Several times a day I come face to face with online ads for cheap business cards – 250 for $10. Not sure why they’re targeting me, I’ve already got hundreds of the things. Maybe a thousand. Not to mention other people’s business cards.

How useful are business cards these days? Depends who you talk to. One friend finds them essential at meetings, conferences, trade shows. He gives them out by the half-dozen or so and several jobs have ensued. And you get what you give when it comes to business cards – you hand one out, you get one back.

Another friend finds them invaluable at meetings. She arranges them on the table in order of who’s sitting where and it helps her remember the names of the people present.

I’ve amassed a big collection of the things. They’re in one of those little alphabetical filing boxes which is now completely filled up, and the overflow is in stacks in a desk drawer. I never take them out, never look at them, never use them. There are the cards that are annoyingly different in shape to the rest – someone’s attempt to stand out from the crowd. There are those made from cold thin metal or plastic, others with embossed letters or different textures. Remember the fad for CD style cards a while back? And cards with several pages, which open out like a tiny folder. I’ve even got a business card made from biodegradable paper dotted with seeds, so you can plant it!

For some people like graphic designers, a business card is literally a display of their work. Right there in all its miniature glory.

The etiquette of business cards is fascinating. In Japan, China and Korea, the giving and receiving of them always involves both hands and a certain amount of deference. It’s considered the height of rudeness to receive a card from someone, put it in your wallet, slide it in your back pocket and then sit on it.

The business card has morphed from the calling card – a charming tradition of the late 19th and early 20th century. Gentlemen would keep a supply of simple calling cards and when calling on someone, would hand one to the servant opening the door. A married man had a medium sized card, while an unmarried man had a smaller card. Men’s cards were always smaller than women’s and they were carried in a special case tucked into one’s breast pocket. There were elaborate signals sent by the caller involving turning down various corners of the card, which in those days was the size of a playing card.

All this, of course, in the days preceding the telephone and certainly before you could pay someone a visit on Facebook or LinkedIn or find them via Google. If I meet someone today and we decide to stay in touch, it’s a matter of quickly adding their number to my phone, then texting them with my email address. There are several apps now that scan business cards and add the details direct to your address book. And you can share your contacts electronically.

Browsing through my substantial collection of business cards, it occurred to me that it is, in fact, a compact history of where I’ve been and who I’ve met over many years. They’re mementoes from hundreds of people, but I have no idea who they are or where or why we crossed paths. We must have met once, exchanged pleasantries and business cards and probably never met again. Pity. I’d like to remember the occasion and the face but it’s faded from view.

Time to chuck them all in the recycling bin. And finally get around to planting the one embedded with seeds.