Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Gilded Age Card Engraving Etiquette

A gent’s calling card tray features a playful pup, playing with the daily newspaper, dated May 4, 1891

If the surname is short, the full name may be en graved. If the names are long, and the space does not admit of their full extension, the initials of given names may be used. The former style is preferred, when practicable. 

In the absence of any special title properly accom panying the name-as “Rev.,” “Dr.,” “Col.,” etc., —“Mr.” is always prefixed. Good form requires this on an engraved card. If in any emergency a man writes his own name on a card he does not prefix “Mr.”

What titles may properly be used on a man's visiting-card? The distinctions made in the use of titles seem arbitrary unless some reason can be discovered.

The rule should be, to omit from visiting-cards all titles that signify transient offices, or occupations not related to social life; using such titles only as indicate a rank or profession that is for life; and which has become a part of the man's identity, or which is distinctly allied to his social conditions.

To illustrate— The rank of an officer in the army or the navy should be indicated by title on his card, his connection with the service being for life, and a part of his identity. His personal card is engraved thus “General Schofield”— the title in full when only the surname is used; or, “Gen. Winfield Scott,” “Gen. W. S. Hancock” — the title abbreviated when the given names, or their initials, are used. 

The first style is appropriate to the Commander-in-chief, or the senior officer; or in any case where no other officer of the same name and rank is on the roster.

Officers on the retired list, and veteran officers of the late war who rose from the volunteer ranks, retain their titles by courtesy. And very appropriately so, since the war record of many a gallant soldier is inseparable from the man himself, in the minds of his fellow-citizens. 

He may have retired to private life again, but his distinguished services have outlived the brief hour of action; and his hero-worshiping countrymen will always recognize him in his most salient character, “every inch a soldier.” It is quite impossible to call him “Mr.,” or at once to know who is meant if his card reads—for instance— “Mr. Lucius Fairchild.” Nothing but the title of his well earned rank gives an adequate idea of the man.

The official cards of political officers and ambassadors, which bear the title and office of the man —with or without his name— should be used only on official or State occasions, and during the term of office. When the incumbent “steps down and out,” this card is also “relegated.” His friends may continue to greet him as “Governor,” but he no longer uses the title himself. In strictly social life, the personal card of the ex-Governor is like that of any other private citizen, subject to the same rules.

Similarly, professional or business cards that bear ever so slight an advertisement of occupations are not allowable for social purposes.

The three “learned” professions, theology, medicine, and law, are equally “for life.” But the occupation of the lawyer is distinctly related to business matters, and not at all to social affairs. His title, or sub-title, Esquire, is properly ignored on his visiting card, and socially he is simply “Mr. John Living stone.” 

On the other hand, the callings of the clergyman and the physician respectively, are closely allied to the social side of life, closely identified with the man himself. Therefore “Rev.,” or “Dr.” may with propriety be considered as forming an inseparable compound with the name. The title is an important identifying mark, and its omission, by the clergyman, at least, is not strictly dignified. “Office hours” are not announced on a physician’s social card.

It is not good form to use merely honorary titles on visiting-cards. In most cases, a man should lay aside all pretension to special office or rank, and appear in society simply as “Mr. John Brown,” to take his chances in the social world strictly on his own merits; assured that if he has any merit, other people will discover it without an ostentatious reminder of it in the shape of a pompous visiting-card. 

Of course, this suggestion of democratic simplicity refers to the engraving of one's own card; other people address the man properly by his official or honorary title, with all due respect for the worth which the world recognizes even though the wearer of such honors ignores his own claim to high distinction. 

“Blow your own trumpet, if you would hear it sound,” is a sharply sarcastic bit of advice, since only hopeless mediocrity could ever profit by the injunction. Real merit needs no trumpeter. Mrs. Grant could afford to call her husband “Mr.” Grant, as was her modest custom; because all the world knew that he was the General of our armies, and the President of the republic. 

It is some “Mayor Puff,” of Boomtown, who can hardly be persuaded by the engraver from giving himself the satisfaction of incidentally announcing on his visiting-cards the result of the last borough election.

A man's address may be engraved beneath his name at the lower right corner, the street and number only if in a city, or the name of a country-seat if out of town; as, “The Leasowes.” Bachelors who belong to a club may add the club address in the lower left corner; or, if they live altogether at the club, this address occupies the lower right corner.— Agnes H. Morton, 1899

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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