Calling Cards

"Cartomania" and Sitting for a Carte-de-Visite Portrait

2008_038_59DS1Woman and Man Wearing Fraternal Regalia, 1860-1863. Henry R. Cornell (1836-1906). Ligonier, Indiana. Gift in Memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.038.59.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds over two hundred cartes-de-visite, or small souvenir photographs mounted on stiff card backings, in its collections. Though diminutive in size (approximately 2-1/2 by 4 inches), these cards were immense in popularity in the US and Europe during the mid-1800s, as they offered a much more affordable and convenient way to have one’s likeness reproduced than had been previously available. Patented in 1854 by French photographer André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819-1889), cartes-de-visite soon came to dominate the photography market, with “cartomania” reaching its apex around 1862. More like baseball cards than calling or visiting cards, cartes-de-visite were traded among friends and acquaintances, who collected them and put them into specially made albums. Stationery shops sold cards depicting celebrities and well-known figures, as well.

Independent Order of Odd Fellows Member, 1860-1869. Gift in Memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.038.36.

The experience of having one's photograph taken for a carte-de-visite was detailed with humor and wit by none other than Charles Dickens (1812-1870) in an 1862 issue of the weekly literary magazine he founded, All the Year Round. For all the delights of these cards, Dickens noted, sitting for one was "not a pleasant performance to go through." After entering the "dismal house" where the typical studio was located, the subject was shown into a cramped, darkened space strewn with well-worn props; "dazzled and oppressed by the glare of light above his head" the sitter in his "environment of pillar and curtain" had to hold his pose for the "utterly exhausting" thirty seconds it took to capture the likeness. "Terrific are the temptations of those thirty seconds," Dickens observed, when the sitter had to keep perfectly still and hold a steady gaze on some doorknob or keyhole. His account goes a long way in explaining the serious or stiff expressions on many subjects' faces.

Cartes-de-visite were more than just a cultural craze, however. These small portraits offered a new medium for documenting and preserving one’s identity and allegiances. They were very popular with soldiers during the Civil War. As shown in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection (a sampling of which can be seen here), Freemasons and members of other fraternal organizations used them to convey information about their affiliations and achievements.

Royal Arch Mason Wearing Sash and Apron, 1860-1863. Culber Brothers, Hodges. White River Junction, Vermont. Gift in Memory of Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 2008.038.52.

Eventually, the carte-de-visite was eclipsed in the realm of popular portraiture by the cabinet card, which was larger and therefore more eye-catching to display. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will feature examples of cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards, and many other types of portraits in its upcoming exhibition, "What's in a Portrait?" To keep in touch while the Museum & Library is closed due to the stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts, please join us on Facebook and check out our online exhibitions and online collections. And, as always, we welcome your comments below.



Harding, Colin. "How to Spot a Carte de Visite (Late 1850s-c.1910)." Science + Media Museum blog, 27 June 2013. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at

Dickens, Charles. "The Carte de Visite." All the Year Round. Vol. VII, April 26, 1862. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at

"Cabinet Card." City Gallery, copyright 1995-2005. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at

Volpe, Andrea L. "The Cartes de Visite Craze." The New York Times. August 6, 2013. Accessed on April 8, 2020 at

Unusually Shaped Masonic Emblem Cards

Among the Masonic emblem cards currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, those of H.G. Belcke (1841-1892) and H.P. Monroe (1850-1937) stand out because of their unusual shapes.

Belcke, H GHenry G. Belcke's cross-shaped card was created specifically for the 1880 Triennial Conclave, held in Chicago. Belcke was a member of Peoria Commandery No. 3 and the words "Chicago Pilgrimage" on his card refer to the trip that his Commandery made from their hometown of Peoria to the Conclave's location in Chicago. The use of the word "pilgrimage" is intentional and alludes to Christian religious pilgrimages, although Commanderies traveling to Triennial Conclaves were not taking a religious trip, but rather a fraternal and social one. The shape of Belcke's card also clearly underscores the Christian character of Masonic Knights Templar. While mainstream American Freemasonry requires members only to profess that they believe in a Supreme Being, with no further definition or religious affiliation, Knights Templar candidates must "profess a belief in the Christian Religion.

Monroe, G PHazzard Purdy Monroe was a pharmacist as well as a member of Dunkirk Commandery No. 40, from Dunkirk, NY. His triangular-shaped card features a skull and crossbones at the top. The card echoes the familiar Masonic Knights Templar apron which, although no longer worn, would have been emblematic of Knights Templar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The skull and crossbones symbol, found in Knights Templarism and in many other contexts is often known by the Latin phrase "memento mori," or "remember death." In its traditional use, the skull and cross bones is a reminder of mortality and that life on earth is finite.

"Masonic Emblem Cards: Victorian Tradition in a Fraternal World" is currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Masonic Emblem Cards: Victorian Tradition in a Fraternal World

Bulman, Austin"Masonic Emblem Cards: Victorian Tradition in a Fraternal World" is currently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. Drawing from hundreds of such cards in the Library & Archives collection, the three cases in the reading room feature examples of these small but interesting objects.

