Business Card Composer

Business Card History

I. Visiting Cards: 17th Century

The first visiting cards appeared in France during the reign of Louis XIV — “Le Roi Soleil”. Read about the 17th Century French Court.

II. Tradecards: 17th Century

The earliest forms of business cards — tradecards were to be found in England. These were used as advertising and maps. Read how merchants kept in touch with their customers.

III. Business Cards: 19th Century

Visiting cards were an essential accessory to any 19th century European or American middle class lady or gentleman. Read about one's social obligations of that time.

IV. Calling Card: Etiquette

Ladies' and gentlemen's Calling Cards were to be exchanged according to the existing etiquette rules. What are those p.p. marks on Calling Cards? Read about the simple etiquette that oiled the wheels of friendship in earlier times.

I. Visiting Cards: 17th Century (France)

Louis XIV

Visiting cards, the “Visite Biletes”, used to be playing card size, just a little smaller than the size of a man's hand. The earliest forms of visiting cards were indeed playing cards. Visitors wrote on the cards their signatures, promissory notes and other messages.

As time went by, these visiting cards further developed into greeting and other cards.


These first visiting cards appeared in France during the reign of Louis XIV — “Le Roi Soleil”. They were solemnly introducing their owners in all their glory.


Louis XIV, the King of France, was born in 1638 at St. Germain-en-Laye France. He ruled from 1643 to 1715 (72 years the longest reign in modern European history). He was styled the Grand Monarch, and his brilliant court at Versailles became a model and perhaps also the despair of other, less rich and less powerful princes who nevertheless accepted his theory of absolute monarch.

A great supporter of the arts, Louis patronized the foremost writers and artists of his time, including Moliere, Jean Racine, Jean de La Fontaine, and Charles Le Brun. The architect Jules Mansart supervised the building of the lavish palace of Versailles. Because of the brilliance of his court, Louis was called “Le Roi Soleil” and “Le Grand Monarque.”

Business Card Composer Icon
Business Card Composer
Design Business Cards on Your Mac
Design and print business cards right on your Mac using Avery or other paper, or send to a local print shop.
Learn More

II. Tradecards: 17th Century (England)

Best Chewing Tobacco tradecard

Tradecards, considered to precede business cards, were used in all parts of England.

The earliest forms of tradecards were to be found at the beginning of the 17th century in London. These were used as advertising and also as maps, directing the public to merchant's stores, as there was no formal street numbering system at the time.

Deep Sea Mess Mackerel tradecard

The popularity of tradecards soared as they were most effective advertising as newspapers of the time were not well developed and tradecards by directing the reader to a merchant played the similar role to today's online media. The earliest forms of tradecards were printed by the woodcut or letterpress method. By the 18th century, copperplate engraving became the most popular method. Up to the 19th century, tradecards were still done in monotones, or with simple tints. As businesses grew, so did the production and distribution of tradecards. Around 1830, lithography using several colors became an established method in Europe.

The Charter Oak Lawn Mower tradecard

During the 19th century new technology and improved speed of communication made the distribution of newspapers and periodicals more practical. Advertising in these media became more affordable and more widespread.

The advent of the machinery that was so lavishly displayed and advertised, was in itself responsible for the downfall of the tradecard industry.

III. Business Cards: 19th Century (Europe)

As an adoption from French court etiquette, visiting cards came to America and Europe. They included refined engraved ornaments and fantastic coat of arms. Visiting cards, or calling cards, were an essential accessory to any 19th century middle class lady or gentleman.

Business Cards: 19th century (USA)

A. Lincoln's business card

In the United States there was a rigid distinction between business and visiting cards.

George G. Lee's business card

The visiting cards served as tangible evidence of meeting social obligations, as well as a streamlined letter of introduction. The stack of cards in the card tray in the hall was a handy catalog of exactly who had called and whose calls might need to be returned. They did smack of affectation however, and were not generally used among country folk or working class Americans.

M.R. Kennedy's business card

Business cards on the other hand, were widespread among men and women, of all classes with a business to promote. It was considered to be in very poor taste to use a business card when making a social call. A business card, left with the servants, could imply that you had called to collect a bill.

IV. Calling Card Etiquette, 18-19th centuries


“Calling” was a somewhat ritualized version of the fine old custom of “visiting”. There were certain fixed rules laid down by society which might apply to a resident in a small town with the same force as in a large city.


Signs On a Visiting Card

Ink-pot and pen

The initial letters you can meet on personal cards stand for the French words: