At that time a call was a short visit and calling cards were used both as part of the social ritual of calling. Leaving cards was used as a method of informing one’s acquaintences that one had recently arrived or was preparing to depart (if the initials p.p.c. for “pour prendre conge” or p.d.a for “pour dire adieu” were added to the card) as well as a way of informing the master or mistress of the house who was calling on them.
In Sense and Sensibility chapter 27 we are told that “[t]he morning was chiefly spent in leaving cards at the houses of Mrs. Jennings’s acquaintance to inform them of her being in town[.]” Later in that chapter we learn that Willoughby has left a card when he called while Mrs. Jennings and her charges were out driving. In Persuasion, Sir Walter says that he will send his card to Lady Russell when she arrives in Bath and is overjoyed when he receives the cards of his cousins Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret.
While images of Victorian era cards are fairly plentiful on the internet, so far the only image I have found of, what I assume is, a Regency era is from a post entitled “Calling Cards in Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion” by Vic at Jane Austen’s World. I can however tell you the following things about calling cards:
- Men’s cards and women’s cards were different sizes, men’s cards being smaller;
- Cards were typically carried in decorative cases designed for that purpose;
- Once a card was given it would be displayed in the front hall, allowing visitors to browse and see who their host and/or hostess was acquainted with, similair to a Regency era LinkedIn or Facebook;
- Regency cards were smaller than Victorian cards;
- Regency cards were also less decorated than Victorian cards, tending to have simpler type and fewer designs;
- Regency cards also offered less information, the card Miss Manners discusses included a name, address and day the lady would be at home for visitors, a Regency card would be much more likely to only contain the person’s name, title (if applicable), and possibly an address or what part of town the person lived in but that was not universal.
For more information on calling cards: