Back in the 1800s, both men and women of middle and upper classes used calling cards. These cards had their names printed on them and were the size of today's business cards.
You would present the card to the servant who answered the door as a way of introducing yourself. When you called on someone, you visited them in their homes, spending a large part of the day with them. If you called and that person wasn't home, then you'd leave your calling card to show that you'd come by to see them. Sometimes a very short note was jotted on the card in the corner or on the back. Sometimes the calling card would list the days and times when you were available for a social visit.
A calling card tray was in the entrance and a servant would leave your card there. It was considered polite for the absent person to return the social call within one week. You would have had a case to hold your cards to keep them nice-looking, and it would have been made out of sterling silver or ivory or something similar.
Change "calling card" to "business card" and it sounds somewhat like what we do today. When a businessman visits a company or meets someone, he hands out one of his business cards. The card will list the businessman's name and contact information, and maybe even a tiny bit about the company. While "calling" today can mean a personal visit, it often means a phone call or email or visiting a website.
Do writers need business cards? Find out in tomorrow's post.