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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

SP: Calling Card Confusion

“Mr. Locke, Where were you on the night of October 11th, 1878?”

“Excuse me, who are you to be asking a gentleman that?” replied Locke.

The stranger wore a light brown suit and matching bowler hat. His lanky frame loomed over Locke. “I am Detective Bimble, of the Fourth Precinct. We found your calling card on a Mr. Trudeau’s body”

“So you assume I killed the man and left my card so it would lead you here?”

“Did you?”

Locke looked up at the detective, hands resting on his hips, one near his pistol. “Sir, when I aim to kill a man, he’ll see me face to face and he’ll know he had it coming. Won’t need a card to remind him.”

What I love about steampunk is picking a topic from the Victorian era and learning something new. This time, I’ve researched calling cards. They aren’t just the ancestor of business cards. People used them to convey messages, much like modern greeting cards. Multi-purposed cards with singular design, lend a gentleman grace and style. Also, we can cut down on buying birthday cards.

Card-sized History

Dropping off calling cards originated in the 18th century as plain cards. As printing technology evolved, cards became fancier, the Victorians elevated ornate to an artform. The telephone changed the social rules and they fell out of use. Womens cards were larger than men’s. The differed from business card in they only supplied a name, title and perhaps an address, yet conveyed much more.

The Slow Invite

As a first time visitor, he drops off his card, perhaps with a note or address written on the back and leaves. If the owner wishes to see you, they would send their own card in return. If it was delivered in a sealed envelope, or not returned, that meant they did not wish to have any further contact.

It's All in the Delivery

The rules of visiting operated on slower, formal terms. A visitor would arrive at the door. The servant opened it and presented a silver tray. One placed their card on their tray (perhaps among others). The servant then went inside and if the owner was home, presented the card on the tray. The owner could decline to see the visitor, and the servant would return with word if the owner was not home, declined or welcomed them in. Also remember, those other cards are an indicator of status and who else has visited.

Visiting Time Flies

Having gotten the nod to come over, the guest has twenty minutes for pleasantries, real talk and leaving. Overstaying your welcome held real consequences. You could receive the dreaded sealed envelope, barring a return. That’s a serious social faux pas for Victorian times. In our era, the stakes are not so high. However, a mind toward the clock, avoiding repeating oneself and careful choice of words remains a skill worth developing.

A Secret In the Cards

When dropping off the card on the silver tray, one could convey a message. Writing it out sufficed, but that’s mundane. The earlier method involved folding a specific corner of the card. Later that became passe, and they wrote an acronym. Thus proving the internet didn’t ruin communication. Here is the secret decoding for folded corners:

  • Top right, when visiting in person (as opposed servant delivery)

  • Top left, for a congratulatory purpose

  • bottom left, to send condolences

  • Bottom right, to say you will be away for quite some time

French Initials were used instead in the latter Victorian years

  • p.f. (pour féliciter) Congratulations

  • p.r. (pour remercier) sending thanks

  • p.c. (pour condoléance) condolences

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

  • p.p.c (pour prendre congé) intending to take leave

  • p.p. (pour présenter)) wishing to be presented (introduction)

I like the folded corner method for the simplicity since I seldom have a pen on me. However, one might hope the recipient realize there’s meaning in the fold, at least initials might be googled or asked about.

The Steampunk Adaptation

Nobody has servants anymore, Downton Abbey shows us that practice trended out. But carrying a stack of cards in a proper case shows Victorian flair. A card featuring your name, email, web site or social media handle and styling makes for a memorable impression and eases the recipients ability to reach out to you later. “Would you mind if I gave you my calling card?” as you retrieve it from a fine case is a smoother way of signalling your interest in a lady than asking for her number.

Locke looked Detective Bimble in the eye as they stood at the crime scene.

“Do you mean to tell me that you ignored the words painted in the man’s own blood saying ‘McStabbbins Stabs Again!’?”

The tall investigator’s shoulders slumped. “I was hoping it was a red herring. McStabbins is very good at hiding from me.”

A long sigh escaped Locke’s lips. “Maybe it’s that guy in the crowd holding a bloody paintbrush?”

He watched as the worst detective made his first successful arrest, and the case was closed.


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