The History Of Business Cards


I.  Visiting Cards 17th century

II.  Trade Cards 17th century

III.  Business Cards 19th century

IV.  Calling Card Etiquette

V.  Trade Cards History


History of Visiting and Business Cards

Elegant descendants of the austere Gauls, the French, claim that visiting cards first appeared in their land in the seventeenth century. The Chinese, in their own turn, seek to prove that visiting cards were invented by their ancestors shortly after they had concocted explosive powder. However, the first ever known sample of a visiting card, dating back to 1786, was found in Germany. Gradually, with the development of certain rules of use, the cards had become common by the nineteenth century.

Do you know which corner of a visiting card you must fold when leaving it with a footman in order to indicate that you have called on to inquire after the master's health? Neither do we. But only a hundred years ago this knowledge was as vital for an aristocrat as dancing and polite conversation. Visiting cards used to be an indispensable attribute of the etiquette and the rules of their use were as sophisticated as those of cutlery. At that time visiting cards belonged to the notions of such consequence like title, rank, land, horses etc. They represented a separate of the polygraphic art its own masterpieces, canons, and taboos. First businessmen used their cards as marks of distinction and thus introduced the first modifications in their design. Later, as the growing demand for the cards boosted the development of polygraphic industry, more and more sophisticated card design patterns appeared. It was greatly helped, too, by that category of clients for whom the more expensive and fanciful the card was the better.

On the other hand, there appeared an ever-growing social group of private entrepreneurs who had a constant need to exchange their contact information. These pragmatic people did not wait for the polygrpahic industry to turn to their needs and started to print out their own cheaper business cards to give them at presentations, exhibitions etc.

In the modern business card design, with its developed clear professional conventions, one can still detect the two conflicting approaches, the fanciful and the functional one.

  • The purpose of the first approach is to show that there is nothing impossible for the card's owner. The more striking by its design and materials and the more sophisticated in its manufacturing technology the card will be the better. It does not matter that a particular plate embossment might be hardly feasible and that puncturing and seaming of openings in the card-pads will mean at least a three-day hard work for the producer. What matters is the card's uniqueness. The content of the card does not matter much either. Such a card is designed as a visiting card proper, i.e., according to Vladimir Dal, for "conventional, non-business, visits and friendly calls"


  • The other approach, on the contrary, emphasizes functionality. It is the one that rules in the pragmatic West. And the English name of the item - "business card"- also focuses on its specific functionality. These cards are essential for those company workers that interact with clients. That is why, on the one hand, you can see a small clerk, a service engineer or even a heaver with his own business card and a head of the department without such if he or she does not interact with clients.


I.  Visiting Cards 17th Century   ●  II.  Trade Cards 17th Century   ●  III.  Business Cards 19th Century   ●  IV.  Calling Card Etiquette     V.  Trade Cards History

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