In the 19th century, gentlemen used calling cards to formally introduce themselves to new acquaintances and to call upon friends and relatives in a dignified way.
But there was another type of card used when a gentleman wanted to get the ball rolling with a lovely lady in a more casual way: the acquaintance card. According to The Encyclopedia of Ephemera, the acquaintance card was, “A novelty variant of the American calling card of the 1870s and 1880s,” and was
“used by the less formal male in approaches to the less formal female. Given also as an ‘escort card’ or ‘invitation card,’ the device commonly carried a brief message and a simple illustration….Flirtatious and fun, the acquaintance card brought levity to what otherwise might have seemed a more formal proposal. A common means of introduction, it was never taken too seriously.”
The cards were designed as a comical way for a gentleman to break the ice, start a conversation, and flirt with the opposite sex. Sometimes the humor was overt, and sometimes it derived from the way the messages parodied the formal rules of etiquette — it wasn’t actually considered appropriate to ask for your calling card back or volunteer your escorting services so directly, as some of these cards do. Their humor and directness is kind of awesome; as an icebreaker, it seems like they’d be easier for the guy, and more enjoyable for the gal, than a lot of the awkward pick-up tap and dance of the modern day.
Flickr user Alan Mays has amassed a delightful collection of these old acquaintance cards, along with some similar novelty cards from the mid-20th century, and has allowed us to feature them here. Enjoy and hand them out to all the lucky ladies you meet today. They’re guaranteed to get you a date!*
*Guarantee valid for time machine users only. Expires February 15, 1889.
Last updated: May 24, 2016