The Shape of the Credit Card

schui's picture

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?

BrettR's picture

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.

riccard0's picture

About the measurements: what you said.
About the shape: what Brett said.

oldnick's picture

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.

schui's picture

Great! Thank you all for the helpful answers. Everyone added a little piece to my puzzle.

JamesM's picture

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.

oldnick's picture

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's picture

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

schui's picture

There's an interesting article about calling cards at http://www.paperpenalia.com/cards.html

Very interesting article indeed!

quadibloc's picture

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.

Carey Davidson's picture

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oobimichael's picture

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.

quadibloc's picture

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 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.

JamesM's picture

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.

Thylacine's picture

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.

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