During the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian eras (from around 1811 to 1901), the practice of distributing small paper calling cards became popular amongst the upper classes of Europe and America. Once presented at the door, calling cards were often left in the entryway of the home on a stand like this beautiful silverplate calling card stand from the Replacements museum.
Leaving calling cards served a number of purposes: to introduce oneself to a member of society whose social circle one wished to enter; to determine whether an acquaintance was available to receive visitors; to express sympathy or congratulations; to let friends know when someone was leaving town (or had arrived back in town after an absence). These calling cards were typically small paper cards engraved with the owner’s name and sometimes featuring a design. Ladies often kept their calling cards in ornate card cases, while men simply stored them in one of their pockets.
The proper time to leave calling cards and pay visits was in the afternoon of any day except Sunday, between 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm (or, more specifically, 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm for “ceremonial” visiting time for acquaintances, 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm for a “semi-ceremonial” visiting period for those with whom you were more familiar, and 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm for more “intimate” calls). It was considered impolite to call any later than 6:00 pm or on a Sunday, which was typically reserved for visits with close friends and family.
Calling cards would be used initially to announce a visitor’s presence. If the hostess was available to receive guests, the visitor would be led inside and “announced” by having the card given to the hostess. If the hostess were not at home or receiving visitors, the card would be left behind, typically on a card stand, to show who had stopped by. There existed a complex set of rules governing the proper way to leave calling cards. In her 1922 book, “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home,” etiquette expert Emily Post described the proper process:
“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. When the visitor herself rings the door-bell and the message is “not at home,” the butler or maid proffers the card tray on which the visitor lays a card of her own and her daughter’s for each lady in the house and a card of her husband’s and son’s for each lady and gentleman. But three is the greatest number ever left of any one card. In calling on Mrs. Town, who has three grown daughters and her mother living in the house, and a Mrs. Stranger staying with her whom the visitor was invited to a luncheon to meet, a card on each would need a packet of six. Instead, the visitor should leave three—one for Mrs. Town, one for all the other ladies of the house, and one for Mrs. Stranger. In asking to be received, her query at the door should be ‘Are any of the ladies at home?’ Or in merely leaving her cards she should say ‘For all of the ladies.’”
Formal visits during this era were usually short – typically between 15 to 30 minutes - and if another visitor was admitted during the first visitor’s stay, it was customary for the first visitor to leave shortly thereafter. Protocol also demanded that cards and visits be reciprocated within a week’s time.
The maker of the silverplate calling card stand featured here, International Silver, started as a combination of America’s greatest silver manufacturers. During the American Colonial period, New England was home to many artisans producing high-quality pewter, sterling, and silverplate, primarily in Connecticut. Around 1808, Ashbil Griswold opened a pewter shop in Meriden, Connecticut. Through mergers with regional companies, Griswold’s original shop grew to comprise fourteen silver manufacturers, including Holmes and Edwards (Bridgeport), Meriden Britannia (Meriden), and Rogers Brothers (Hartford). Throughout the years, International Silver products have remained immensely popular.
While the International Silver calling card stand in our museum is not for sale, we do have a variety of International Silver items available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you'll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold 12 million individual pieces in more than 400,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!