Business cards are ubiquitous in modern business culture -- but how did they originate, and how have the styles changed in the past decades and centuries? Let’s take a look at the illustrious history of the business card.
When was the first business card made?
Historians believe that the concept of the “calling card” may have originated in 15th century China, and they came to the West as early as the 17th century. A calling card was a plain and simple card engraved with the owner’s signature used among the upper class to announce their intentions to visit other upper-class households.
Smart businesses around the 18th century saw the usefulness of having a small, carriable item with their information on it, and soon the trade card came about. Trade cards were typically given with purchases or handed out by traveling salesmen.
And eventually, the trade card became the business card we know today, though there’s no clear delineation of when the switch happened; perhaps so gradually that the transition was hardly perceptible.
What’s the history of business card designs?
While calling cards were usually sparse and understated, usually just showing the owner’s name in attractive script, trade cards became more intricate and colorful, often showing maps on how to get to the owner’s shop or even art.
Nowadays, business cards are meant to be more functional, and thus more simple and plain than the trade cards of the olden days. You’ll rarely see one with a piece of art on it, and usually they stick to the classic: just the necessary information, without much fluff. However, your local print shop can help you put the right amount of color and flair to help your business card stand out. Business cards today typically measure 3.5 x 2 in, roughly the same size as trade cards. The average business card size in cm is 8.9cm x 5.1cm.
Learn More: Business Card Ideas: Design and Layout
What’s the modern-day business card etiquette?
In the United States, there aren’t many rules around business cards (although this may not be the case in every country - be prepared if you are doing business abroad). However, there are some things you should keep in mind about so that you make the best impression possible.
- Your business card should always be small enough to fit in a wallet.
- The card shouldn’t be too aggressively styled or oddly shaped
- It is typical to exchange cards at the beginning of a scheduled formal networking meeting or at the end of a sales meeting to help schedule the next steps in the business relationship.
- You can ask for their card and offer yours in exchange: “May I give you my business card?” or a statement, “Here’s my business card.”
- Treat their card respectfully. Take a moment to look at it and to put it away carefully.
- Follow up with them. Now that you have their information store it, or input it into a database/list and then contact them in the manner you discussed.
Time To Make Your Own History
From the earliest known calling cards in 15th century China to trade cards in 19th century Europe, these hand held slips of paper have a fascinating history. In their current iteration as a business card, these handy introductions have retained their popularity and usefulness.