British Telecom (BT) Phonecards were once the 'in thing' to collect and 'telephone card collecting' or 'fusilately' as it was known, was one of the fastest growing hobbies in the UK. With demand and prices for these credit card sized pieces of plastic rapidly increasing in value. It was estimated in the mid to late 1990s that some 100,000 people were collecting telephone cards in the United Kingdom (UK) alone.
Every phone card that was released by BT was issued in a limited number, although many of the public issues were issued in their hundreds of thousands or even in their millions. Some telephone cards however were issued in print runs as low as just 500, 200 or even as low as just 50 cards! So it's not hard to see how prices for some telephone cards were achieving seemingly ever increasing prices, with such high demand and high numbers of collectors all wanting to add them to their personal collections and albums.
Today though in 2017 the picture is very different where demand, prices and collectible Phonecard value continues to fall. So what happened?
What is a telephone card? Click here to read all about them.
The main contributing factor was BT's decision to stop issuing telephone cards all together in 2002. This was a commercial decision by British Telecom, which was due to an increasing downturn in the use of the BT pre-paid telephone card as a way to make a phone call from a public telephone box. The rise of new technology in the form of the mobile phone was becoming the preferred method of making a call when away from the home phone.
Read a light-hearted look back on the BBC website on BT Phonecards written at the time when it was announced that there would be no more.
Without Phonecards being issued, new would-be collectors couldn't be tempted and bitten by the bug and love of collecting (as was I in 1993 by the Kelloggs Cornflakes Phonecard). Of course in the 14 years that have followed since 2002, many collectors were able to complete their collections, well all but for the very rarest of cards. While others simply stopped collecting altogether or have sadly passed away.
Another contributing factor to the fall in the value of BT Phonecards was that employees of the manufacturing company Landis and Gyr (who produced many of BT's Phonecards) had amassed large personal collections. They then started selling off in large numbers mint/unused cards, which then flooded an already fragile and decreasing market, thus impacting prices even further downwards.
The article written by journalist Jill Papworth focused on five things people should arguably never have bothered collecting and yet did. She began with a collectible that she collected herself - BT Phonecards, in the article she writes:
"I spent a fair amount on collecting BT pre-paid optical phonecards, which were issued between 1981 and 1996...
...My nerdy preoccupation culminated in paying to have my own card issued depicting a photo of a parrot I'd taken in San Diego zoo...
...Last month, I tested the waters by putting one of my 'Papworth Parrot' cards on eBay. Valued in 1993 at £12 on dealers' lists, it managed to fetch just 99p."
To read the full article click here.
However, the writing may have been on the wall for prices to take a tumble way back in 1995, when a reader of the magazine 'TeleCard Collector International' wrote into the 'Dear John' letters section to say:
"Like many collectors and dealers, I am very concerned at the way the hobby of collecting BT cards has advanced in this county over the last 18 months. We continually hear and read stories that tell us all is not well; with too many cards being produced, an uncoordinated pricing structure, in consistent cataloguing of cards, restricted availabilty of cards, problems with VAT and too many fairs and dealers chasing too few collectors and so on."
The above is a extact from the reader's letter, read the letter in full.
Fast forward to today's telephone card collectors market in the UK and you'll find the hobby does still continue. The original Telephone Card Collectors Club in the UK still continues with both a website and Facebook page.
There are of course exceptions to this, most notably with an auction which ended on 31st January 2016 on eBay for BTC002 - Muirfield 1987 Golf 20 unit Phonecard which had a catalogue list price in 2001 of £300, managed to fetch £181 after the final bid. Proving that with the right collectors and of course the right card, BT Phonecards can and do still sell for something like a small fortune!
On the flip side, cards once highly valued and sought after e.g. BTA049 - Rosslyn Motor Co. Model Centre Phonecard (pictured left) which had a print run of only 500 and valued in 2001 at £100 each, has recently (January 2016) been selling for £1 a card after a brand new box of 200 cards were sold in February 2013 - flooding the already 'fragile' market.
An article written in the magazine TeleCard Collector International in May 1998 referring to the card read "probably the scarcest of all BTA cards is BTA049 Rosslyn Motor Co Model Centre. Only 500 of these cards were produced, tied to the purchase of a Corgi model bus at a price of about £17. A current asking price of for this card, if obtainable at all, is around £50, and you will probably be very lucky to even find an example available, since most are already in collections."
