Business Card History

Business Card History


Whilst business cards are now all pervasive in the business world they have not always been around (although they have been around much longer than many people may think). So where did they come form, why and when did we start using them and how have they grown to become so popular?


Business card history started way bick in the 17th century in Europe although they were not specifically business cards, more calling or visiting cards. These cards were not really use by trades or business people but more by the wealthy and the aristocracy. The cards were presented at the start of the visit to announce the guest’s arrival and provide details to the host. Although the purpose of these cards is different from a modern business card the format, presentation and etiquette of usage were broadly similar. Indeed even the format of these early cards was not radically different from the modern business card; they were a little larger – approximately playing card shaped as they were originally derived from playing cards. The use of playing cards prior to calling cards was sporadic and they tended to be hand written and hand produced rather than printed and made with the intention of being used as a calling card.

business card history

A variant of theses visiting cards emerged slight later in the 17th century, these were tradecards which, as their name suggests, were used by trades’ people to advertise their business. They largely consisted of maps to the business premises and a brief advertisement. They became popular due to the lack of competition for advertising channels – well before the advent of the internet and even widespread newspaper advertising there were not many ways to publicise your business. They also served a dual purpose of guiding people to business premises in the days before formalised street naming and numbering.


Until approximately the 1830s tradecards were black and white affairs due to the unavailability of cheap, mass colour printing. The advent of colour lithography in the 1830s allowed for the proliferation of business cards both in terms of quantity and diversity of styles.


The early use of these cards was largely confined to Western Europe until the 19th century which was when the uptake of both calling and business cards started to expand in America. During the early days in America there was still a strong separation between the use of cards for business and social purposes. This distinction rapidly fell away as the century progressed and the use of cards for social purposes declined sharply.


So as can be seen from the above business card history is not a recent thing and they  have been with us for four centuries now and have in essence changed little over these centuries – they are still as useful today as they were in the 17th century.