In days gone by the social custom of exchanging calling cards was a social custom essential to the development of friendships. Carrying calling or visiting cards started in France in the early 1800’s, quickly spread throughout Europe and became very popular in the United States from 1840-1900. Calling cards were carried primarily by the “well-to-do” ladies who made a habit of calling on friends and family on a specified day of the week or month, depending on their location and proximity to neighbours. Calling cards were left at the home of each person whom the individual went to visit, regardless of whether they were at home or not. The person visiting would typically either leave their card in a “card receiver” (normally a sterling silver waiter or small salver) which was set on an entry table in the hallway or on a parlour table, or leave the card with a servant, so that the homeowner would know they stopped by. A married woman would leave her and her husband’s card at each visit. The calling card was a gentle reminder of someone’s presence and much care was poured into the design.
The cards were carried in a variety of beautiful cases made of sterling silver, mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, velvet, ivory, and more. In the book Decorum, published in 1877, the following recommendations were made for refined visiting card etiquette: “Visitors should furnish themselves with cards. Gentlemen ought simply to put their cards into their pocket, but ladies may carry them in a small elegant portfolio, called a card-case. This they can hold in their hand and it will contribute essentially (with an elegant handkerchief of embroidered cambric) to give an air of good taste.” Card cases for gentlemen were available and were smaller and more simply designed than the ladies.