Fair One: ‘Tis balmy eve, and gentle zephyrs blow
With mildness seldom seen of late.
If you’ll permit me, I would like to go
And see you safely to the garden gate.
Illustration: Yum Yum. Scene at the gate.
This is an example of a Victorian-era acquaintance card, which was also referred to in the nineteenth century as a flirtation, escort, or invitation card.
The Encyclopedia of Ephemera (New York: Routledge, 2000), p 4, provides this definition: "A novelty variant of the American calling card of the 1870s and 1880s, the acquaintance card was used by the less formal male in approaches to the less formal female. Given also as an ‘escort card’ or ‘invitation card,’ the device commonly carried a brief message and a simple illustration…. Flirtatious and fun, the acquaintance card brought levity to what otherwise might have seemed a more formal proposal. A common means of introduction, it was never taken too seriously."
Here’s CNN’s take on acquaintance or escort cards: "So, may I see you home? In the late 19th century, Americans exchanged cheeky personalized cards to start a romance. Call them the ink-and-paper Tinder. Escort cards helped people find intimacy while breaking the strict conventions of social interaction."
That’s the description of a video that appeared on CNN’s Great Big Story today (February 12, 2016). The short piece (1:25) uses reproductions of my collection of acquaintance cards (see my complete set on Flickr or the ones I’ve posted on Ipernity so far) to present The 19th Century Tinder: Welcome to the Racy World of Escort Cards over on YouTube (don’t miss my acknowledgement at the end of the video).
For those who may not be familiar with the sometimes naughty Tinder, Wikipedia calls it a "location-based dating and social discovery application (using Facebook) that facilitates communication between mutually interested users, allowing matched users to chat."
So, were acquaintance or escort cards–like the one above–the nineteenth-century equivalent of Tinder, as the video suggests? I don’t really think that formally dressed Victorian men and women secretly gave each other cards in order to hook up like we see in the video. Although some of the cards may sound like cheesy pickup lines to modern ears, I think it’s more likely that school kids and young adults used them to break the ice, get a laugh, or start a conversation rather than to arrange a tryst.
In reality, acquaintance cards provided a lighthearted and humorous way to parody the more formal exchange of calling cards that took place in Victorian times. Acquaintance cards were sold by the same companies that supplied calling cards, rewards of merit, and advertising trade cards, and they show up alongside these other printed items in the scrapbooks that were popular with women and children in the nineteenth century.
Back to the Yum Yum A La Mode card. Here’s how it was advertised in the Argus and Patriot newspaper, Montpelier, Vermont, on September 18, 1878, p. 4. The following text appeared along with the "Yum Yum" illustration:
Boss. Red Hot.
If you want to smile all over your face for six months, just send for the Red Hot Flirtation Cards, 50 for 25 cts. Samples sent for 2 3-ct. stamps. Remember these cards are Red Hot Regular Tearers!! They cannot be beat. We stump everything of the kind. You will laugh till you cry if you send for them. P.O. stamps are better than silver to send in a letter, and are all the same to us. Write your orders plain. Address Marshall & Co., 35 Sudbury St., Boston, Mass.
So what do you think? Was this a "Red Hot Flirtation Card" that Victorians used as a paper-based Tinder?
For some other articles that have featured my acquaintance cards, take a look at these:
Linton Weeks. When "Flirtation Cards" Were All The Rage. NPR, July 31, 2015.
Becky Little. Saucy "Escort Cards" Were a Way to Flirt in the Victorian Era. National Geographic, January 4, 2016.
Brett and Kate McKay. May I See You Home? 19th Century Calling Cards Guaranteed to Score You a Date. The Art of Manliness, February 13, 2014.
Messy Nessy. The 19th Century Escort Cards with Pick-Up Lines You Definitely Haven’t Heard Before. Messy Nessy Chic, April 21, 2015.
Esther Inglis-Arkell. Young People Used These Absurd Little Cards to Get Laid in the 19th Century. Gizmodo, January 6, 2016.
Posted by Alan Mays on 2016-02-12 15:50:04
Tagged: , ephemera , acquaintance cards , escort cards , calling cards , visiting cards , flirtation cards , invitation cards , cards , paper , printed , men , women , clothes , clothing , bonnets , hats , escorts , gates , garden gates , scenes , balmy , zephyrs , flirting , flirtation , kisses , kissing , Yum Yum , yum , yum yums , A La Mode , red hot , hot , poetry , poems , rhymes , comic , humor , humorous , funny , amusing , parodies , illustrations , borders , 1878 , 1870s , Victorian , 19th century , nineteenth century , antique , old , vintage , typefaces , type , typography , fonts