The Origins of the Business Card
Copyright 2006 business-cards.com
The first business cards were actually playing cards and the
practice of exchanging such cards originated in the Court of
King Louis XIV of France. The "Sun King", who incidentally was
the longest serving Monarch in history, held court in his
opulent Palace of Versailles situated in today's terms, just a
short train ride from Paris.
The gentlemen of the Court were dedicated followers of fashion
and were many in number. King Louis, an astute politician,
realized that trouble could come from only one quarter and that
was from a disaffected aristocracy. To safeguard himself, he
brought all the nobility to Versailles where he gave them jobs,
a comfortable lifestyle and of course, money.
For the most part the nobles had not a lot to do as they sat
under the ever-watchful eye of the absolute Monarch. Playing
cards were one of the important "affairs" of state. The
gentlemen would use these playing cards to write promissory
notes to one another as a means of covering their gambling debts
until next pay day. From this practice arose a whole system of
writing notes, arranging meetings and dare I say, scheming
assignations with the ladies of the court.
Louis came to the throne as a mere child of 5 in 1643. Of course
the affairs of state were governed by the Prince Regent, so it
was after the establishment and the building of Versailles, in
the third quarter of the seventeenth century, that the practice
that gave rise to the business card came into being.
About the same time, across the Channel in England, and notably
the capital, London, a much more mundane albeit intensely
practical form of business card was on the rise. This was the
"Trade Card". The purpose of this type of card was to direct
members of the public to a merchant's place of commerce. The
cards invariably showed a map, clearly directing the potential
customer to the business premises. This was really important at
a time before properly designated street addresses had come into
being. The cards were printed using woodcut or letterpress and
were the traditional black on white. Colored varieties were to
come much later.
These early business cards were incredibly important, serving as
very powerful advertising tools in an era before the advent of
mass communications. The clarity of the map and associated
information could well decide the fate of a fledgling commercial
venture. Today, when somebody gives you a card you glance at it
and file it for future reference. You can use the information
printed there to telephone, write or e-mail the donor, but this
was not so in earlier times of course. The card's original
purpose was to give you clear directions on how to reach the
business man in question.