Friday Fun Victorian Style

Texts, instant messages, emails, Facebook messages, DMs on Twitter, cell phone calls.

We make use of all those means of keeping in touch today.

The Victorians had snail mail, telegrams, and calling cards.

The precursor to business cards, calling cards were used by men and women for a number of social occasions. Men usually kept their cards in their vest pockets. Women carried their cards in elegant cases. A man’s card was somewhat smaller than a woman’s for this reason.

Both men’s and women’s cards often included flowers. The heroine of my debut novel, Elenora Watkins, loves violets, so she might have chosen a card like the one above.

A person’s name could be found on the back of the card, on the front, or hidden under an attached flap on the front. A man might include his address, but a woman would not.

One use of a calling card was to convey a message when making social calls. A particular corner on the card was turned down before the caller handed the card to the servant who answered the door. Which corner was bent depended on the reason for the call.

A folded upper left corner indicated a visitor came in person.
A folded lower left corner said goodbye.
A folded lower right corner offered condolences.

What message do you think a folded upper right corner sent?

• • •

Leave your guess in a comment. To make this more fun, use only your current knowledge rather than performing a search on Google or making a dash for your reference books.

At the end of the day, I’ll update the post to include the answer and leave it in a comment. If you want to know the answer, you could subscribe to the comments on this post.

Have fun guessing!

• • •

Update and Answer

I had such fun reading the guesses left in the comments.

One person, Dianne, guessed correctly. She said she thought the folded upper right corner indicated congratulations. That’s it exactly. Having that corner folded was the way a person congratulated the recipient of the card on an engagement, a wedding, a birth, etc.

A number of you wondered if a gentleman would use his card to convey romantic interest. No. The main reason is that it wasn’t proper for a gentleman to call on an unmarried woman who was alone. His card would have been taken to the girl’s mother, who would have determined if he was to be admitted or not. Therefore, he would have turned down the upper left corner to indicate that he’d come in person and desired to pay a social call. Then he would have hoped like crazy that the girl’s mother was willing to admit him.

If a gentleman asked to escort a woman home from an event, he would have handed her his card. If she wanted to accept, she could have returned it with a certain corner up to indicate yes. Although I didn’t find out which corner that would have been, the man and woman would have known, since the Victorians were well versed in the language of the calling card. Another way for her to say yes would have been to give him one of her cards.

After reading this, which is only a small sampling of the rules involved in the use of the Victorian calling card, aren’t you glad we don’t have to know all this? I sure am. 🙂

Advertisements

About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
This entry was posted in Fun & Friends, Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Friday Fun Victorian Style

  1. A marriage call. Coming to ask for a hand in marriage? Just having fun.
    ~ Wendy

  2. Man, Wendy took my answer!! I was thinking something related to a proposal as well. 😛 Or maybe just a suitor calling.

  3. Some kind of bad news? Ack! So fun!

  4. Beth K. Vogt says:

    Ah, another question.
    Would a folded-upper right imply romantic intent?
    😉

  5. candidkerry says:

    I was thinking the same thing…that someone is calling on the person or romantically interested. Love this! So fun! 🙂

  6. Melissa Tagg says:

    Okay, I’m going to echo everyone else because my first guess was something romantic. I love your post. I also love the idea of calling cards. And seriously, I’m having so much fun learning from your blog!

  7. Romantic pursuits?

    I used to write SWAK on all my envelopes to my Nana years ago. (I really did kiss ’em, too, so I sent a little piece of me to her in the mail.)

    Keli, I just love the Victorian era! There used to be a magazine, Victorian, I think? I loved looking at all the pictures of yesteryear. Seemed like such a simpler, beautiful time.

    Happy Friday!

  8. Loree Huebner says:

    I would say it means – stopped by to say “hi” or “sorry I missed you” – maybe in the romantic sense. I don’t think it would be a “coming by with a marriage proposal”…not by a card – think of all the fun pranks you could do with that one…

    Thanks again for the Valentine!

  9. opposite of condolences… so my guess is congratulations 🙂

    • Another day I must tag on to a friend. Loved this post and the great photos. I would go with the majority and say it has to do with some type of invitation or romantic suggestion. Was the item from last week the bicycle? Thanks Keli, you are becoming a super fine Victorian expert 🙂

  10. Donna Pyle says:

    How fascinating! I just love the Victorian era. I’d venture a guess that a top right hand corner turned down meant it was a call from a potential suitor.

  11. Something to do with courtship? 🙂

  12. Expressing his affection. I love the post, Keli. It’s too bad we don’t still have this kind and personal way of expressing their feelings.

  13. Hi Keli,
    What a fun post! I’ve read some regencies but don’t know if I’ll get this right. I’d guess, thanks for the party or dinner or whatever. A thanks?

  14. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who’s commented and left a guess. I see a theme. Methinks that might have to do with the fact that I have lots of romance writer friends. 🙂

    I’ll post the answer at 4 p.m. Pacific time. I think you’ll be surprised.

  15. Keli Gwyn says:

    Victorian Calling Card Post Update and Answer

    I had such fun reading the guesses left in the comments.

    One person, Dianne, guessed correctly. She said she thought the folded upper right corner indicated congratulations. That’s it exactly. Having that corner folded was the way a person congratulated the recipient of the card on an engagement, a wedding, a birth, etc.

    A number of you wondered if a gentleman would use his card to convey romantic interest. No. The main reason is that it wasn’t proper for a gentleman to call on an unmarried woman who was alone. His card would have been taken to the girl’s mother, who would have determined if he was to be admitted or not. Therefore, he would have turned down the upper left corner to indicate that he’d come in person and desired to pay a social call. Then he would have hoped like crazy that the girl’s mother was willing to admit him.

    If a gentleman asked to escort a woman home from an event, he would have handed her his card. If she wanted to accept, she could have returned it with a certain corner up to indicate yes. Although I didn’t find out which corner that would have been, the man and woman would have known, since the Victorians were well versed in the language of the calling card. Another way for her to say yes would have been to give him one of her cards.

    After reading this, which is only a small sampling of the rules involved in the use of the Victorian calling card, aren’t you glad we don’t have to know all this? I sure am. 🙂

  16. keli, i love learning something on your site on fridays! this was truly fascinating. i had no idea all the rules for calling cards. i grew up in the south, and my great aunt (who was highfalutin) had calling cards still. she would put them on presents that she gave others instead of putting a card.

    sorry i didn’t get over here sooner to guess what the turned down corner meant, but my little girl turns FOUR today! so we were partying hard. 🙂

  17. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea about those corners! So glad we have easier-to-decipher methods today. A quick e-mail and the message is conveyed. Granted, that’s not as genteel as a calling card. 🙂

  18. Brianna Soloski says:

    Fun post. I pinned it to my historical fiction writing board on Pinterest for future reference.

  19. This is a very interesting post! I knew about calling cards from reading historical fiction and historical non-fiction, but I had never heard this about the corners being turned down! Very interesting tid-bit!

  20. Anne Payne says:

    I don’t know how I missed this one but it was fun to read it and try to guess before I read the answer. I was thinking romantic assignation or something but congratulations makes more sense 🙂 I think sometimes it would be nice if we carried cards again. At least it would be more convenient than trying to find a piece of paper to write a phone number on.

Comments are closed.