Business cards are a common form of advertising and of the exchange of contact information between businessmen and the public. They have a long history that dates as far back as the 15th century in China. The business card began as a "visiting card" or a calling card. It was a social convention that was bound by some very strict etiquette rules. The visiting card was introduced to Europe in the 17th century during the reign of Louis XIV who was known as the Sun King. In the same century the practice began to take hold in English society.
At around the same time, the card moved from its social beginnings to a business purpose with the introduction of the trade card. It was a period where newspapers were an undeveloped resource, and the media that is the center of today's advertising did not exist. The trade card was designed to direct the public to a merchant's location and usually contained a map and directions. This was at a time when the current system of street numbering did not exist. These early trade cards were printed by woodcut or letterpress methods of printing, and were generally monotones or contained a small amount of tint.
In around 1830 lithography became the printing medium of choice and colors became more important. In the United States, the visiting card tradition caught on and became very popular. For a short period there was not much distinction between the business card and the visiting card. Gradually, the two types of cards began to separate. The rules of etiquette that came into being during this period began to make the idea of a card that stressed a business function unacceptable as a calling card. In fact, when a person left a business related card during a social visit to a home, it was seen as an attempt to collect a bill or debt.
As time has passed, it is the visiting card that has gradually vanished from the scene while the business card has gone on to become a business mainstay. With the introduction of new materials for the cards such as plastic and magnetic backed cards, and the wide spread use of color business cards, the business card industry has moved into the modern era in an exciting way. Business card templates exist now to make the design and mass production of cards inexpensive. A business card is a must for anyone who deals with the public today, and for many it is one of the most important advertisings tools.