There were certain situations where you just knew that you could expect a visit one day soon. An acquaintance has come to town and the rules dictate that they must pay you a visit.
If visiting cards are left for you by your visitor, you can decide whether you want to be "at home" or not. A modern equivalent might be screening all incoming phone calls with 'caller ID' and then deciding whether to answer or not. Or perhaps refusing to answer the front door, pretending that you're not at home.
Calling hours were specific (3.00pm-6.00pm: perversely called 'morning calls' but only because they take place before dinner). Visits had to be repaid within a set time limit.
No cards should be sent by post - the height of vulgarity!
Servants must differentiate between:
* a card left after a visitor leaves
* a card left and the caller enquires if the mistress is at home
Purpose of calling cards: to get round the tiresome problem of servants with amnesia.
Semantics: when a card is left with a turned-down corner, this means the visitor will call on the mother and her daughters together.
Duration of visit: never to exceed 15 minutes.
Embarrassment: what do you do if another visitor calls while you are visiting. Stay, leave, talk, be silent?
Cards are also left at a family's house when an acquaintance dies.
A married lady would also leave her husband's visiting card together with hers - unless he was out of town (if, say, he were a naval officer serving overseas). Your card is your proxy. It is the rule that wives do the card-leaving for their husbands. Married men rarely call in person!
After a visit, the calling card is left on the hall table. It is never handed direct to a servant or the hostess.
The style and content of the visiting card must be fixed and simple - no ornate curlicues or fonts or elaborate use of titles.
The Girls' Own Paper, 1880. Vol. I
Manners and rules of good society, or solecisms to be avoided. London: Frederick Warne, 1916.
Routledge's Manual of Etiquette.
Every Woman's Encyclopaedia. Vol. VI