Business cards are cards bearing business information about a company or individual. They are shared during formal introductions as a convenience and a memory aid.
A business card typically includes the giver’s name, company or business affiliation (usually with a logo) and contact information such as street addresses, telephone number(s), fax number, e-mail addresses and website. Before the advent of electronic communication business cards might also include telex details. Now they may include social media addresses such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Traditionally many cards were simple black text on white stock; today a professional business card will sometimes include one or more aspects of striking visual design.
But you ever ask, what is the history of business cards?
15th Century China, Meishi
The first business card named meishi have the origin in China in the 15th century. But today the meishi is recognize as a japanese business card. Here are some intersting facts about meishi, which is not a simple piece of paper, is a way to be.
Meishi contain typically features the company name at the top in the largest print, followed by the job title and then the name of the individual. This information is written in Japanese characters on one side and often Latin characters on the reverse. Other important contact information is usually provided, such as business address, phone number and fax number. Meishi may also contain a QR code to provide contact details in a machine-readable form, but this has not yet become a widespread practice. According to a 2007 survey, fewer than 3% of Japanese people own a meishi with a QR code printed on it.
The presentation of one’s meishi to another person is more formal and ritualistic than in the Western world. The card should be held at the top two corners, face up and turned so that it can be read by the person receiving the meishi, who takes it by the bottom two corners using both hands. Placing one’s fingers over the name or other information is considered rude. Upon receiving the meishi, one is expected to read the card over, noting the person’s name and rank. One should then thank the other person, saying “choudai itashimasu” (“I accept your name card”) or “choudai shimasu”, and then bow. When meishi are being exchanged between parties with different status, such as between the president of a company and someone in middle management, it is proper that the person of lower status extend his or her business card in such a way that it is underneath or below the meishi being extended by the person in a higher position.
Meishi should be kept in a smart leather case where they will not become warm or worn, both of which are considered a sign of disrespect or thoughtlessness. A received meishi should not be written on or placed in a pocket; it is considered proper to file the meishi at the rear of the leather case. If the meishi is being presented at a table, the recipient keeps the meishi on top of the leather case until they leave the table. If several people are involved in the meeting and one receives several meishi, the one with the highest rank is kept on the leather case, and the others beside it, on the table.
The manner in which the recipient treats the presenter’s meishi is indicative of how the recipient will treat the presenter. Actions such as folding the card in half, or placing the presenter’s meishi in one’s back pocket, are regarded as insults.
Japanese executive or official usually has two meishi: one in Japanese and intended for fellow Japanese, using the Japanese ordering of names (family name first), and another intended for foreigners, with the name in Western order (family name last).
17th Century France, Visiting Cards
A visiting card, also known as a calling card, is a small card used for social purposes. Before the 18th century, visitors making social calls left handwritten notes at the home of friends who were not at home. By the 1760s, the upper classes in France and Italy were leaving printed visiting cards decorated with images on one side and a blank space for hand-writing a note on the other. The style quickly spread across Europe and to the United States. As printing technology improved, elaborate color designs became increasingly popular. However, by the late 1800s, simpler styles became more common.
By the 19th century, men and women needed personalized calling or visiting cards to maintain their social status or to move up in society. These small cards, about the size of a modern-day business card, usually featured the name of the owner, and sometimes an address. Calling cards were left at homes, sent to individuals, or exchanged in person for various social purposes. Knowing and following calling card “rules” signaled one’s status and intentions.
Visiting cards became an indispensable tool of etiquette, with sophisticated rules governing their use. The essential convention was that a first person would not expect to see a second person in the second’s own home (unless invited or introduced) without the first having first left his visiting card at the second’s home. Upon leaving the card, the first would not expect to be admitted initially, but instead might receive a card at his own home in response from the second. This would serve as a signal that a personal visit and meeting at home would be welcome. On the other hand, if no card was forthcoming, or if a card was sent in an envelope, a personal visit was thereby discouraged.
As an adoption from France, they were called une carte d’adresse from 1615 to 1800, and then became carte de visite or visiteur with the advent of photography in the mid 19th century. Visiting cards became common among 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.
Some visiting cards included refined engraved ornaments, embossed lettering, and fantastic coats of arms. However, the standard form visiting card in the 19th century in the United Kingdom was a plain card with nothing more than the bearer’s name on it. Sometimes the name of a gentlemen’s club might be added, but addresses were not otherwise included. Visiting cards were kept in highly decorated card cases.
The visiting card is no longer the universal feature of upper middle class and upper class life that it once was in Europe and North America. Much more common is the business card, in which contact details, including address and telephone number, are essential. This has led to the inclusion of such details even on modern domestic visiting cards: Debrett’s New Etiquette in 2007 endorsed the inclusion of private and club addresses (at the bottom left and right respectively) but states the inclusion of a telephone or fax number would be “a solecism”.
