Visiting Card Or Business Card, That Is The Question...


It’s a good question and one which we are asked time and again, so here goes: A visiting card (sometimes called a calling card) differs from a business card in both purpose and design. The business card developed as a marketing tool, possibly from the concept of the traditional visiting card, by merchants and tradespeople to promote their businesses by providing prospective clients with the details of that business, such as the location of their premises, their trading name and in more recent times the many means by which they could be contacted other than by personal visit.


On the flip side to the business card; the visiting card evolved for very different reasons and predates the invention of the telephone and other modern means of communications with its origins firmly aligned with social interactions.  The clue to their purpose is very much in the name, for these cards were ‘calling cards’ or ‘visiting cards’ and were left when someone called or visited in person. The practice and etiquette surrounding the sending and receiving of cards grew over several centuries and whilst there are some social historians who credit the practice to 15th Century China yet others suggest a European origin. What is not questioned is that by the 17th Century the practice of leaving a card had become popular with European aristocracy and widespread with the English nobility.

The card came to serve a number of different functions such as signaling a desire to make someone’s acquaintance, the furthering of established relationships, or for the conveyance of sympathy or congratulations as well as other functions besides so that a strict set of rules grew up for the avoidance of awkward social situations. When calling unannounced the bearer generally waited in a carriage whilst their servant presented smart visiting card belonging to his master. If they were delivering the card in person they would fold one corner of the card to indicate this, but, more often than not, this first call did not result in a face-to-face meeting and the card was simply left with a servant. It became the accepted practice that the bearer would make their way home in the expectation that the recipient would send their own card in reply several days later. This was the signal that their social overture was welcomed and that personal contact could ensue. If no card was forthcoming or the card was sent in a sealed envelope then this was a signal to maintain a social distance.


Etiquette also informed the size and the shape of cards. A gentleman’s card was generally longer and narrower than that of a lady and would measure between 3” to 3.5” long by 1.25” to 1.5” wide whereas a ladies’ card would measure 2.75” x 3.5” wide. This size difference, it has been suggested, was to give comfort to wives who could be reassured at a glance that no ladies’ cards were discreetly hidden amongst those received by their husbands. Whilst most of our cards reflect the more traditional size in terms of their shape we have been asked to produce a square visiting card in the past and showcase these on our site too.

a thinner rectangular visiting card
Our Pickwick visiting card shows a historically thinner card


a square visiting card with an inset border and centred text

One of the less conventional shapes is the square visiting card

No matter the sex of the bearer in an age where correct form was deemed to be of great importance simple, uncluttered elegant cards were much favoured. Fonts such as a shaded block font or a simple engraved script were much in vogue whilst anything overly ornate was shunned, although personal ciphers and visiting card designs featuring family coats of arms were permitted. A gentleman’s card would include nothing but his name and occasionally his address. Honorary titles (Mr, Esquire) were not displayed although a military officer would display his rank, a physician his professional qualifications and members of the Peerage their titles.


a portrait visiting card showing a family crest at the head and personal details below
For those who would like to include a family crest then there may be some considerations on visiting card format to take into consideration


Many of the practices associated with the giving and receiving of visiting cards have changed over the centuries evolving in some cases or falling completely from use in others. The modern card perhaps conveys more information about the bearer than in the past. Some of this information is displayed visually on the card for all to see whereas other information is conveyed more subtly by your choice of print process, card colour, ink colour or font giving you a perfect opportunity to craft the impression that you card creates every time you hand it to a new acquaintance. It is not uncommon for a visiting card to have a border such as our Sloane visiting cardpictured below, and could also incorporate a monogram of the bearer’s initials like the Cromwell business cards or Strand monogram business cards. If you are looking for something a little cleaner but you would also like to include contact details, it is not uncommon to used a double sided visiting card with the name of the bearer on one side and contact details on the reverse.

Hot pink text printed onto a Sorbet Yellow visiting card
The glorious colour combination of the Sloane Visiting card shows off a sorbet yellow paper and hit pink text and border

a cream visiting card showcasing a modern style monogram set of initials printed in brown
Using a monogram can add an extra feature to a visiting card design

the Prideaux visiting card uses a hot pink text and border on a light grey card stock

Printed on both sides, the Prideaux visiting card uses a hot pink text and border on a light grey card stock

Whether you are looking for a personal design or something more professional, we would be delighted to welcome you to our showroom in London to discuss your requirements in more detail.

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