Following the successful cardphone trial and launch of British Telecom Phonecards in 1981, it wasn't until 1986 that BT decided to open up the front of the card to advertising. Until to that point, all previous cards had been issued with synonymous bright green card design often referred to as 'greenie' or 'greenies'.
The decision was to change quite literally, the faceof the cards and also acted as a catalyst for many people to start collecting telephone cards.
The very first Phonecard to feature advertising was a card carrying an advert for Graham's Whisky (pictured right) and carried the words "Make that call with the Compliments of Graham's Black Bottle Scotch Whisky" - some 15,000 cards were produced.
Pictured right: A complimentary £1.00 British Telecom Phonecard from Trebor with voucher for 10p off your next purchase of Trebor mint multi-pack. Click the image for a larger view.
In the subsequent years that followed many other major household names (at the time) also had Phonecards commissioned these included Persil, Palmolive, Glaxo, Castrol GTX, Horlicks and American Express to name but a few.
To increase awareness for BT Phonecards among the public, British Telecom commissioned a series of TV adverts were produced. The first of which starred David Jason in 1985 as security van driver, the second is from 1986 and a third from 1992 promoting the Cornflakes telephone card, which was available through collecting tokens.
The following year in 1987 saw the start of commemorative issue Phonecards appearing. These cards were launched to commemorate a number of different seasonal, sporting and social gathering events as well as appeals and raising awareness for a number of institutions and charities. The very first commemorative issues were a set of three cards for the Golf at Muirfield which included a 10, 20 and 100 unit cards of the same design.
Later in 1987 at the PTB Seminar in Bournemouth Landis and Gyr manufacturers of British Telecom phone cards were showcasing a new process of four colour offset litho printing to create pictorial cards.
From this point forward BT were able to use photos on the front of their cards. The first Phonecard issued with this new printing method was the BTC004 Christmas 1987 phonecard - some 100,000 cards were produced. The card and start of collecting even made an appearance on the BBC One TV programme Tomorrows World. Click here to watch the short video clip.
Pictured right - the first public issued BT Phonecard (BTC004) to feature a colour photo. The card depicts a photo of Regents Street in London, England at Christmas - click the image for a larger view
Until 1990/91, it had been mainly International and national companies that could afford to use the medium of Phonecards to advertise/promote their business, product and/or brand. This though was about to change, when BT decided to reduce the minimum number of Phonecards that had to be ordered together with the minimum number of units on a card.
Up to that point, order quantities of Phonecards had to be in excess of 25,000 Phonecards, with a minimum denomination of 20 units (£2).
From 1990/91 BT would overprint as few as 500 Phonecards and on any of the card denominations, which were 5 units (50p*), 10 units (£1*), 20 units (£2), 40 units (£4), 100 units (£10) and 200 units (£20).
*The 5 and 10 unit cards were intended for use exclusively as 'giveaway' promotional items"
This decision by BT, like the one in 1986 gave rise to a marked increase in the numbers of cards that were being commissioned and produced. This of course had a direct impact on the number of collectors or fusilatelists as they are known who took up the hobby of telephone card collecting, fueling demand and also fueling prices!
All manner of private phone cards were commissioned including cards to promote the more obvious like businesses, but also the less obvious like schools, charities, singers/bands, nightclubs, TV and film franchises e.g. Star Wars, X-Files, Doctor Who, Thunderbirds, sporting personalities from track, golf, F1 and football and as you'd more likely expect phonecard collector fairs, clubs and dealers also had a number of cards specially made.
A number of years later in 1995 BT then decided to increase the minimum order quantity from 500 cards to 1000 cards.
BT medical phone cards were commissioned by drug and pharmaceutical companies and given away to doctors, GPs, dentists, hospitals, health centres, chemists, etc.
Although effectively advertising Phonecards, these telephone cards were given their own section within the UK 1 telephone catalogue as UK legislation prohibited the advertising of any 'prescription only' drug or pharmaceutical product directly to prospective patients.
This advertising ban made BTM (medical advertising) Phonecards at the time they were produced - late eighties through to early the noughties - hard or harder to source than many other collectible Phonecards.
However, where there's a will there's a way, many collectors simply spoke to their family GP or local chemists, etc. For me, a friend of a friend at school mum worked within the medical sector and I managed to obtain a number of Lodine (BTM014) phonecards, which I then took along to Phonecard fairs to swap out for other medical cards including the first ever medical card produced in 1988 for Glaxo Laboratories (BTM001) pictured left.
BTM phonecards face values vary from 5units (50p) up to 20units (£2). Many BTM Phonecards, on the request of the commissioning drugs company (and an extra charge) were supplied wrapped by British Telecom in clear window packets.
Some pharmaceutical companies though went one step further with accompanying promotional posters or sleeves produced to display or contain the Phonecard. An example of this is a telephone card produced to advertise and promote Codafen Continus Tablets. The Codafen phonecard (as pictured right) was given away contained within a cardboard sleeve.
To view BT medical catalogued phone cards click here.
Last updated: 24th May 2016
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