A brief history of business cards

A must for anyone interested in networking, business cards are an essential part of everyday working life and an important aspect of our professional identities.

Though today we take business cards for granted, they actually have a long and distinguished history stretching back hundreds of years. If you’re thinking about creating some cards of your own, take a few minutes to find out a little more about these handy, historic business accessories.

Visiting cards

In 15th century China, visiting cards were used to announce the holder’s intention of visiting a person or household. Cards would be left at the door of an important address, allowing the resident to decide whether or not they wanted to permit a meeting.

These early visiting cards are the origin of today’s business cards and one of the first effective tools for self-promotion.

17th century calling cards

In 17th century Europe, the use of calling cards increased rapidly. Gentlemen would use their cards to contact ladies, sticking to a strict etiquette when presenting the card to the household and when awaiting a reply.

So important were calling cards during this period that a person’s position in society could rest upon the strength of their cards. A badly made or designed card could spell disaster for the barer, whereas witty, well-designed cards could help them climb the rungs of the social ladder.

Trade cards

The most obvious forerunner to the business card is the trade card. In the late 17th century and early 18th century, businesses began to use cards to advertise their locations and services.

Generally handed out in public spaces like squares and markets, these cards were often used to establish trade relationships and build up a company’s name. These trade cards were taken so seriously that a signed card would be considered a legally binding contract.

18th-19th century

During the late 18th and 19th centuries, business cards began to turn into the self-promotional tools we know today.

Made using wood-cut and letterpress techniques, they began to be mass produced, allowing businesses to give their contact details out to potential clients, customers and collaborators.

As the industrial revolution got into full swing, the strict etiquette surrounding the distribution of business cards loosened up, making it easier for businesses to get their name out there.

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Today, business cards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Though some cultures still have a strong etiquette regarding business cards, most companies see them as an essential marketing tool and a great way to promote their services and their staff members.

If you’d like to create an eye-catching business card of your own, get in touch with Swallowtail today.  

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