cards were invented by the French and in use in England from around 1800.
Before their introduction, one's butler would write the names of callers
on a slate that was present in the hall of every wealthy townhouse.
However, the calling card was more genteel and elegant an invention and
it is easy to see why it was taken up. The cards were left on a silver
salver in the hallway and those of superior standing were placed on top
of those of lesser importance.
Lady, when making a Formal Call, remained in her carriage while her groom
took her calling card into the house. If she was sufficiently well-to-do,
she would have a groom and a coachman; if not, then the coachman performed
the task and faced the superior butler. She must wait while the butler,
or parlourmaid, took the card into the lady of the house, who then decided
whether to be available to her caller, or not.
the Lady wished to leave a card upon an acquaintance without making a Formal
call, then the card would be taken in without an enquiry being made as
to whether the lady of the house was at home. The young bride was
liable to complete this step first as it did not imply a pushy attitude
but let the superior lady decide whether to be friendly.
depended on what happened after the card was left. If the caller
was sent a card in return by a servant, but not presented formally, then
this was a sign that there was no desire for the acquaintance to be taken
any further. But, if the formal call was repaid with another formal
call, then this was a very good sign and the Lady could go on to the next
fact, a Lady would leave three cards at a house. One from herself
bearing her own name, to go to the lady of the house and two in her husband's
name. One would be presented to the man of the house and the other
to his wife. If a corner of the card was turned down this it indicated
that the card had been delivered in person and not merely presented by
a servant alone.
Formal Call had to be made following a momentous event, such as marriage
or the birth of a child. They were also acknowledgements of gratitude
for hospitality after a party or a ball, or dinner. In the latter
case, the Lady had three days in which to present her card. Though
more prompt delivery was a wiser course of action.
with these rules attended to, a Lady never called merely on the off-chance.
There were strict At Home days which would be engraved on one's calling
cards. A newcomer to the district, or new bride, waited until she
had received cards from her neighbours before embarking on a round of calls.
At Homes were usually around three o'clock and included tea, conducted
with as much ritual and attention to formality as a Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Calls were made, notwithstanding, in the afternoon: never in the
morning. Ceremonial Calls were made between three and four o'clock;
semi-ceremonial, between four and five o'clock; and intimate calls between
six and seven. But never on sundays. This was the day reserved
for very close friends and family and only bachelors paid calls on sundays.
were allowed some freedom on account of their being able to be seen by
as many young spinsters and their mothers as possible in more intimate
circumstances than a ballroom. However, this was never given to be
understood as their reason for calling. It was accepted that they
needed to pay calls on sundays as they had no wives to perform this duty
for them during the week.
the later half of the 18th century, the practice of "dining deep" came
into fashion. This meant that Ladies could visit the homes of several
friends over the course of one evening. But again, never on sundays,
unless expressly invited to do so.
a family was to be leaving their hometown temporarily; to go on holiday
for example, or to visit country relatives; then the Lady would make
a round of calls and leave her card. The letters "P.P.C." were pencilled
onto the card, meaning "pour prendre conge", or an indication that a temporary
absence was to take place. This also offered a breathing space so
that the Lady could decide, on her return, whether to continue to receive
certain acquaintances or to cut them.