The custom and etiquette surrounding the use of calling cards in the United States was well established by the mid-1800s. Often simply printed with the owner’s name, these cards formed part of an elaborate ritual of visiting friends’ and acquaintances’ homes. The timing of visits, who might leave a card for whom, and even folded card corners allowed people to send and receive socially coded messages.

Calvent, Charles BAlthough similar in form, the Masonic calling cards currently on view functioned somewhat differently. Masons and printers referred to cards as emblem and exchange cards; names that reflected both the cards’ decoration and their use. Most of the cards on view here were explicitly made for and used at Triennial Conclaves, conventions of thousands of Masonic Knights Templar took place every three years. These gatherings often involved cross-country railroad journeys--called pilgrimages--of large groups of Masons and their families.

Although mostly created for York Rite events, the cards often list all of a man’s Masonic affiliations, including Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, and Shrine. Women and children participated in social events surrounding the Conclave and sometimes had their own cards. On view in the reading room are examples of not only Mason’s cards, but those of wives, sons, and daughters.

Hoppock, JosephUnlike traditional calling cards, which were usually left by a visitor to a home, these emblem cards were likely exchanged in person between Masons. Recipients valued them as souvenirs. The cards on view are a window on to past social practices and a reminder that the urge to connect and collect is not new. Today many Masons carry “Masonic business cards” which detail Masonic affiliations. They exchange them with other Masons, at meetings and social events, continuing the tradition established over a century ago.

Have a Masonic business card? Visiting the Museum? Want to donate it to the Library & Archives? Drop one off in the container on the reference desk.


Austin Bulman Card, 1880-1900. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Collection of Knights Templar Calling Cards, MA009, Museum Purchase.

Charles B. Calvert Card, 1880-1900. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Masonic Calling Cards, MA056, Museum Purchase.

Joseph Hoppock Card, 1888-1905. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Masonic Calling Cards, MA056, Museum Purchase.

Masonic Calling Cards: A Tradition in Victorian Etiquette

A2010_30_Roadhouse_DSCalling cards evolved in England and were an essential part of introductions, invitations, and visits. During the 1800s, Americans followed this Victorian tradition of using calling cards. They used them in calling upon their friends and relatives. This was proper etiquette for men and women of middle and upper classes and a method for screening those who were socially undesirable.

Every gentleman and woman kept a ready supply of calling cards with them to distribute upon visits. Men and women's calling cards were generally simple in design. They gave the caller's name and often included the name of his gentleman's club, or fraternal organization. Masonic calling cards are a wonderful example of this and, like the ones seen here, demonstrate how some fraternal calling cards used more elaborate designs by incorporating emblems and symbols of Masonic organizations that the bearer was affiliated with.

Mr. and Mrs. Levi Roadhouse, of Monmouth, Illinois, carried cards (above) to a Knights Templar event. Levi Roadhouse was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows as well as various Masonic organizations. These affiliations are all printed on his calling card.  Mrs. Roadhouse's card also bears the Knights Templar emblems so that everyone would know that she was associated with this fraternal group.

A2010_30_T_O_Wolfe_and wife_DSMr. and Mrs. Truman Osborn Wolfe (m.1880) carried cards from Milledgeville, Illinois all the way to Boston, Massachusetts for the 1895 Knights Templar Triennial Conclave (see images at right).  They would have exchanged the cards at various Knights Templar events and while calling on acquaintances at their homes. Mrs. Wolfe was a member of Order of the Eastern Star as well as "accompanying Sterling Commandery, No. 57" to Boston in 1895. Her card bears the Eastern Star symbol of the five pointed star in gold. The five points symbolize characters from the Bible. Mr. Wolfe's card bears the emblems of his Commandery, Consistory, and Temple so that new acquaintances would know that he belonged to York Rite and Scottish Rite Freemasonry as well as the Shrine.         


At some Masonic events, entire families carried calling cards. This was the case with at least one family who traveled to the 1895 Knights Templar Triennial Conclave. The Holmes family travelled from Galesburg, Illinois to Boston. The father, Hugh W. Holmes (1859-1936) was an officer of the Galesburg Commandery, No. 8, holding the position of Senior Warden. His wife, Jennie Ann (1864-1965), carried a card letting people know she was "accompanying the Galesburg Commandery." Two of Hugh W. Holmes' nine children accompanied him, Bertha Mae Holmes (b. 1883) and Urcel Lulu Holmes (b. 1892). Both daughters had their own calling cards indicating they were "with the Galesburg Commandery" (below left).

In a certain way, the calling card served to brand one's social identity. In the late 1800s, affiliation with a Masonic lodge, or a Knights Templar Commandery was socially important. And for wives and other family members, a Masonic association was definitely a desirable one.

Images from:

Collection of Masonic Calling Cards, 1895-1900.  Museum purchase, A2010/30/1-463 (MA 056).