Today, people exchange business cards all the time with little thought,
but there was a time in Western society (particularly British society)
when giving a card with business information to a social acquaintance
would have been terribly rude. During the 19th century, every gentleman
and lady had engraved calling cards - some were made of thick
paperboard, others from copper. The cards served as an introduction, and
there were many rules to govern their use and contents:
* A married woman's card was larger than her husband's; his had to fit
in his breast pocket. A young girl could have a calling card, but only
after she'd been in "proper" society for a year and only one that
included her full and proper name.
* Cards were always presented (by a servant) to the mistress of the
house. If the mistress wasn't at home, the caller wasn't welcome.
* Servants collected the cards on silver trays (or in glass bowls for
the less-well-to-do) and presented the cards to the lady of the house
with the most important caller on top.
* After moving to a new neighborhood, it was polite to wait until your
neighbors left their cards before you went over to meet them.
* A proper lady or gentleman never wrote "regrets" or "accepts" on a
card as a reply to an invitation. Those required a hand-written note.
There was also an elaborate system of card protocol when leaving a
community. Some people used special "P.P.C." cards, or simply wrote
these initials at the bottom of their usual cards. "P.P.C." meant "Pour
Pendre Conge," or "To Take Leave." In other words - so long!
Accompanying the initials was an even more elaborate system of corners
turned up or down that showed whether you were leaving on a short trip,
a long trip, or moving away permanently."
When a young man or woman graduated from High School, they were
considered "in society" and the possession of
calling cards so indicated. Thus, the small cards included with the
graduation invitation told the invitee that the
graduate was an adult now.
I served a place where one lady still had the silver plate by the door
for calling cards. She had a few on it. Lovely, old