The History of Business Cards

Today, a business card is exchanged for the purpose of providing contact information about an individual or business. But, where did this tradition start?


The history of business cards goes back all the way to the 15th century in China.  At this time, these cards were used as a self promotion tool and personal advertisement for the basis of creating relationships. Called “Meishi”, the cards would describe how interesting and important  a person was and were given to people as a meeting request.  It was up to the recipient to decide if a meeting was worth their time.

They could also be handed at the door of an elite establishment to prove their credentials.  The doorman would give the card to the owner and the owner would decide if a meeting was worthwhile.

Visite Biletes

During the 17th century in France, business cards were called “Visite Biletes” or, “Visiting Card”.  The size of a playing card, they had the name of an aristocratic person printed on them and were used to announce the arrival of the person. These cards were handed to servants at the home of a host, so the servant could announce the arrival of a guest. There were also trays inside homes where people could leave their card for the homeowner.

Trade Cards

Also during the 17th century London, “Trade Cards” were used as advertisements.  These cards were given to clients and potential customers of local businesses.  On one side, the company name and a picture was printed. On the other side, were directions to the place of business.

Carte de Visite

A “Carte de Visite” (“Visiting Card”) was patented by Andrew Adolphe Eugene Disderi in 1854.  These visiting cards had a small picture mounted on a card with the owners contact information below the picture.

Business Cards

Today, business cards contain email addresses, cell phone numbers, social media profiles, websites, pictures, and any information a person or business owner would like to give about themselves or the company they work for.  Typically a 2.5″ x 3″ card, business cards can come in all shapes and sizes.

These days, sadly, business cards usually get thrown away.  However, giving someone something tangible and useful with your information can do the trick!  In an effort to stand out, be different and keep your information in front of a recipient, promotional items are great substitutes for business cards.

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