May I See You Home? 19th Century Calling Cards Guaranteed to Score You a Date

by Brett and Kate McKay on February 13, 2014 · 41 comments

in Dating, Relationships & Family

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!*

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Ah, here we have the 19th century equivalent of the “Do you like me? Check yes or no” middle school love note. In old fashioned slang, “to give someone the mitten” meant to reject them or end the relationship. One wonders how the card was used…did you give it to a lady and she returned it folded to reveal her answer? Source: Alan Mays

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This is the only acquaintance card Mays has come across where the man’s name is printed on one side, in the manner of a calling card. Perhaps Mr. Pfleogor had a bunch made and handed them out liberally to all the ladies. Source: Alan Mays

So ladies, how do you know if a fella is flirting with you? He gives you a card that says so. Duh. Source: Alan Mays

So ladies, how do you know if a fella is flirting with you? He gives you a card that says so. Duh. Source: Alan Mays

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I hear the weather is wonderful in Squeezemburg this time of year.  Source: Alan Mays

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For the bad boy, naturally, who wishes to get right to the point. Source: Alan Mays

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And finally, should your acquaintance card distribution win you a date, here’s a card to hand out to those who are always digging for details on your romantic conquests. Source: Alan Mays

 *Guarantee valid for time machine users only. Expires February 15, 1889.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve February 13, 2014 at 7:49 pm

Hilarious. I’d like to see one of these in action.

It also makes you wonder if women of the time would ever form their own collections.

2 Jeremy February 13, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Fascinating. I would like to see if anyone has tied these types of cards into modern day movements against what is called “street harassment”.

One group that tries to address it:
http://www.ihollaback.org/

3 Michal February 14, 2014 at 2:01 am

Darn. Why didn’t I know about these before I got married?

4 Kyle Ingham February 14, 2014 at 2:03 am

Great find! Amazing that these types of icebreaker cards didn’t remain popular. Seems like even today they’d be super useful.

5 Nikola Gjakovski February 14, 2014 at 6:35 am

Wow … This is great. It’s very old fashioned and stylish at the same time and It’s doesn’t seem to be demanding job. I would definitely prefer these than the ones they use these days such as : “If you want to come with me say yes, if not please do a back-flip”

6 Brian V February 14, 2014 at 7:03 am

Hmmm, I don’t know. These are amusing but likely would not be of much use in the modern age. I guess if you have the confidence to offer one of these cards to a potential acquaintance, then you may have the charisma to make it seem funny instead of backwards or creepy, but I wouldn’t use them myself. Still, like I said, very amusing.

7 Bryan February 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

I am torn between “this would be hilarious and I’m on my way to Vistaprint right now” and “this is a good way to figure out what percentage of women carry pepper spray on their person”.

I can see these ending badly in Victorian times as well, but then again, I was always miserable at dating.

8 lady brett February 14, 2014 at 9:21 am

those are hilarious (and useful!). i particularly like the ones that are worked up like business cards indicating their talents.

9 Antonio February 14, 2014 at 9:34 am

These are wonderful and I know quite a few ladies who would get a kick out of them as well. These would’ve more or less been given to a girl one fancied at a social event rather than a random woman on the street as it wasn’t common practice to hit on people the way it is today.

10 The Doctor February 14, 2014 at 10:21 am

Those are SUPERB. Old-fashioned still is a good thing, at times and had I known of these prior to calling my future father in law and asking his permission to ask his daughter to marry me, I’d have sent the first one you show (that starts with “Dear Miss”) to my now wife, just to do it and set myself apart more than I already had :) Top notch article!

11 Corwin February 14, 2014 at 10:27 am

The question is… why isn’t anyone producing these?

I would definitely buy a set, especially with an antique look like shown above.

Hint, hint, wink, wink AOM……….

12 Jonathan Keeth February 14, 2014 at 10:29 am

I get it, but one thing I’ve learned in the 19 years spent with my wife is that she likes to feel special. If I go to the trouble of having a bunch of cards printed to hand out like I’m networking, I can’t see a girl feeling very special. These are funny and all, but to me it looks like you would be just nailing a bunch of jello to a tree to see what sticks. Just my 2 cents.

13 jerry February 14, 2014 at 10:59 am

First you must determine if you are man enough to have a women worthy of a man enough man.

14 Phil February 14, 2014 at 11:32 am

This is one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time.

I found an old calling card similar to these in an antique/ thrift shop once, Seeing each of these is like getting a rare piece of of “the people’s history.” I totally dig this stuff.

Fantastic article.

15 Richie February 14, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Awesome, I just made one for my wife and I’ll give it to her with her Valentine gift this afternoon.

16 Stephen B. February 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Although some of these are amusing, I don’t believe that I would be find much use for actually using them. Mainly because most of the cards I feel would turn away the type of woman I am attracted to.

Short AoM Testimony: I DID read your articles about calling cards in general designed my own in Photoshop and then had VistaPrint print them. I have given them out to many work acquaintances and those soliciting my aid. HOWEVER, I did venture and politely solicit the attention of a charismatic, young woman by way of writing a personal message requesting her to contact me and it worked! We exchanged communications for quite some time (2 to 3 months) before venturing on an official date, followed by a second. Sadly, the relationship did not last, but I found putting calling cards into play IS a great way to impress a young woman who said she was quite overcome by the manly, old-fashioned gesture.

I thought I would share that story and encourage all those men “on the fence” to take the time and invest in calling cards for personal and professional use.

