Social Calling Cards – Civil War to World War I

The end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution brought big changes to the daily lives of Americans, particularly those living in or near cities.

For the first time in U.S. history, the everyday man and woman had some leisure time and a bit of pocket money. Photography had been invented in 1838, but advances had been made in the mechanics of taking a picture, bringing down its cost and making it affordable to the masses.

By 1870, small photos measuring about 2 1/2 inches by 4/14 inches, called cartes de visite (visiting cards) were all the rage. These photos were affordable, costing maybe $1.25 for a dozen picture, so people of all ages were flocking to these new-fangled tradesmen called photographers to have their pictures taken.

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Carte de visite, Unknown Man

In the past, social calling on friends and neighbors often happened on Sundays after church. With the advent of leisure time, social calling became more frequent and those who were economically able to buy cartes de visite (CDV) left them in a bowl inside the front door of the friend on whom they were visiting.

Just as an aside, I would imagine that, competition being what it is, young ladies and gentlemen who fancied themselves as popular with peers stressed a bit if their CDV bowl wasn’t filled up! It was a rather public measure of one’s social popularity.

CHNewtonTarboxBusinessPartner
C.H. Newton, Calais, Maine

C.H. Newton was a business acquaintance of my 3x great grandfather, George Rogers Tarbox. I don’t know whether C.H. left his calling card at George’s place of business (he owned a granite quarry) of whether Mr. Newton was invited to the Tarbox family home, but he left his card.

Women also left cards.

UnknownCivilWarDressWoman
Unknown Woman

Here clothing and hair style date this card to the Civil War era.

These small cartes de visite were going out of style by the turn of the 20th century, but the concept of calling cards didn’t die out. Instead, they became the forerunner of today’s business cards.

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Early 1900’s Calling Card of Florine Williams

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Lola G. Hensley’s Calling Card

Even married couples left calling cards at their social engagements.

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Mr. and Mrs. Earl Stufflebean

Calling cards seemed to have had their day by the end of World War I. At some point, someone decided they were too old-fashioned, I guess!

Source: Cartes de visite and calling cards are part of my personal family collection.

4 thoughts on “Social Calling Cards – Civil War to World War I”

  1. Great collection, Linda. I only have one that belonged to my maternal grandfather’s mother, but it is treasured. I have some CDV and know what the term means, but didn’t know this history or anything about the bowl, how stressful!

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