The Shape of the Credit Card

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Georg schui Baumann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2007 - 4:07pm
The Shape of the Credit Card
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Here's a question that is bugging me and I can't find a satisfying answer.

Who designed the shape of the credit card? And why is it exactly this shape that became almost the omnipresent, universal type of card?

I know, that it's shape is standardized by the norm ISO/IEC 7810. I also know, that the shape is pretty similar to the size of business cards in certain countries. So maybe, the shape was adopted by the already common medium. But that would lead to the question, why the business card is shaped the way it is. But maybe I'm going the wrong direction here.

I thought this forum might be a good place to search for answers. Any ideas?

Brett Regehr's picture
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Joined: 16 Apr 2011 - 2:10am
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As to the original dimensions of the card, I can't tell you that.
However, if you look at the length and height of it, (84mm x 54mm) you will notice that the proportion of length to width is 1.59, which is incredibly close to the Golden Ratio (1.61803399).

And the corners of credit and bank cards are rounded so they are less likely to bend or get stuck in an ATM.

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am
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About the measurements: what you said.
About the shape: what Brett said.

Nick Curtis's picture
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Joined: 21 Apr 2005 - 8:16am
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The shape of business cards in the U.S. was dictated, in part, by the typical dimensions of card stock offered by American paper suppliers, 22"×28". You can get 88 2"×3½" cards out of a standard sheet, if there are no bleeds--which, typically, there weren't when cards were printed on a letterpress.

Georg schui Baumann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2007 - 4:07pm
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Great! Thank you all for the helpful answers. Everyone added a little piece to my puzzle.

James Michaels's picture
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Joined: 6 Mar 2010 - 12:54am
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My guess is that the standard credit card size was based on size of business cards, which derived from the size of Victorian calling cards. There's an interesting article about calling cards at http://www.paperpenalia.com/cards.html

"By Victorian days, a tightly structured hierarchy of card size...was used...The largest cards, measuring 3 3/8" x 2 1/2", were reserved for married couples. A man could choose a card of either 3 3/8" x 1.5" or 3.5" x 2" dimensions. Sizes then ranged down to that for a married woman, a single woman, an unarried daughter still living at home, and a child, who had the smallest card at 2.25" x 1 3/8"..."

> The shape of business cards in the U.S. was dictated,
> in part, by the typical dimensions of card stock...

Interesting, but if there is a connection between card size and paper size, I wonder if the connection might be the reverse — that stock was made to that size because it worked well when printing the most popular card size.

Nick Curtis's picture
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Joined: 21 Apr 2005 - 8:16am
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I wonder if the connection might be the reverse — that stock was made to that size because it worked well when printing the most popular card size.

Ah...the old chicken-and-egg conundrum...

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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James, actually I think babies need the largest cards. "Here sir is my business card, the better for you to clean up my vomit. In fact, you'll need two."

hhp

Georg schui Baumann's picture
Joined: 9 Dec 2007 - 4:07pm
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There's an interesting article about calling cards at http://www.paperpenalia.com/cards.html

Very interesting article indeed!

John Savard's picture
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Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
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As to the chicken-and-egg question of card sizes, since today's 3 1/2" by 2" size was one of the Victorian alternatives, the first place I would look for an explanation would be at the standard sizes of paper stock.

Thus, the standard 8 1/2" by 11" page size derives from (American) Demy Quarto/4to.

But someone already noted that it derives from an American size of paper stock instead of a British one, so I'm puzzled.

As to the credit card, the ISO/IEC standard gives it as 85.6 by 53.98 millimetres, which is close to 3.37 by 2 1/8 inches.

Cassidy Brown's picture
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Joined: 1 Sep 2014 - 12:56am
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I agree with BrettR that the proportion of length to width is 1.59, which is incredibly close to the Golden Ratio (1.61803399). Let me share something about credit card payment protection. Any person who has or is going to open a credit card account sometime in the future may get provided payment protection. On the face, it seems like advisable, but actually, it's a shell game that's dangerous for one's wallet. Learn more at: https://personalmoneynetwork.com/.

Michael Byrnes's picture
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Joined: 28 Nov 2012 - 11:13am
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It is, indeed the business card format... back in the 1950's, when Bank of America in San Francisco, began to notice that merchants were essentially acting as banks when the merchants managed substantial "lay away" payment programs, and in an effort to compete against this, BoA initially gave "chits", literally typed with hand written signature pieces of paper, to their more trusted clients so they could go to to specific merchants for "credit purchases"... then it was just a matter of experimentation to formalize and standardize these "chits" into familiar and convenient "cards" that would be easy for anyone to carry around.

John Savard's picture
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Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
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I see there was a misprint in my source for the size of the credit card. It should have been 85.60 by 53.98 mm, which is 3 3/8" by 2 1/8".

The Charg-a-Plate was 2 1/2" by 1 1/4", the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_card|same Wikipedia article]] notes.

A business card, in the U.S. at least, is slightly smaller, at 3 1/2" by 2".

There is no traditional paper size that is either 8" by 14" or 14" by 16". There's 8" by 10" and 8 1/2" by 14". And there's Large Post at 16 1/2" by 21" if one wants to go duodecimo... or, rather, 48mo.

However, the credit card's size is neatly related to Foolscap, at 17" by 13 1/2"; 17" is 2 1/8" times eight, and 13 1/2" is 3 3/8" times four.

James Michaels's picture
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Joined: 6 Mar 2010 - 12:54am
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And the size is unlikely to change since millions of wallets and purses have slots sized to fit standard credit cards.

Maybe someday it'll all be replaced with an electronic version (via your cell phone maybe?), although I'm not sure what the big advantage of that would be as you wouldn't have access to your cards if your battery died.

Cory Maylett's picture
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Joined: 18 Jan 2007 - 1:11am
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And the size is unlikely to change since millions of wallets and purses have slots sized to fit standard credit cards.

That's true, and I suspect the reason that came to be is that the credit card companies needed to make their cards fit into the already existing slots and holders in wallets and purses that were already filled by business cards, driver licenses, ID cards, Social Security Cards, wallet photos, etc. How that size came to be the standard in, at least, North America, I don't have a clue.