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Business cards are like IDs that we give away to a potential prospect. They bear information about a company, so a prospect can find them to correspond or carry on business. A business card typically bears the givers name, but may also include various means of contact information.
The first business cards were known as “Visiting Cards” and they date back to France during the 17th century. They were slightly smaller than a man’s hand, but roughly similar to a playing card. In fact, early visitor cards were actually playing cards, where the giver would write some message (like a poem or a promissory note). The purpose of the cards was to introduce the owner, often detailing some of the person’s accomplishments or reason for being.
Trade cards came next, and were found primarily in England. Trade cards were like mini adverts, so their popularity soared as more business men found reasons to carry and use them. Similar to a banner advertisement on the Web today, a trade card used promotional language to direct the viewer to do something.
The Americans started the tradition of business cards, featuring aesthetically pleasing designs that were meant to attract. Whereas visiting cards represented a physical record of a meeting taking place, business cards came to signify specifically business related meetings. Where a visitor card might indicate someone came calling, a business card would indicate that person was likely calling because of a bill. The business card went from a social construct to a business essential in less than 300 years.