If you are in the workforce, whether as an entrepreneur, a freelancer or an employee, chances are you have your own set of business cards. You probably have not given much thought to the little card that bears your contact information, but did you know that they have quite an interesting history?
The evolution of business cards
Business cards apparently started in China back in the 15th century, and they were known as ‘meishi’ or ‘visiting cards’. Decorated with beautiful calligraphy, they contained the person’s name and title, and were used to announce a meeting with other individuals.
In the 17th century, business cards were used in Europe to announce the impending arrival of the more prosperous or aristocratic people at the town or their homes. Most houses had trays for those visiting to put their cards in. The servant would present these cards to the lady of the house, and, after looking through the cards, she would then decide if she would see the visitors.
In the Victorian era, cards with folded corners were presented in person, while cards folded in the middle meant the visit was for all family members. Gentlemen would also inscribe letters on the card to indicate the reason for his visit, for example, P/F for a congratulatory visit, P/C to express condolences, or P/P for a request to be introduced.
These calling cards were also used for trade in the UK, and usually included a map to help the potential customer get in contact. It was standard for trade cards to have copperplate engraving as they became more advanced and stylish.
In the 18th century, cards began to have pictures and full colour designs. Printing companies also offered a broader selection of thicker and durable paper stock.
Letterpress printing was introduced in the 1900s. During this time, business cards were mostly used just for business, and contained the person’s name, job title, company and other contact information. People were also beginning to get creative with the shape and design of their cards.
And of course, today, business cards come in different colours, designs as well as materials, including metal, plastic and wood. There are many different card stocks available with finishing options such as Spot UV, Embossed, Matte and Gloss.
Thanks to the rise of digital technologies, QR codes have also become a popular addition on business cards.
Business card etiquette in the modern era
The use of business cards has become simpler and more straightforward as the years went by. In Australia, the business card is now used as an easy way to pass out contact information for business as well as social interactions.
However, in some countries, some informal rules still stand.
For example, in Japan, business cards are handed out and accepted with both hands, as a sign of respect. The Japanese usually bow and introduce themselves while presenting their cards. It is also considered rude to fold and write on another person’s business card.
In China, it is more polite to present your own business card before asking for another person’s. And again, the card should be given and accepted with both hands. You are also expected to take a moment to look at the business card received before keeping it away, as an act of courtesy.
On the other hand, if you are in Korea, you should put away a business card soon after receiving it, because it is not appropriate to study the card for too long.
In Australia, as well as the UK and the US, there are no predefined rituals. Keep your card clean, and ensure it is legible. It is also quite normal to write on someone’s business card when accepting it, if there is a need to jot down personal numbers or other important notes.
No matter the country or the occasion, giving out a business card is still one of the easiest ways to share your contact information. One thing for sure: a business card can be a direct reflection of you, your brand and your company.