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A History of the Business Card

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From its humble beginnings to its current status as a crucial networking tool, the business card has a fascinating history. Today, we’ll explore its evolution, examining how it morphed from a simple piece of paper to a symbol of professional identity and connection.

A business card is a small, printed piece of cardstock that carries professional information about an individual or a company. It usually includes a name, occupation or role, company name, and contact details. But over time, the role of business cards has expanded, often doubling as subtle marketing tools or forms of artistic expression.

The History of Business Cards

Believe it or not, the concept of business cards originated back in 15th century China. However, it wasn’t until the 17th century in England that these cards gained widespread popularity. The elite would use “visiting cards” to announce their arrival. These cards were often ornately decorated with elegant calligraphy, and for the particularly affluent, gold engraving.

The rise of print

The invention of the printing press in 1436 by German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized information dissemination. Now, literature, news, and all sorts of text-based materials were more accessible than ever. While literacy levels were initially low, the rise of the printing press soon fueled a significant boost in literacy, leading to an increase in text-based products, including business cards.

The History of Calling Cards

Under the influence of the Chinese upper class’s visiting cards, Europeans developed calling cards. These were social tools used to leave messages at friends’ residences. They followed strict social etiquette, with the quality and design of one’s card being a significant determinant of social status.

Trade Cards

Parallel to the popularity of calling cards, trade cards gained traction in London as the LinkedIn of the card world. Since addresses were not common back then, businesses often printed maps on one side of their cards leading to their storefronts, thus making it easier for customers to locate them.

Modern Business Cards

Fast forward to today, and business cards remain a vital tool for entrepreneurs and business owners to make potential connections. A well-thought-out and beautifully designed business card leaves a more lasting impression than a hastily scribbled email address. Today’s business cards come in various styles, from embossed details and shaped business cards to 3D printed designs.

Antique Calling Cards

Letterpress printing has made a comeback, adding a vintage touch to modern business cards. This style is especially fitting for businesses in the historical or antique sector.

The Non-card Business Card

For those seeking a fun and unique way to stand out, a non-card business card is an excellent option. Take, for instance, Lego, which uses mini-figures as business cards. These non-traditional cards are memorable and less likely to be discarded.


The business card has come a long way, adapting and evolving to match our changing society and the various ways we conduct business. These small, printed cards have moved from being a mere source of contact information to becoming a powerful tool for conveying personal or business identity, creating lasting impressions, and facilitating professional connections.

As we move further into the digital age, it’s interesting to speculate on the future of business cards. Will they transform into completely digital entities, or will the physical card maintain its charm and usefulness? Only time will tell.


1. What was the original purpose of business cards?

Originally, business cards, also known as “visiting cards,” were used by the Chinese upper class and European aristocrats to announce their arrival or visit to a location. They were also used as a tool for social networking.

2. How has the use of business cards evolved over the years?

Over the years, the use of business cards has evolved significantly. While they still provide contact information, they also serve as a form of personal branding and are an essential networking tool in business circles. Some businesses have also begun using business cards as a marketing tool, embedding their branding messages and logos on the cards.

3. What are some of the modern trends in business card designs?

Modern business cards utilize a variety of innovative designs and techniques. These include embossed details, unique shapes, 3D printing, letterpress printing for a vintage look, and even non-card forms of business cards like Lego mini-figures.

4. How important is the design of a business card?

The design of a business card is crucial as it creates the first impression of a business or an individual. A well-designed card can set a business or individual apart from the competition, reflect professionalism, and even indicate the type of services they offer.

5. Will business cards become completely digital in the future?

While digital business cards are gaining popularity, especially in the era of remote work and digital networking, physical business cards are unlikely to disappear completely. This is because a physical business card can create a more personal connection and leave a more lasting impression than a digital one. However, we may see more integration of digital elements, such as QR codes or NFC technology, into physical business cards.

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