You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
Business cards are a cornerstone of doing business, a timeless token of courtesy and credentials. It’s the first, and sometimes only chance to impress that prospective client, stakeholder or partner.
Here at in our (currently) sunny section of Surrey, we love nothing more than a beautifully designed business card printed on a sophisticated paper stock. We wanted to research the origin of the modern business cards, where it came from and why it was invented. So we’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole just to see where they come from… turns out it’s a fascinating journey that goes back some 500 years!
The power of a good business card
In our research, we came across a fascinating story that demonstrates the impact of a business card. The story takes us back to January 26, 1948, where a man walked into a bank in the Tokyo suburb of Toshima.
The man announced himself to the bank staff as an epidemiologist who had been sent to the bank by the local authorities. Offering them a business card with the name “Jiro Yamaguchi” and his credentials, bank staff accepted his accreditation and heeded his warning.
He informed the 16 people inside that there had been an outbreak of dysentery and it was his appointed duty to dispense the innoculations to the locals. He then continued to administrate a single pill and a few drops of liquid to all of the crowd. This turned out to be fast acting poison leaving 12 of 16 dead and the man free to rob the bank.
The man was found to be called Sadamachi Hirasawa, he had duped the staff with a fake business card. We found this cautious tale very intriguing and a great example of just how powerful (and lethal!) a business card can be.
So how did the modern day business card come to be?
People in Japan during the 1500’s would exchange a visiting card called a ‘Meishi’. It would usually be printed on paper and would include the sender’s name and title. These would have beautiful typographic and highly decorated so the owner could emphasise their social and economic status.
The Meishi would be graciously handed over to the guards of an establishment who would in pass this along to the owner. The owner of the establishment would then decide, based on the quality of the card, if the individual was worthy of a meeting.
During the reign of King Louis XIV “Trade Card” was introduced to Europe. It often featured a map to the business to help direct potential customers to the business. It also was used as an advertising tool like a flyer. Because of the trade cards marketing abilities, the sophistication of these quickly rose.
Many business owners sought artists to refine their cards and bolster their branding. This would create a demand for many creative services such as engraving, etching, and print-making.
When Lithographic printing was born business owners were elated at the possibility of 4 colour printing. This provided owners and designers to come up with beautiful refined ideas which would wow their customers.
And WOWED they were! This jump in quality led to trading cards being collected as a very popular hobby. The inception of this pastime shifted the name trade cards to trading cards as that later evolved into collectables.
The creation of letterpress printing expanded the medium by enabling printing on new substrates such as wood, metal, rubber and plastic. The business cards themselves would be much more precise, containing the owner’s name, title, company and contact information.
The application of the die-cutting method also increased the creativity in business cards which gave the opportunity for interesting customised shapes to be designed and put into reality.
Today, we can print on a multitude of paper stocks with many finishes offering a massive amount of freedom in the design and creativity of the modern business card. Cards have been edible, 3D printed, a cheese grater, a puzzle and a whole lot more thanks to our modern tech.
We have been designing and producing business cards for over 20 years and we’d love to help you with yours.