Hold to the Light Calling Cards — Some Late 1800s Fun
Some time back a friend of mine showed me a typical calling card from the 1800s — rectangular shape, usually around 1.5 x 3 inches in size. Most people had calling cards in the second half of the nineteenth century and there were many clever designs with applied scraps that would hide the name, scraps with famous people. These are readily available and fun to collect.
Back to the friend. She asked me to hold it up to the light and when I did I could see an image tucked inside the card! I had seen hold to the light postcards, advertising cards and cigarette cards but I hadn’t dawned on me that calling cards also came this way.
So I started digging for them. Sometimes I would find a salesman’s sample card that would simply tell me what it was:
Other times, dealers would know what they had and price it accordingly. The best way I found them was literally holding them to the light. I would scan hundreds of cards in shops and shows looking for the tell tale signs that it was hold to the light. Over a few years I was able to acquire a decent collection. Unfortunately, I haven’t run into any in some time so I thought that maybe by writing about them it would cause some to be attracted to me.
Some cards were more of a “gag” than anything else and would have no printing, ostensibly the owner would tell the person to “hold it to the light” and see their reaction.
This is a nice Bufford lithograph inside the card! I haven’t seen this exact Bufford design in any of the sets I have. There are some others I have seen though.
I have this card in a 2 5/8 x 4 1/4 size and also a 2 5/8 square version. Still unknown how many were in the comic card set variations or if Bufford was consistent on the images he picked for the hold to the light calling cards.
There is one card with a date on it, which is nice.
The Pictorial Advertising Company made comic cards during this same period but they have such similarity to Bufford I often wonder if Bufford gave them the plates and they added their signature. I’m really thankful for the date, as it is the only one I’ve seen.
Here are a few others for your viewing pleasure:
In conclusion, hold to the light calling cards are very fun to collect and many can be attributed based on lithographer marking, advertising on the salesman’s sample, recognition from other sets. Happy Collecting!