Origin of Business Cards (part one)

On the Origin of Business Cards – Part 1

Business cards are a quick and convenient way to tell others about yourself and your company, but are you aware of how we got to that point?

Knowing more about a subject and having a better understanding of it can help you give more value to that subject. However, the ‘subject’ in this case is actually an object. That is why in this article, we are going to take a peek at history. Start up the time machine and hold on tight because we’re going to take a blast to the past and give you a brief history of business cards.  

The Dawn (1400s)

You may be surprised to hear that business cards have been in use for centuries. In fact, business cards weren’t even related to business when they were invented. The very first business card originated in the 15th century.

So, what was the birthplace of business cards? Their inception can be traced back to China, which also invented gunpowder, the toothbrush, and the compass. It also makes sense that paper was invented in China since the first cards were made out of paper.

Of course, the cards weren’t used for doing business back then. They were used more as a way to tell other people about yourself and acted as a sort of introduction and acknowledgement that two people have met.

Growth (1500s)

These cards were actually one of the earliest forms of advertisements, though they advertised people, not products. They were only available to members of the upper class and royalty, who used the cards to announce their arrival to the hosts. In essence, these were the actual ‘visiting cards’ used for announcing an intention to meet up.

The cards grew and began to be used by more people. Although they were used for forging an introduction, they would also be handed to large establishments and the owner would decide if they could meet or not. Remember that newspapers had not been invented yet. Hence, the cards functioned as not just a medium, but the media itself.

Apex (1600s)

In the early 15th century, calling cards emerged in Europe. People began to exchange cards very frequently during this time. Under the rule of Louis XIV of France (1638 – 1715), the cards were at their peak. This was when people began to promote themselves and the cards were used as a means to bolster your reputation.

These visiting cards or ‘visite biletes’ were shaped similar to playing cards. They had signatures, notes, and other messages. People began to exchange cards a lot more.

The cards became so popular in Europe that people had to devise a proper means to store them all. Most elite houses had storage cases specifically for the cards. They were used to offer congratulations, express condolences, with them a Happy New Year or wedding, thank the person, or say goodbye.

(R)Evolution (1700s)

The 18th century was the time period when people like Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus contributed grand ideas toward economics. Up until then, cards were crafted either through woodcut printing or letterpress printing, only to be replaced by copperplate engraving. These cards used the higher quality material.

Formality was high with visiting cards and you needed to follow the rules of the society.  Some of the protocol included having a card for every lady of the house, giving the card to a servant, presenting it with your right hand, and not looking at the other cards in the tray. Gentlemen could carry their cards loosely in their pockets but ladies should have a card case. A folded card indicated that you were calling on everyone in the household. If a card went unacknowledged, it meant that there was no acquaintance to be formed.

This was all well and good until the Industrial Revolution caused a transition in the way business was done and saw a lessening of formalities.

Meanwhile, people used ‘trade cards’ in large cities such as London and Paris. They were handed out in public places, like markets and plays, much like flyers are today. However, they were much more utilitarian. Some European merchants used the cards to show others where their shops were located. There were no formal street names at that time, so they had maps and written directions on how to reach the store.

These cards were truly used as a means to advertise products and services, which were listed along with the name and shop. This is the time when actual ‘business cards’ as we know them today came into use. One simple card that started out as a mere piece of paper with writing on it has now turned into a very important part of the entire corporate world. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Time for a Business Card Break

That is it for part one. We will update the second post, which will talk about the next three centuries, soon. While you are waiting for that in eager anticipation, why not browse some of the business card designs from PrintStop?

We know a lot about cards and we have the best business cards for your company. Don’t believe us? Take a look at our compelling designs and see for yourself! Contact us now to get started on developing the perfect card.

Click here for part two.

Email: store@printstop.co.in

Phone: +91 22 4270 5050

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