In our last blog we talked about how printing can help your business, and we touched on the importance of business cards. Business cards have been used for hundreds of years to connect, promote, and be remembered. We will explore the history of business cards, and give you some tips on how to craft a great business card today.
Early Business Cards
The 17th century in Europe saw the start of business cards, in a slightly different form than we have today. These cards were used by footmen of the aristocracy to announce the arrival of important and wealthy guests. Part of an intricate system of formality and politeness, these early cards were about the size of a playing card and could also be used to convey other messages or as promissory notes. By the early 18th century these cards were rooted in aristocratic etiquette, and had many expected rules attached to them. While these cards were meant to merely introduce individuals arriving, they became more and more ornate, and the level of design indicated how important the guest might be. They could be engraved with gold, coats of arms, and elaborate designs. By the 19th century these cards had become so common that they had moved to become popular in the middle class as well.
A visiting or “calling” card became an integral part of middle and upper class social life in the 19th century. Many homes had silver trays that would collect the cards of all of the visiting guests, showing who had visited, and what homes should receive a visit in return. The cards became the physical representation of meeting and fulfilling social obligations, and were firmly entrenched in society.
When someone first visited a home, they presented their card to the lady of the home. Visitors to wealthier homes would be greeted by a servant or doorman who would have the card tray ready to receive the visitor’s calling card. The card was then taken to the lady of the house while the guest waited for her to examine it and approve the visit. Only after all of these steps would the face-to-face visit actually occur! As you can see, these early cards were your first chance to make a great impression on someone, and even dictated whether you would get to have a visit at all! You would have used your card carefully, and spent time with the words, design, and overall feel to make sure it adequately conveyed your intentions and your status. If you are designing business cards today, do you take the same amount of time, and put the same care into your cards? You should, because for many customers, it is the first, and possibly only, introduction to your business.
While the visitor waited to be received, you would think that they would peruse the other calling cards and see who had recently called upon the home. However, this was considered to be extremely rude, and the privacy of the cards was expected to be preserved. There were various ways that the cards were marked to indicate how they had been presented. A folded upper right hand corner meant that the card had been presented in person. If the card was folded in the middle it meant that the card was for everyone in the family. Various letters on the cards could indicate whether the call was congratulatory or for condolences; these intricacies of etiquette were understood by everyone in society at the time. These early calling cards firmly established the importance of first impressions through printed materials.
Related to calling cards, but much more utilitarian in nature, were trade cards that were popular in London in the early 17th century. These cards could be handed out before or after work was done for a customer, and could include maps to get in touch with the business. These cards were originally created with wood presses, and originated at a time when addresses were not clearly numbered and there wasn’t a widespread newspaper system. Trade cards served as advertising, and by the 19th century used lithography and several shades of ink to set themselves apart from the rest.
Decline of Formality
As the middle class became more populous and the Industrial Revolution brought an overall diminishing of social formality, there was a rise in the entrepreneurial class in both Europe and the United States. These business pioneers had a need to exchange their contact information and combined the ideas of the calling card and trade cards to create a card that resembles modern day business cards. Usually printed on plain paper with clear lettering, these cards were handed out at presentations and exhibitions. By the late 19th century these cards were widespread in the United States, and most of the formalities associated with presenting the cards had disappeared. Today, in Europe and the United States business cards are ubiquitous, but there are still rules of etiquette in Asian countries and other parts of the world.
It is a good idea if you are doing international business travel to study up on the customs of the country you will be in regarding business cards. Your business card is meant to promote your business, and you don’t want to unintentionally offend anyone by not knowing the proper etiquette. For instance, in both the Middle East and India the right hand is always used to present business cards, and the left is considered impolite. Having your business information translated to the language of the country you are in on one side, and presenting it with that side facing upward, is considered respectful. In both China and Japan you are expected to study the card before putting it away, and having a case that stores cards is common. You can never go wrong investing in high quality business cards and really taking the time to create a card that is special and memorable.
While there aren’t as many rules governing business cards today, you still want to make that great first impression. Your card should have enough information to convey what your business is, how to contact you, and should have a memorable look. Your company logo should be used, and anything else that will make your business stick in your customer’s minds. While you may not be made to wait at the door while your business card is received, you should still invest time and care into the creation of your cards. Metro Printing would love to help you create the perfect business cards, and we are also union printers that can handle any of your political, business, or personal printing needs! Contact us today to get started!