The State Memorial and Natural Preserve "Museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy "Yasnaya Polyana"
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Государственный мемориальный и природный заповедник «Музей-усадьба Л.Н. Толстого «Ясная Поляна»

Among the documents kept in the memorial Tolstoy House the collection of visiting cards is not so large – a little over 450 items. But it is diverse and includes cards that belonged to both the members of the Tolstoy family and to their numerous visitors, from famous people to quite unknown ones, sometimes with rather exotic professions.

The first part of this catalogue contains only 18 items. These are visiting cards of Leo Tolstoy, his wife Sophia, and their children – one of their younger sons Andrei and their youngest daughter Alexandra.

There is also a child’s visiting card of one of Leo Tolstoy’s granddaughters, Nina Tolstaya, with a moving inscription on the reverse side addressed, most likely, to her grandmother Sophia.

It’s important to know that in the middle of the 19th century the art of using visiting cards achieved its apogee. There was a whole code of etiquette rules with precise regulations explaining where, how and when a visiting card should be used. Having received a piece of cardboard with the name of its owner and with a corner bent down in a certain way (it could be a top or bottom corner and it could be folded to the front or to the back, on the right or the left side of the card), the resident of the house clearly understood the aim of the visit. In addition, etiquette rules determined the size, colour, and font to be used on the card. It was considered mauvais ton to use coloured paper, golden edges, extravagant texts, lettering and other kinds of decoration. The paper had to be white and matte, and the text as simple as possible. The so-called “hand-written” style was welcome, and most often such texts were engraved. At the turn of the century printer’s types were mostly used. 

In case of the loss of a close relative, there were special mourning visiting cards; one such card with the name of Sophia Tolstaya is included in this catalogue. The box where the set of those cards was kept has also been preserved, so it is possible to tell where they were printed.

Among the items in the catalogue there is also an envelope for a visiting card, addressed to Sophia Tolstaya. Sometimes cards in envelopes were given by visitors themselves, and sometimes they were sent by mail.

A few words about the cards themselves.

They are all done in accordance with the etiquette rules.

One of the cards, however, which belonged to Leo Tolstoy, was printed on a thinnest layer of the bark of a cork tree instead of paper. It is also interesting due to the fact that Tula is mentioned there instead of Yasnaya Polyana.

On some of Tolstoy’s cards his title was mentioned, but in the later years of his life it was not necessary, as his name was known to everybody.

Sophia Tolstaya’s visiting cards included in the catalogue show her as a busy publisher, as a visitor to various public institutions often leaving notes and reminders on her cards, or as a loving mother of her growing daughters who, according to the etiquette rules, could be brought out or taken to the theater or anywhere else only accompanied by their mother or an older female relative.  

Leo Tolstoy’s visiting card

Mid 19th century. Russia (?)

Cork tree bark, typographical printing. 5.8х9.5 cm

Included in the museum collection in 1921, before that belonged to the Tolstoy family.

ДК М-60

Rectangular; a thinnest layer of the cork tree bark, therefore its surface has tiny holes all over; light brown, with various shades of the main colour when viewed against the light. In the middle “Leon Tolstoi” is printed with black stylized hand-written typeface, and in the bottom left-hand corner - “Toula” with small typeface.  

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