Visiting Card Cases


Visiting cards were the calling cards of Regency and Victorian gentlemen and ladies, and they could be printed in small batches and kept clean in visiting card cases which became objects of beauty in their own right. The materials used for card cases are many and various. Silver was the earliest, and is the easiest to date as the silver is hallmarked, so it is often possible to ascertain the place of manufacture, the year, and even the maker. Popular engraved scenes are castles, abbeys, cathedrals and churches, famous buildings such as the Houses of Parliament, and the great country houses of England. They must have been marketed as tourist souvenirs, for honeymooners and daytrippers. Many were made in Birmingham, and Nathaniel Mills was the most prolific maker, but Taylor & Perry, Joseph Wilmore, Yapp and Woodward, Hilliard & Thomason, Frederick Mason and George Unite are other familiar names. 

Card cases were also made of carved ivory, papier mache, sometimes painted with floral bouquets, sandalwood inlaid with abalone, and mother of pearl. The Chinese supplied intricately carved ivory and tortoiseshell examples, to the Western market, and some of the rarest and most sought after card cases were made by the Japanese in such materials as malachite and coral, and in high and low relief lacquer work. The lid might slip on and off, or be hinged. Later cases opened like a pocket book, and had pockets or elastic retainers for the cards- and were later used for cigarettes. The custom of leaving cards persisted to the Second World War, and was continued thereafter with the business card, which became an 'aide memoire' for the client or subtle form of advertising on the part of the businessman. 

The etiquette of leaving cards was played out in drawing rooms across the country. Morning calls were made after lunch (!), and if the person was not in a card would be left. A card could be marked with a message 'p.c.' for condolences (pour condoler), to give thanks after an entertainment p.r. (pour remercier), or before going away (pour prendre conge), or any long absence. Men's cards were smaller than ladies', as were their card cases, and slipped comfortably into the pocket.