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Antique 19th Century Georgian English Mother of Pearl Calling card case. Visiting cards, also known as a calling cards, with one’s name printed on it, first appeared in China in the 15th century, and in Europe in the 17th century. The footmen of aristocrats and royalty would deliver these first European visiting cards to the servants of their prospective hosts solemnly introducing the arrival of their owners.
Visiting cards became an indispensable tool of etiquette, with sophisticated rules governing their use. The essential contention was that one person would not expect to see another person in her own home (unless invited or introduced) without first leaving his visiting card for the person at her home. Upon leaving the card, he would not expect to be admitted at first, but might receive a card at his own home in response. This would serve as a signal that a personal visit and meeting at home would not be unwelcome. On the other hand, if no card were forthcoming, or if a card were sent in an envelope, a personal visit was thereby discouraged. As an adoption from French and English etiquette, visiting cards became common amongst the aristocracy of Europe, and also in the United States. The whole procedure depended upon there being servants to open the door and receive the cards and it was, therefore, confined to the social classes which employed servants.
If a card was left with a turned corner it indicated that the card had been left in person rather than by a servant.