17 Bert February 14, 2014 at 12:19 pm

This link and the one from Mr. Centeno about bow ties certainly cracked me up this morning. Good way to start a day.

18 Mary February 14, 2014 at 12:24 pm

As a female, I can say that I find these hilarious, and could quite possibly land a date/walkhome/etc with the man who handed one to me.

19 Goldy February 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I think I’m gonna bring these back. I’ll let you know how it goes.

20 ashley February 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

These are fantastic! As a letterpress printer, I’m very inspired to create my own version, as well as more vintage-looking calling cards using the collection of metal borders… Off to the studio! Thanks for sharing these.

21 Kyle February 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm

About 30 years ago, found something like this – with a twist. They were plain white cards with text that said “If you’re in the mood for sex, keep this card and smile. If you’re not in the mood, tear this card up.” The twist? They were printed on a “new” material called Tyvek. That’s right. If you tried to rip the card in half, it would NOT tear. Guaranteed to elicit a smile. And then an embarrassed look of “I didn’t mean to smile”…

22 Kyle February 14, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Need to add – I realize that isn’t in the spirit of gentlemanly behavior this site encourages. Still, seemed fitting to share, given the topic.

23 Mark February 14, 2014 at 3:31 pm

This is so interesting. I can only imagine the trouble a gentleman could get himself into by handing out more than one card at a party. It’s probably why we don’t see them anymore. :)

Enjoyed the post!

24 Dami February 15, 2014 at 5:45 am

@Kyle

The Tyvex story gave me a good laugh! I’m sure, at some point, a lady will look for a scissor to cut it,

25 Helen February 15, 2014 at 7:43 am

I love these!

26 Clay February 15, 2014 at 8:33 am

I love it. My Uncle used to hand out something like this. He owned a Restaurant in LA and he used them like his business cards. It said “I’m Merrel Hansen, who the Devil are you?” and on the flip side had details about his business. I always thought it was awesome. He was old school all the way.

27 kenju February 15, 2014 at 9:08 am

I once met a guy while in college, who randomly passed out calling cards with his name and phone number and the phrase “In case of a party, call Chris.” I was impressed!

He was Chris Sarandon, who became an actor and married Susan.

28 John February 16, 2014 at 12:34 am

“I’m just your size …”

What if we are small in stature?

29 Ryan P Owens February 16, 2014 at 12:52 am

Wow! They cut right to the chase some of them, don’t they? “Office Hours 7pm to 1am in Some Young Lady’s Parlour”! Heavens alive.

30 Brian February 16, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Those are excellent! I particularly like the permission to sit on the fence and watch her go by, if she rejects being walked home.

Oh these were more wholesome days…

31 Ryan Grimm February 17, 2014 at 8:50 am

One male acquaintance of mine made me familiar with the following phrase directed to an attractive lady:
“I hate to see you leave, but love to watch you go.”
While a bit forward, it expresses the sentiment quite well.

32 Mike February 17, 2014 at 11:25 am

We used cards something like this in Saudi Arabia. It is highly illegal to talk to a single woman there – so we would walk passed and hand the card to her.
Usually it read:
“Call me sometime!” And had my phone number and usually I printed a photo of me on the card too.

33 Gary February 17, 2014 at 3:55 pm

These are very cool. I’m a Graphic designer, I should add these to my list of services =]

34 Brendan February 20, 2014 at 4:26 pm

These days, with women who are more like men, and men who are more like women, I’d half expect the girl to hand one to the guy.

That being said, it’s amazing how feminine a modern woman can become, when a gentleman puts on a sport coat, for a night out. I suppose they are used to slovenliness in men, so any improvement (like these cards, or one’s dress) would cause a man to stand out.

35 Luke C. February 20, 2014 at 11:07 pm

For a modern day, tech strart-up version of this, see https://www.cheekd.com/

36 Emmanuel M'M February 21, 2014 at 9:48 am

Where do I get my ticket to the time machine. I am so printing out these.

37 Shelly February 23, 2014 at 7:24 am

I love these. They are so clever.It would certainly peek my interest if a gentleman handed me one. More so than just his name and phone number. However I have to say the one card from “Mr. Charles M. Krout” was over the line in my opinion. It talked about demonstrating in a dark room, examining my stock, spooning and special attention paid to other fellows ladies. Not for me. That one card I would return. Thanx. I enjoyed the rest.

38 Tim February 26, 2014 at 5:33 am

These are great. Here in the Philippines quite a few foreigners use business cards to meet girls, but I have never seen any this great!

39 Blake February 26, 2014 at 10:08 pm

This is a good article and all but it needs links to where you can actually purchase these cards to make it great. I know it would be ready to find places to just get my name on it but I like the “who the devil are you” cards with the illustrations on them. Could I just copy the image, edit to have my name, and send it to some printing suite that uses uploaded images?

40 Gleb February 26, 2014 at 11:30 pm

I don’t know, it seems like these cards were probably used by the ‘bros’ of the `1800′s the way pick up strategies and playbooks and stuff like that are used by idiots now to pick up women.

41 LJ March 5, 2014 at 3:08 am

I knew a guy who used his business card when meeting women. His theory was that by giving out his card, he was not asking the woman to put herself at risk by handing out her personal information, and he was also giving her some information about himself that allowed her to see him as a person with ties in society, instead of roving solitary stranger. Using his business card also provided him some measure of protection, in case the woman turned about to be a lunatic stalker, there was less worry that she’d find his home. All in all, I thought it was a pretty nice approach.

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