Another example of highly sought and once highly paid for card is the landmark Landis & Gyr 50 Millionth Card - BTP003 (pictured right). A mere 600 cards were issued in 1988 to celebrate Landis & Gyr 50,000,000 Phonecards for British Telecom, with many being given away to employees and journalists. In the current Phonecard catalogue the card has a list price of £450, and it was known that a number of these cards exchanged hands in the nineties for £650+. Today this card struggles to achieve a mere £30.
The examples of the above phonecards illustrates that the value or price of a rare card achieved today can be very different from what it was last valued in the phone card catalogues.
Therefore valuing individual cards considered to be "rare" can be difficult with the passing of time and new factors or discoveries "finds" to consider. In the instance of the Muirfield Golf card which sold recently for almost £181, it's worth noting that some 5,000 of that particular card were issued. A box containing several hundred may one day also turn up?!
If you are a telephone card collector of BT Phonecards and don't already own a copy of either of the last two catalogues (UK 1 and UK 2), I have a limited number of brand new catalogues, which you can purchase directly from this website.
BT cards still wrapped as new, tend to sell better than opened or unwrapped cards. Though it does of course depend on the card and not forgetting that not all BT Phonecards were issued wrapped.
Whilst on the subject of sealed and mint Phonecards in general, it's also worth knowing that just because a Phonecard cost £20 to buy in a shop at the time. You won't be guaranteed to get at least the price you originally paid back. Why? Simply because the pre-paid Phonecards credit can no longer be used in any of BT payphones. Effectively you are selling a piece of plastic which could once be used in a BT Card Payphone to make a telephone call.
What are my old BT Phonecards worth? Well to answer that you need to consider the following factors: the condition of the card e.g. mint, used, marked, etc, the number of collectors, the scarcity of the card and ultimately the demand for it. The only way you'll know for sure is when and if you come to sell it.
Unsure how to tell if the Phonecard you have is mint or used? See the helpful online guide.
I hope this article has provided you with a useful insight into the current valuation of BT Phonecards. As with all markets prices can go and down, but you need one big ingredient "demand" to influence and fuel prices, which in the current economic recovery just isn't there.
Pictured right - a used BT Phonecard - this telephone card is worth less to collectors than if it hadn't been used.
Brian says... Like you I was really into collecting in the early days of the hobby but lost interest when cards got scarce and values ever higher. How different things are now. A few quick searches give the impression it's a totally dead hobby. I had expected to easily find at least a forum or two where us old collectors could easily be filling those gaps we'd always wanted to.
Bruno Denomerenge says... In Belgium the 1st RTT Telecard was issued in february 1977. I'm collecting phonecards since 1987, mainly L&G system but not only and I have more than 3500 in my collection and more than 5000 cards to swap... My children aren't really interrested in collecting because they never used a phonecard... Most of the cardphone booths are now dismanteled because in 2015, phonecards are no longer sold... In June 1995, I went in Switzerland, in Zug at the phonocards L&G factory to visit "The Temple" ! It's so far now. Even that factory is no longer exists...
Stephen Beasley says... I still have my collection and wouldn't part with it, as a payphone engineer they were great times, made great swap partners around the world they were really good times . It's so sad that the value slumped, but I do think that was partly down to greed as much as the decline in payphone use and most telephone companys moving away from phonecards. Always thought BT should have stuck with them, making cash phones cashless was only a mission to remove the kiosk full stop.
Former or current collector? Share your view(s) on current prices by contacting me and I'll share your comments here.
As a private collector I'm always on the look out for missing cards to add to my own collection. If you can take a photo/scan of the Phonecard(s) that you have, I'll take a look. Please see my contact me page for my e-mail address or if you're on Facebook contact me via my Facebook page.
Interested in starting your own phonecard collection? With prices at an all time low, now is great time to take up the hobby and start collecting click here to read more.
If you've already started or been collecting years, I now sell a range of essentials for collectors of telephone cards.
Last updated: 7th March 2017
TelephoneCardCollector.com © 2013-2017
Please do NOT copy any content without prior consent, thank you.