Getting a date in Victorian times was a little more complicated than setting up a profile and swiping right. Etiquette dictated when and how people should be introduced, when they could be visited, and what was appropriate behavior for an unmarried couple. For the more brazen young man, there were acquaintance cards—the 19th century equivalent of “hey, girl, can I have your number?” You know, for the time before phones.
These overtly flirtatious calling cards used in America in the 1870s and 1880s “were handed out by young men who waited outside after church or dances, hoping to escort a certain person home,” according to a 1992 book by the women’s lifestyle magazine Victoria.
“Flirtatious and fun, the acquaintance card brought levity to what otherwise might have seemed a more formal proposal,” designer Maurice Rickards writes in his book The Encyclopedia of Ephemera. “A common means of introduction, it was never taken too seriously.” One Boston company sold the cheap novelty cards at 1000 cards for $1.35; another, in Ohio, sold 20 personalized cards for 10 cents.
In the modern era, some of these quips would be a serious reason to call the police. For ye olden days, they were pretty raunchy, as a set of acquaintance cards put online by collector Alan Mays shows.
Some samples of the prim Victorian version of street harassment:
While some were polite, others indicated that refusal wasn't going to be taken well by the suitor. “May I have the pleasure of escorting you home this evening? If so, keep this card. If not, please may I sit on the fence and see you go by?” one reads. Another variation: “May I see you home? Or will I have to set on the fence and watch you meander by?”
Cheeky titles and boldly sexual overtures reigned.
Some flirtation cards were straight-up poetic. “Fair Lady: may I become the proud bird who shall accompany you to your leafy bower,” one asks (see top image), “or must I suffer the misery of seeing you borne away in triumph by that individual whose chromotintype appears at the right.” On the right of the card is an illustration of a donkey. Another reads: “Your coral lips were made to kiss, I stoutly will maintain; and dare you say my lovely miss, that aught was made in vain?”
Many prove cheesiness is timeless when it comes to pick-up lines: “Come see our new lamp. You can turn it down so low that there is scarcely any light at all,” a particularly creepy one reads. “P.S. Our sofa just holds two.” Mmm, yes, tempting offer there.
Often they included an option to refuse, sort of like a middle school love note. “May I.C.U. Home?” one inquires, with an option for “Yes!” and “No!” on either side of the small card. (Presumably you didn't actually have to check one off and hand it back to the dude, but nice that the option to say no existed.)
And of course, nothing declares your affections for a lady like subtle hints of misogyny and bitterness. “Should we ever be married, promise me / You will never leave your mark on me,” reads a card displaying a man with a bruised and bandaged head. Another is filled with verse decrying a lady who, after a gentleman “bought her candy, nuts, and clothes, / took her to all the circus shows,” still ran away with another man. The nerve!
Thank god we can just sext now. Peruse the full collection over on Flickr.
[h/t: Boing Boing]
All images via Flickr courtesy Alan Mays.