BRYAN COUNTY HISTORY: Visiting cards

By Bryan County Genealogy Library

“A young man should have visiting cards which he leaves when people are not at home, which he may hand to the servant to announce his presence, to enclose with a gift, and to present to an acquaintance he meets while traveling.” Madame Merri’s Advice, Durant Daily Democrat, November 13, 1911

In early society it was acceptable to call on someone without an invitation, especially in the afternoon. However, it was necessary for one to announce his or her presence with a card and wait for an answer. The recipient might be absent or simply decline a visitor’s request. In either case the card was left so that the recipient might reply or issue an invitation later.

Visiting or “calling” cards were also used to enclose in gifts, to issue party invitations, or include with graduation announcements. Special cards were printed for Christmas visiting or condolence calls. In 1924 the Caddo Herald reported that the newest fad in Paris was for lapdogs to have their own cards. The cards were engraved with the name of the dog and its pedigree.

As early as 1875 advertisements for visiting card printing can be found in local papers. A company in NY offered to engrave 100 of them for 35 cents. Shipping was not mentioned. Many printers had package deals for cards, card holders, and note pads. Card holders were usually leather or metal. In 1915 the lost and found ads included the “gold card case” and “gold pencil” of Mrs. Ollie James of Durant.

Cards were collected in a dish or basket and some popular families accumulated quite a few of them each year. In 1896 the Daily Enterprise-Times (Perry, OK) printed a lengthy, illustrated article of instructions for turning those cards into elaborate paper dolls.

In 1918 the Calera News printed a set of calling cards in the “latest style, and in popular Old English type” for Miss Emily Mitchel. We can assume by the etiquette rules of the day that Emily was over sixteen, had already made her debut in society, and had her full name engraved on her cards. It was proper for younger girls to have their name on their mother’s card and inappropriate to have initials or nicknames on a card.

From the beginning to the end of their usage there were always rules governing the use of visiting cards. Newspaper columns titled “Your Manners” included the cards, as did popular etiquette books written by experts like Emily Post. There were rules for size, style, typeface, and use. There were guidelines for men, women, widows, divorcees, daughters-in-law, newlyweds, and children. There were even standards for the use of an address and where it should be on a card. Here are some samples:

1907- Ladies visiting cards should be nearly square, fine in texture, flexible, and of a soft white.

1913- It will be perfectly correct for you to have an “at home” day engraved upon your visiting card. But be sure you adhere strictly to the day given and remain at home all prepared for visitors.

1920- It is not correct for a woman doctor to have her title of “doctor” on her visiting card.

1920- It is correct for people in mourning to use visiting cards with black borders.

As society became more casual and the telephone became the preferred method of communication, the use of visiting cards declined. However, as late as 1944 Emily Post encouraged the enclosure of visiting cards with wedding gifts to ensure proper identification of the sender.

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.