Victorians loved to communicate via calling card. It was the proper, dignified way to communicate with other people. But wouldn’t you know, young people just had to mess it up. Check out these oh so risque Victorian flirtation cards.

Calling cards came into widespread use in the mid-1800s, when the middle class was trying to acquire a bit of an upper class finish, and when it became feasible for everyone to print up and carry around personalized bits of paper. They lingered for longer than you expect. One woman mentions in a memoir that her grandmother carried calling cards into the 1940s. The cards could be an elaborate communication device. Folding down different corners of the card let the receiver know when the giver would be in for a visit, or when they would be away. There were mourning cards, cards for different celebrations, and of course dance cards. All of them were a kind of social gauntlet—a formal way of getting acquainted and keeping in touch.

Which makes these so surprising.


These were Victorian flirtation cards. Their collector, Alan Mays, holds them up as an example that Victorians weren’t as uptight as we imagine them to be—especially young ones.

These were a cheeky way to get the attention of a woman which looked perfectly respectable.


Lots of them had little poems on them, like this.

Others were steamier, although with a lot of cheesiness mixed in.

Is it me or does “squeezemburg” sound like a town that treats dermatological conditions?

This one is short and sweet and provides a nice precedent of textspeak. Although why does an oven mitt mean “no”?

Others cards were surprisingly thought out.

It has the usual elaborate language. The chromo tintype on the right implies, of course, that the guy’s rival is an ass. What’s interesting is the Hamlet reference. Hamlet uses the line “Gaze on this picture, then on that,” when he’s upbraiding his mother, Gertrude, for marrying his father’s brother just after his father died. The speech goes on to heap praises on the father and condemn the brother.

And then there’s this:

Gee, thanks. Of the many cards out there, this is the only one that has an implied insult to the woman. It’s proof positive that the concept of “negging” is way older than modern pick-up manuals make it out to be.

A few suggestions for other “neg” cards:

“Dear lady, may I escort you home? I cannot help but notice that you have the bright pink cheeks of a consumptive foundling.”

“What good dress sense you have. Your corset must be the most well-built structure I’ve ever seen.”

“You’re no Victoria, but you have her plumpness, so you’ll do.”

[Alan Mays / Flickr]

Images Courtesy of Alan Mays