Acquaintance Cards: The Polite Way to Say “Can I Follow You Home?”

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. 

One lists the bearer as a “kissing rogue,” with a sideline business in hugging; another purports that a man is a “ragtime millionaire.” “Love made on short notice,” one declares. 

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.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Pop Culture
Mr. Rogers’s Sweater and Shoes Are on Display at the Heinz History Center
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

To celebrate what would have been Fred Rogers’s 90th birthday on March 20, the Heinz History Center of Pittsburgh has added two new, iconic pieces to its already extensive Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood display: his trademark sweater and shoes.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rogers's green cardigan and blue Sperry shoes are now part of the fourth-floor display at the History Center, where they join other items from the show like McFeely’s “Speedy Delivery” tricycle, the Great Oak Tree, and King Friday XIII’s castle.

The sweater and shoe combo has been in the museum’s storage area, but with Rogers’s 90th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on deck for 2018, this was the perfect time to let the public enjoy the show's legendary props.

Fred Rogers was a mainstay in the Pittsburgh/Latrobe, Pennsylvania area, and there are numerous buildings and programs named after him, including the Fred Rogers Center and exhibits at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

If you’re in the area and want to take a look at Heinz History’s tribute to Mr. Rogers, the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

[h/t Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]


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