When visiting friends,
or "making calls," people would leave a card at the front
door or parlor, even if the person they were visiting was home. They
were used as a reminder about who had visited recently and deserved
a visit in turn. Sometimes a loving greeting was added, though the
card alone was considered a message.
It was considered a
"red-letter day," a term that originated with the tradition
of marking holy days in a church calendar in red, when a young "maid"
or man was granted his or her first visiting card. As for babies whose
cards were sent out by their parents, theirs was "the tiniest
and daintiest of cards, fit for fairies!" according to one Victorian
Lady, Margaret Sangster, in her etiquette book entitled Good Manners
For All Occasions.
The fashions of calling
cards varied with the trends; sometimes middle initials were fashionable,
other times not; some cards were ornate such as these, while others
were of a "severe style," particularly for the gentlemen.
In the book Decorum,
published in 1877, the following recommendations were made for refined
visiting card etiquette: "Visitors should furnish themselves
with cards. Gentlemen ought simply to put their cards into their pocket,
but ladies may carry them in a small elegant portfolio, called a card-case.
This they can hold in their hand and it will contribute essentially
(with an elegant handkerchief of embroidered cambric) to give an air
of good taste."