husband for business purposes. The caller did not leave her own card since she had already seen the lady of the house. 3
Although the calling card supplied only the name of the caller, certain messages could be left to a person by folding the card in a variety of ways. By folding the upper right corner, the visitor signified that she had come in person rather than sending the card by way of a second party. Folding the upper left corner meant congratulations. Folding the lower right corner meant goodbye and folding the lower left corner signified that the visit was a condolence call. If the entire left end of the card was folded, it was an indication of an intended visit to all the women in the house, rather than only the peer of the visitor.4
The calling cards were required to be in good taste, and the card of a well- bred lady was never to appear too large or too small. The name was to look as if it had been engraved in a medium size script, clear and without flourish. The prefix of ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss’, which was reserved for older, unmarried women, was included on every card. It was not considered proper for a young lady to have cards of her own. Her name would be printed beneath her mother’s name on her mother’s card. Cards were often saved and put into scrapbooks as keepsakes or mementos.5 The cards of the more socially prominent visitors were never left on display as to impress callers of the social status of the household.
This well-mannered domestic drama always took place in the front entrance hall of the home. The front hall was considered the most public space in the home. A dish or tray known as a card receiver, carried by a servant was placed on a table or shelf of the hall tree located at the front of the hall near the door. If the caller was accepted into the home, she would be escorted to the parlor, which served as the main social area of the home. The use of cards, servants, and entrance halls as barriers protected the social positions and privilege of the lady of the house without fear of embarrassment. Whatever the intention of the caller, to actually pay a visit or just to keep up the appearance of appropriateness, the person receiving the card was obliged to reciprocate. A card for a card, a call for a call, kept the cycle of “calling” a seemingly never- ending process.
Calling or name cards were also used by young people in much the same way. The cards were exchanged among friends and acquaintances and kept as mementos. These card exchanges did not involve paying a visit.
3 4 5
Kenneth Ames, in Material Culture Studies in America. p. 220. Harvey Green, The Light of the Home. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983, p. 144. Plant, p. 123.