According to Debrett’s Handbook in 2016, a gentleman’s card would traditionally give his title, rank, private or service address (bottom left) and club (bottom right) in addition to his name. Titles of peers are given with no prefix (e.g. simply “Duke of Wellington”), courtesy titles are similarly given as “Lord John Smith”, etc., but “Hon” (for “the Honourable”) are not used (Mr, Ms, etc. being used instead). Those without titles of nobility or courtesy titles may use ecclesiastical titles, military ranks, “Professor” or “Dr”, or Mr, Ms, etc. For archbishops, bishops, deans and archdeacons, the territorial title is used (e.g. “The Bishop of London”). Men may use their forenames or initials, while a married or widowed woman may either use her husband’s name (the traditional usage) or her own. The only post-nominal letters used are those indicating membership of the armed forces (e.g. “Captain J. Smith, RN”).
The Social Card, which is a modern version of the visiting card, features a person’s name, mobile phone number, and email address, with an optional residential address rarely included; family social cards include the names of parents and children.
17th Century France, Trade Cards
A trade card is a square or rectangular card that is small, but bigger than the modern visiting card, and is exchanged in social circles, that a business distributes to clients and potential customers. Trade cards first became popular at the end of the 17th century in Paris, Lyon and London. They functioned as advertising and also as maps, directing the public to the merchants’ stores (no formal street address numbering system existed at the time).
The term, trade card, refers to a varied group of items made of paper or of card of varying sizes and shapes. Trade cards evolved in different ways in Britain, America and Europe, giving rise to wide variation in their format and design. The characteristic features of a trade card are that it is a small printed item, used by merchants and traders to give to their customers for their use as an aid to memory. Trade cards were sufficiently small so that they could be carried in the gentleman’s pocket or lady’s purse.
In its original sense, the “trade” in trade card refers to its use by the proprietor of a business to announce his trade, or line of business. Trade cards were widely used by retailers and tradesmen from around the late 17th-century in Paris, Lyon and London. In the period before mass media, they functioned as advertising and also as maps, directing the public to the merchants’ stores (no formal street address numbering system existed at the time). The trade card is an early example of the modern business card. The use of trade cards in America became widespread from the mid-19th-century in the period following the Civil war.
The earliest trade cards were not cards at all, instead they were printed on paper and did not include illustrations. Later they were printed on the more substantial card and typically bore the tradesmen’s name and address, and before street numbering was in common use, often included a long-winded set of directions on how to locate the store or premises. With the advent of commercial engraving and lithography, illustrations became a standard feature of even the most humble trade card. Eventually trade cards evolved into business cards, which are still in use today.
Eighteenth century traders wanted cards with impact and sophistication. Accordingly, they often hired notable designers and engravers to design their cards.In 1738, for instance, when leading Parisian art dealer Edme-François Gersaint changed the name of his business to A la Pagode, he hired the engraver, François Boucher to design his card. In 1767, the French painter, Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, designed a trade card for quincailler (ironmonger), Perier, whose premises were situated at the sign of the Moor’s Head on the Quai de la Megisserie in Paris. Other artists who accepted commissions for trade cards included: Hogarth, Bartolozzi and Bewick. The demand for trade cards, and also for catalogs fuelled demand for creative services such as etching, engraving and print-making in the first half of the eighteenth century.
19th Century France, Carte de Visite
The carte de visite abbreviated CdV, was a type of small photograph which was patented in Paris by photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854, although first used by Louis Dodero. It was usually made of an albumen print, which was a thin paper photograph mounted on a thicker paper card. The size of a carte de visite is 54.0 mm (2.125 in) × 89 mm (3.5 in) mounted on a card sized 64 mm (2.5 in) × 100 mm (4 in). In 1854, Disdéri had also patented a method of taking eight separate negatives on a single plate, which reduced production costs. The carte de visite was slow to gain widespread use until 1859, when Disdéri published Emperor Napoleon III’s photos in this format. This made the format an overnight success. The new invention was so popular it was known as “cardomania” and it spread throughout Europe and then quickly to America and the rest of the world.
Each photograph was the size of a visiting card, and such photograph cards were traded among friends and visitors. Albums for the collection and display of cards became a common fixture in Victorian parlors. The immense popularity of these card photographs led to the publication and collection of photographs of prominent persons.
By the early 1870s, cartes de visite were supplanted by “cabinet cards”, which were also usually albumen prints, but larger, mounted on cardboard backs measuring 110 mm (4.5 in) by 170 mm (6.5 in). Cabinet cards remained popular into the early 20th century, when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera and home snapshot photography became a mass phenomenon.