From Playing Card to Business Card

Without the development of the printing press in 1445 the Renaissance may never have happened, and Johann Gutenberg the inventor certainly did not know he was sowing the seeds of the business card entrepreneur’s bonanza we have today. What civilisation gained from Gutenberg’s invention is incalculable.

Visting Cards

Visiting cards (also known as calling cards) first appeared in China in the 15th century, and the earliest European form of visiting cards appeared in France in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – “Le Roi Soleil”. They were normal playing cards on which visitors wrote their signatures, promissory notes and other messages. The Canvas Printing Nearby were just a little smaller than the size of a man’s hand. As time went by, these visiting cards further developed into greeting and other cards.

The business card evolved from the Visiting card over time, but through it’s evolution it’s purpose remains the same.

Trade Cards

Trade cards, another early form of the Business card, existed in England around the same time. Trade cards were used as a form of advertising and sometimes contained a map directing potential customers to merchant stores, as there was no form of street numbering system at the time.

Other printing materials, such as newspapers, has not yet caught on as a vehicle for business marketing, so the earliest Trade cards were printed and issued using a letterpress method. However, copperplate engraving became the most popular method of producing the cards by the 18th century, and up to the 19th century, Trade cards were printed using a single colour (monotone). But as businesses thrived throughout the Industrial Revolution, so did the production and distribution of Trade cards.


Around 1830, lithography using several colours became an established method in Europe and was the primary method for printing cards. As printing techniques became increasingly advanced, Trade cards became more elaborate, with pictures and full colour designs. Since colour images were not widely available, these cards became collector’s items, and as the hobby elevated, many tobacco companies put the sporting celebrities on one side and photos with text about their products on the reverse. This was the start of the modern day trading cards. Meanwhile, Visiting Cards arrived in Europe around the middle of the 1800’s.

Calling Cards arrived

Visiting Cards, or “Calling Cards” as they became known, were essential to the 19th century middle classes.
The initial letters on personal Visiting “Calling Cards” denote French words:

p. f. – congratulations (pour feliciter)

p. r. – expressing one’s thanks (pour remercier) – even if one is presented with flowers

p. c. – mourning expression (pour condolence)

p. f. N. A – Happy New Year (pour feliciter Nouvel An)

p. p. c. – meaning to take leave (pour prendre conge)

p. p. – if you want to be introduced to anybody, send your visiting card (pour presenter)

Soon, the Business card evolved from a fusion of traditional trade cards and visiting cards. A distinction between “business” and “visiting” cards quickly developed with the ornate Visiting card serving social obligations only, whilst Business cards on the other hand, were used solely for promoting business. It was considered to be in very poor taste to use a Business card when making a social call.

These days, the modern business card is used primarily for the purpose of promoting a business, but it also serves as a calling card.




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