University Museums

Title: Calling Card Reciving Tray / Stand
Name: Calling Card Reciving Tray / Stand
Date: 1882
Medium: Silver, quadruple-plated
Country/Culture: American
Dimensions: 7 1/8 × 8 3/4 × 6 1/2 in. (18.1 × 22.2 × 16.5 cm)
Marks: ''Pat. Feb 28.82.'' and ''3522 / H'
Classification: Decorative Arts, Metal
Credit Line: Gift of the Estate of Donna L. Howard. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Location: Iowa State University, Farm House Museum
Object Number: UM2016.628
More Information
In the Victorian Era, calling cards were used as a formal introduction. Depending on the status of those involved, different rules were in place. The cards would state the sender’s name and were handed out to a new acquaintance, or left with house staff or a relative of the receiver if the intended were not available. Yet, underneath the formalities, there was a secret language with calling cards as well. If the card was bent or folded, each fold had a specific meaning. If the sender was visiting in-person the right-hand upper corner would be folded. If the sender was there for a congratulatory visit, the left-hand upper corner would be folded. If the sender was making a condolence visit, the left-hand lower corner would be folded. The right-hand lower corner was folded if the sender was to be gone for a while on a trip. If there were two or more ladies in the receiving household, the gentleman turned down a corner of the card to indicate that the call was designed for the whole family.

Calling cards from men were usually broader and shorter. Women’s cards were about the same shape that business cards are today.

In addition to calling cards, young men would occasionally use “acquaintance cards” or “escort cards.” These would usually have a lighter tone, almost as if to poke fun at the stiffness of social rules at the time. These cards could be given privately to a girl they liked as a way to flirt. Many of them would offer to walk the girl home, as that was the only appropriate way an unmarried man and women could be alone together. Examples in the permanent collection and at Farm House Museum of calling cards, engraved plates for printing cards and elaborate calling card receiving trays can be seen.

“Saucy 'Escort Cards' Were a Way to Flirt in the Victorian Era.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 25 Jan. 2018,