The Evolution of the Business Card

Business cards, or some form or them, have been around since 15th century China when royals used them as a way to announce a visit to a town’s residents.

Around the 17th century, the use of “calling cards” spread to the masses, mainly as a way for a person to show that he or she had stopped by for a visit. But there were other uses for them too and the rules governing the size and shape of the calling card, when to leave it and when to send it followed a strict code.

Emily Post’s etiquette book, has this to say about formal invitations:

“Cards are also left after any formal invitation. Having been asked to lunch…with a lady whom you know but slightly you should leave your card whether you accepted the invitation or not, within three days…of the date for which you were invited.”

Given that they were cards purely for personal use, it wasn’t unheard of even for small children to have their own cards.

Soon after calling cards came into fashion, “trade cards” of the same size and shape began being used by businesses to advertise themselves to clients or potential customers. Often the cards they had the logo and address of the store as well as directions on how to get there.

In the 19th century, an innovation was made when the the so-called “carte de visite” was introduced with a photo of a person and their information below. Exchanged and avidly collected by some, these cards were the precursors to the trading cards of famous sports players.

Then, in the 20th century, we began seeing the use of business cards as we know them today. A sort of a cross between the trade card and the calling card, they share a bit of personal and professional information but are primarily used for business. Other than a card’s material or shape sometimes varying, there have been few changes in the form of these cards since they were first introduced 6 centuries ago.

As we become fully immersed in a digital age, we decided to introduce the next generation of the business card with Intro, our digital business card app. Drawing on historical elements of the calling card, trade card and carte de visite, we’ve added new information to the business card and given it a form that blends seamlessly with our increasingly digital lives. “With Intro, you’re able to look back at your new contacts, put a face to a name and understand why the connection was meaningful,” says Ryan Freitas, about.me co-founder.  As the business card continues to evolve, we’re excited to be a part of it.

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