When visiting friends, or "making calls," people would leave a card at the front door or parlor, even if the person they were visiting was home. They were used as a reminder about who had visited recently and deserved a visit in turn. Sometimes a loving greeting was added, though the card alone was considered a message.
It was considered a "red-letter day," a term that originated with the tradition of marking holy days in a church calendar in red, when a young "maid" or man was granted his or her first visiting card. As for babies whose cards were sent out by their parents, theirs was "the tiniest and daintiest of cards, fit for fairies!" according to one Victorian Lady, Margaret Sangster, in her etiquette book entitled Good Manners For All Occasions.
The fashions of calling cards varied with the trends; sometimes middle initials were fashionable, other times not; some cards were ornate, while others were of a "severe style," particularly for the gentlemen.
In the book Decorum, published in 1877, the following recommendations were made for refined visiting card etiquette: "Visitors should furnish themselves with cards. Gentlemen ought simply to put their cards into their pocket, but ladies may carry them in a small elegant portfolio, called a card-case. This they can hold in their hand and it will contribute essentially (with an elegant handkerchief of embroidered cambric) to give an air of good taste."