|A commercial ad variation on the flirtation card, |
issued by a grocery store. Circa 1900. Source.
Mid-century advancements in print making led to a proliferation of ephemera, like these and a great variety of other cards that helped people navigate the strict rules of middle-class etiquette. Like acronyms on the internet today, the verbal and non-verbal messages on the cards were a short-cut to communication understood by all who used them.
"To the unrefined or under-bred, the visiting card is but a trifling and insignificant bit of social paper; but to the cultured disciple of social law, it conveys a subtle and unmistakable intelligence. Its texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of leaving it, combine to place the stranger, whose name it bears, in a pleasant or a disagreeable attitude, even before his manners, conversation and face have been able to explain his social position." John Young, Our Deportment (1890).Most commonly the calling card was left at the house of someone you wanted to visit. If the recipient wanted you to visit, they would send you their card. If no card was sent, or your reply card came back in an envelope, you weren't to return. The size of a gentleman's card indicated his marital status. Women's cards were always bigger than men's. During a first visit, a gentleman would leave a card for each lady in the household. Blank spaces on the cards could be used to write notes. Flirtation and escort cards filled those spaces with prepared messages.
If there was a late-Victorian social pastime greater than flirting, it was mourning. The symbols and decorations on mourning communicated the social status of the mourners and social status was, as it is, aspirational.
These cards were presented to everyone who attended the funeral.
When public figures, like Abraham Lincoln, passed, print shops around the world manufactured and sold the cards as collectibles and people most certainly collected them.
|Set of three Lincoln mourning cards.|
|Wedding card (1883).|
|Assorted Victorian dance cards.|
Someone said recently that in the age of social media, millennials have begun remembering their lives in the present moment, by documenting and sharing everything that happens to them. Cards were the Victorian way of doing the same thing - even allowing young couples to flirt in plain sight.
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