What Did Dance Cards Actually Look Like?

As an avid reader of 19th-century novels (and L.M. Montgomery), I am well aware of the tradition of the dance card, a courtly tradition which lingers today only as a figure of speech. But because movies rarely bother filming that bit of it, I’ve often found myself kind of lost for a visual. I remember Anne wearing one on her wrist at the dance she attended with Diana in the Anne of Green Gables miniseries. But in general I hadn’t a sense of how large or ornamental these things were.

Happily, the Internet was pleased to inform me. It turns out they come in a few different forms. They could have paper, pasteboard, or even leather covers. Some were just a standard little booklet, others more multipurpose. And a lot of them were totally beautiful. Like this one:

Priest of Pallas (1890)

This is the dance card from Kansas City’s Priests of Pallas festival, circa 1890.

Mithras (1901)

This one was issued by the High Priests of Mithras, a secret society in New Orleans, for a Mardi Gras ball in 1901. The quote is from Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake.”

Mother of Pearl

This one, apparently from the French regency period, has a mother-of-pearl cover. You also got to write in your own songs as well as the dance partner.

DANCE CARD, 19th CENTURY.  American dance card, c1850-1860.

This peacock one is American, dating to somewhere between 1850 and 1860.


Here is a more minimalist model from a tennis club dance, though I suspect that pencil is new.


This leather model apparently dates to Napoleon III.


For the environmentalists among you, this one apparently doubled as a fan.

shoe1 shoe2

Here’s one in the shape of a shoe, and which further actually listed out the kinds of dances attendees could expect. I want someone to do the Esmeralda for me.

Senior Spread

Even early-20th-century church youth groups allowed their students to record their harlot activities on paper.

1800's FRENCH CARNET DE BAL DANSE NOTE BOOK mother of pearl sterling silver

The metal-cover models, like this 1800s French specimen, strike me as the most practical.


I include this second fan, dating to 1913, because I like how this woman recorded “Eats” with a small drawing of what appears to be molded Jell-O for her 16th and 17th dances. A woman after my own heart.


This embedded-clock variety was reusable, I hope. (it was likely a case a woman carried again and again but… I wonder if it wasn’t heavy.)

Which reminds me: I’ve wondered why the steampunk folk don’t seem to have revived this as a trend. Etsy yields a healthy sample of modern-ish versions, but not enough to suggest they even amount to a passing fad. C’mon, hipsters! You find every other patriarchal tradition worthy of re-appropriation. Why not this one?