see also calling card. Wealthy Europeans in the 19th century walked around with stacks of visiting cards. As they 'called on' equally wealthy friends and acquaintances, they'd hand a visiting card to the servant if the visitee wasn't home, pretending not to be around, recovering from a night on the town, or dying of the plague. Visiting cards were smaller than a modern business card and rarely contained more than the visitor's name, generally in a florid cursive script. Pre-war apartment buildings in New York often have mailboxes with tiny slots, they're for the safe depositing of visiting cards in the age of a single doorman for dozens of apartments.
If it all sounds a little pretentious, it probably is. Visiting cards are all over the place in bodice-rippers.