London Calling: The Calling Card Craze

So tell me: before telephones and e mail and texting and Facebook and Instagram and cars and Twitter and suchlike: how the devil did a girl get herself introduced into decent circles of society?

There was one sure-fire way to do it, laced and loaded with an intricate spiders web of etiquette.

And that was the Visiting Card.

But you did need lots of servants to run the system.

It worked like this: you didn’t just sidle up to the door and knock. No: you sent your servant with a little card, much like our business cards of today but with less on it. Typically, it held only a name.


This was an overture. The opening of a glorious friendship or a cool acquaintanceship, or indeed, occasionally a dead ended snub.

The next step was to respond in kind. Sending a card back signified that the initiator would be welcome in the home of the responder. Sending a card back in an envelope, well, that was an entirely different matter: it was a positive discouragement. No card at all, and one should forget one ever submitted one’s card in the first place.

I mention this because I came across the most lovely little find at Strawberry Hill House, the home of the father of the Gothic Novel and champion of the gothic revival, Horace Walpole.

They really know how to preserve the past there. There are closets with lovingly preserved and restored wallpapers from Georgian and Victorian eras; cases containing the nails found beneath the floorboards.

And in 2012, whilst Walpole’s Blue Room was being renovated, someone found something which had slipped, unnoticed, behind the magnificent mantelpiece.

It was a pile of 15 visiting cards. Real ones, handwritten, early examples of the practice and quite, quite breathtaking.

Walpole had dropped them behind the mantelpiece by accident and those visitors’ requests lay undiscovered for centuries. Until now.

Yesterday, when I went to Strawberry Hill House, about five of them were on display. I pored, I took photographs, I gazed in something like adoration.

And now I am offering them to you….


15 thoughts on “London Calling: The Calling Card Craze

  1. Oh meant to say, I am glad to be able to report that my calling card has only my name on it too.. (all the other rubbish is on the reverse side!).. so i am Kind of traditional.. now where is that servant of mine? Good help is so hard to find nowadays! c

    On Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 9:53 AM, Cecilia Gunther wrote:

    > Oh Wow, just fantastic.. c > > On Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 9:05 AM, Kate Shrewsday <

  2. Last night, we sidled up to two doors in our neighborhood and had the temerity to knock, unannounced.

    As we came bearing gifts (100% rawhide dog bones for the resident labs ~ Tucker and Sophia), we were welcomed with grand WOOFS, happy barks, and wagging tails!

    Dogs are so much more scents-able.

  3. I have always felt whimsical about calling cards, Kate. I did have some printed up about 10 years ago (I don’t honestly know why, except that I could). 🙂 One treasure I do have is dance card that was my mom’s. My dad’s name is on it – more than once. Sigh.

  4. What a find! I can only imagine how exciting it would be to find them so well-preserved. What an exciting display. I always thought it was an interesting tradition. In a scrapbook of family mementos I have a few old ones that belonged to family members. They are somehow quite meaningful to me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s