September 21, 2011

Calling cards, etiquette and Emily Post

I remember reading Austen and Dickens as a child and being charmed by the ritual of leaving calling cards when making social calls. While our modern social interactions are no longer quite so choreographed, calling cards seem to be enjoying something of a renaissance (much to my delight). So how does one go about adopting a social ritual that has been out of fashion for almost 100 years? Why, we turn to the doyenne of etiquette, Miss Emily Post, of course.

Miss Post's advice for the use of a calling (or visiting) card, as taken from her 1922 book, Etiquette:

1. Who was it that said - in the Victoria era probably, and a man of course - "The only mechanical tool ever needed by a woman is a hair-pin"? He might have added that with a hair-pin and a visiting card, she is ready to meet most emergencies.

2. Although the principal use of a visiting card ... is going gradually out of ardent favour in fashionable circles, its usefulness seems to keep a nicely adjusted balance. In New York, for instance, the visiting card has entirely taken the place of the written note of invitation to informal parties of every description. Messages of condolence or congratulation are written on it; it is used as an endorsement in the giving of an order; it is even tacked on the outside of express boxes.

3. The personal card is in a measure an index of one's character. A fantastic or garish note in the type effect, in the quality or shape of the card, betrays a lack of taste in the owner of the card.

4. All people who live in cities should have the address in the lower right corner, engraved in smaller letters than the name. In the country, addresses are not important, as every one knows where every one else lives.

5. To be impeccably correct, initials should not be engraved on a visiting card. A gentleman’s card should read: Mr. John Hunter Titherington Smith, but since names are sometimes awkwardly long, and it is the American custom to cling to each and every one given in baptism, he asserts his possessions by representing each one with an initial, and engraves his cards Mr. John H. T. Smith, or Mr. J. H. Titherington Smith, as suits his fancy.

6. And a widow no less than a married woman should always continue to use her husband’s Christian name, or his name and another initial, engraved on her cards. She is Mrs. John Hunter Titherington Smith, or, to compromise, Mrs. J. H. Titherington Smith, but she is never Mrs. Sarah Smith; at least not anywhere in good society.

7. On the hall table in every house, there should be a small silver, or other card tray, a pad and a pencil. When the door-bell rings, the servant on duty, who can easily see the chauffeur or lady approaching, should have the card tray ready to present, on the palm of the left hand. A servant at the door must never take the cards in his or her fingers.

8. Etiquette absolutely demands that one leave a card within a few days after taking a first meal in a lady’s house; or if one has for the first time been invited to lunch or dine with strangers, it is inexcusably rude not to leave a card upon them, whether one accepted the invitation or not.

9. One must also unfailingly return a first call, even if one does not care for the acquaintance. Only a real “cause” can excuse the affront to an innocent stranger that the refusal to return a first call would imply. If one does not care to continue the acquaintance, one need not pay a second visit.

10. Not so many years ago, a lady or gentleman, young girl or youth, who failed to pay her or his “party call” after having been invited to Mrs. Social-Leader’s ball was left out of her list when she gave her next one. For the old-fashioned hostess kept her visiting list with the precision of a bookkeeper in a bank; everyone’s credit was entered or cancelled according to the presence of her or his cards in the card receiver.

11. The best type of young men pay few, if any, party calls, because they work and they exercise, and whatever time is left over, if any, is spent in their club or at the house of a young woman, not tête-a-tête, but invariably playing bridge.

12. At the house of a lady whom you know well and whom you are sorry not to find at home, it is “friendly” to write “Sorry not to see you!” or “So sorry to miss you!”

13. Turning down a corner of a visiting card is by many intended to convey that the visit is meant for all the ladies in the family. Other people mean merely to show that the card was left at the door in person and not sent in an envelope. Other people turn them down from force of habit and mean nothing whatever. But whichever the reason, more cards are bent or dog-eared than are left flat.

14. Someone somewhere asked whether or not to answer an engraved card announcing an engagement. The answer can have nothing to do with etiquette, since an engraved announcement is unknown to good society.
- Emily Post (1873-1960). Etiquette. 1922.

all images by LetterLove Designs

Okay, so I might have to work out my own approach to using calling cards, but I'm certainly going to order some today. All the beautiful cards shown in this post are by LetterLove Designs on Etsy - a wonderful South Australian business (always happy to support a local).



  1. These are divine! I had a peak and am in love with the Flourish design calling cards...!

  2. What an informative post B! Such a quaint and lovely concept. These designs are gorgeous too :)
    Abbey x

  3. Hey Nic! I've chosen the oriental scallop design. Still obsessing about the colour though. I'm thinking slate (grey) for the middle and trench coat (beige) for the background?

  4. Checked out this combo, sounds perfect! x

  5. Change of mind. Thinking of swapping out the slate for bluebell. Must force myself to use colour more!!!


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