Calling cards or visiting cards were first used in China in the 15th century. The idea caught on in Europe in the 17th century. They produced a card that fit comfortably into a man's hand, a little smaller than a standard playing card today. They were developed after people had used playing cards to write notes and letters of introduction to each other. These were known as bearer cards and they may also have information about an obligation or intent and they were signed in order to honor the intent.
The first European calling card or visiting card was produced in France during the reign of Loius XIV. He also accepted them from visiting dignitaries. They were prepared as an introduction card that contained the name of the dignitary, his birthplace, his birth date, his achievements and any other pertinent information. The more elaborate, and colorful the card the more acceptable the person was. And so a new industry was born in preparing calling cards!
The upper class quickly adopted this practice, particularly during the 18th century. Calling cards or visiting cards served to streamline the introduction processes when people met. An etiquette developed in their use and remarkably that they accepted across almost all societies in Europe. Every home had a small tray on a table near the door, where the cards were placed. The card is placed on the try by the caller, and if it is his first visit, provides a card for each lady of the house. If a card is folded in half in Europe, it signifies that the caller wishes to see several members of the household. In America, the card is not to be folded in any way. After the card is handed to the servant, it is delivered to the recipient, who reads the card and chooses either to see the caller or not. A series of abbreviations developed and these are shown below.
o pp – Standard for an initial introduction (pour présenter).
o pf – Congratulations (pour féliciter).
o pr – Expressing one's thanks (pour remercier).
o pc – Mourning expression (pour condoléance).
o pfNA – Happy New Year (pour feliciter Nouvel An).
o ppc – To take leave (pour prendre conge).
The calling cards or visiting cards were not used by ordinary working people. They were an innovative way of clearly identifying upper class people and ensuring that chance meetings did not happen – Not something that is done today.
In many ways the calling cards or visiting cards were the precursor to the modern business card which conveys not only similar information, but also information about doing business.