once the man of the house performed introductions, or, in the case of the Meryton Assembly the Master of Ceremony (Sir William Lucas) performed introductions, then the ladies could interact socially with them. Visits were most often made in the afternoon. As a general rule, new acquaintances attended between 3-4 pm, frequent acquaintances between 4-5 pm, and close friends would come after 5 pm, often staying for dinner.


Before I sign off, I want to take this time to wish you all a Happy New Year. This past year had many ups and downs. We welcomed our newest granddaughter in April while at the same time our eldest granddaughter was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Such are the vagaries of life and you have to just roll with them. My greatest wish is that 2021 brings you joy, health, and happiness.


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29 Responses to Calling Card Etiquette, by Sue Barr

  1. What a fascinating post, thank you. I learned quite a bit. I did not know they put the day they were at home on the card.

  2. Sorry for the news about your eldest granddaughter, but offer congratulations on your newest one. As you said ‘life’s ups and downs.’ Thank you for the interesting post. Learning about the corners being turned down was fascinating and is something I’m thinking about putting in a future book. Hope you and the rest of your loved ones can stay safe and healthy. <3

  3. Wow! That was an amazing post. I had a scene flash in my mind from the Persuasion movie [1971] where Sir Walter watched out his window as Lady Dalrymple waited in her carriage as her servant left her card. He was overcome with excitement with the restoration of their connection.

    What did they do with the cards? I imagine the lady of the house had an extensive file where she could track their activities and have a record of who came and when. Lady Matlock must have an extensive office of her own as did her husband. She would probably even need a social secretary to help her. Oh, I’m so sorry, I just stepped into a rabbit hole. Dang nefarious creatures.

    Several have mentioned having cards in their youth. When I graduated high school, calling cards were part of our announcement package. Many of us exchanged cards between friends. I still have them. LOL!

    As for introductions… when Mr. Darcy was at the Meryton assembly… if he wasn’t introduced… he could feel fairly safe that no one would approach him. However, during the ball at Netherfield, Mr. Collins breached that and approached Mr. Darcy without the formal introduction. What a toad. Elizabeth tried to warn him. That just showed he would not take direction from his wife… whoever she might be, or any woman for that matter, other than his patroness. He thought he knew best. Lady Catherine would tan his hide if she knew he ran amuck like that.

    Blessings, to you and your family. Stay safe, and healthy in the new year. Happy New Year.

  4. I’m sorry to hear about your oldest granddaughter. I hope she does well. And congrats on the baby. May 2021 be a good year for all of us.
    That was interesting information about the cards. I didn’t know about the words on the corners to indicate the intent of the visit. And I really like the line in the initial quote, “Refinement seldom touches extremes in anything.” It’s so true, isn’t it?

    • I began to read through the deportment book, then realized I’d fallen into a deep, deep, deep rabbit hole and scrambled out as fast as I could! So much information and so VERY wordy… Thanks for popping by. Have a wonderful New Year, Riana.

  5. So sorry to read about your eldest granddaughter. Is it a permanent condition or can she or was she able to be treated and cured? Interestingly my parents obtained name cards for me as an infant. I never used them. Happy New Year to all. May GOD bless us with a better year then this one.

    • Yes, my granddaughter’s condition is permanent. She was diagnosed with Chron’s disease. A learning curve for all of us. Thank you for stopping by today, Sheila. I hope you have a wonderful 2021!

  6. What an interesting article, thank you. Congratulations on your new granddaughter and wishing your eldest grandaughter good health.

  7. I wondered what the calling cards were for and about! How helpful ! I hope things go well with your granddaughters health and enjoy the new baby. Happy New Year!

    • Thank you for stopping by, Cindie. My granddaughter is doing well. She has such a sweet disposition you sometimes forget that she’s ill. How I love her. Best wishes to you and yours in the New Year.

    • Thank you for joining us today, Diana. I almost went down a rabbit hole with the calling cards, let alone the whole book of etiquette. Happy New Year to you and yours.

  8. Sue, we are so glad to have you as part of our merry company. I especially liked the part of your post that explains the turning down of the corners of the calling cards. Very interesting…
    Happy New Year!

  9. My father was an officer in the US Navy. In the 1940’s and 50’s formal visits and calling cards were still requisite in that society. I don’t recall all the details but I do know when we graduated from high school, we were encouraged to purchase calling cards. The cards my parents used as well as mine, only had names, and in the case of my father’s his rank. It was required of officers to call on their superior officers. Afternoons on weekends were considered available for formal calls. My father would leave two cards, because he was formally calling on both the superior officer and his wife. My mother would leave one card, because her formal call was only on the wife. Each household, had a tray, often silver, located near the front door where calling cards were left. If the door was answered but the resident was not “at home” usually meaning really absent, but possibly home and unavailable, cards would be left. This was not a substitute for a personal call, but it demonstrated that the caller was following proper etiquette, not delaying. Some times the superior officer was home and available, but occupied. Once my parents paid a formal call on an Admiral. He was working in his garden in his Bermuda shorts. The formal call took place and my mother remarked that although they could have left by the garden, the Admiral escorted them out via the front door so they could leave their cards. Welcome Aboard!, a book that detailed description of Naval Officer’s and Wives’ etiquette was considered required reading. An officer’s career was heavily influenced by his and his wife’s conforming to the standards of etiquette. I have no idea how much, if any, of these practices still exists. But they were alive and well in 1960.

    • That’s a wonderful bit of (fairly) current history. Thank you for sharing. Shall tuck this away in a plot bunny binder. Good information should always be kept in a handy place.

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