In the 19th century, social interaction was a formal, well-mannered affair that called for rich cultivation. The tool that brought that about was the “calling (or visiting) card.”
If a gentleman wished to “call” upon a friend, he’d present his card to the servant of the household. The servant would hold a salver and the card would be placed upon it. If the person the gentleman was calling upon was home, the servant would take the card to him or her and they would come meet the gentleman. If not, the servant would leave the card for them to look at when they returned.
Typically, upon a gentleman’s initial visit to a residence, he’d simply, leave a card and then depart. If the new acquaintance wished to socialize with him, he or she would send a card in return. If no return card was sent in an envelope, this signaled that there would be no continuation of the acquaintanceship.
Cards of all descriptions were part of the etiquette of the day. [Their prevalence] in 19th century daily life represented and helped define class, breeding and status.
They were also devices to initiate a courtship. Even though most calling cards were straight-laced and buttoned-down, eager men found plenty of clever ways of jazzing them up, converting them into what were called “escort cards.”
We should bring these back for both romantic and platonic needs.
h/t: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC