Future of the hobby predicted in 1995?

The following letter appeared in the 'Dear John' letters section of the December 1995 issue of TeleCard Collector International magazine. The writer describes his thoughts, fears and concerns for the future of the hobby of collecting BT Phonecards.

Read more about the current value of BT Phonecards in 2023.

Growing Up Pains

"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 availability of cards, problems with VAT and too many fairs and dealers chasing too few collectors and so on.

As a result, for those who have been collecting/dealing in BT cards for many years, the last 18 months have been so transitional that the hobby in this country is on the brink of collapse under the similarly destructive pressures that led to the eventual apathy in Belgium and Germany. It is therefore critical that key players, namely: British Telecom (BT), Telephone Card Club (TCC), TeleCard Collector International (TCI), International Telephone Card (ITC) and the Telephone CatalogueCompany set up a forum to discuss mutual concerns to breathe life back into the hobby rather than watch it die a slow and painful death, being suffocated by the very different and often competing factions and interests which are all choking it to a greater or lesser degree.

As a collector of BT cards only, I am only too aware that it is now more or less impossible to collect them all. Even for those who have been collecting BT cards for many years, the number of issues in the last 18 months alone has itself put an incredible strain on even the most generous of monthly budgets. As a result collectors of BT cards are changing to themes and/or particular catalogue categories. I have now stopped collecting BTG's simply because there are too many being issued and from an elitist perspective, as they are not intended to actually be used they are not quite the genuine article. The number of such issues has introduced an element of profiteering into the hobby which even most dealers find heard to keep up with. Similarly, I am now very particular about which BTP cards I collect, because again some are produced specifically to restrict supply and thus enhance value.

It is critical that new issues are controlled in a coordinated way, both in terms of numbers of new cards and the quantity of each card. Whilst minimum print run has recently increased to 1000, this is still too low to reduce the level of profiteering, increase availability and thus ensure continued collector interest. Too many BT cards are unavailable to the average collector. This extent of unavailability, together with the number being issued will in the end create apathy which will undermine the basic foundations of the hobby. Why bother collecting if you cannot readily obtain what you want to collect?

One of the categories I collect is the BTI's. These are cards commissioned by internal departments within BT and, ironically, are some of the hardest to obtain at realistic prices. All BTI issues should be available through the BT club as a matter of course. BT have the ability to ensure this as they directly control both the production and distribution of these cards. In fact, in an ideal world all BT cards should be available through the club, with the obvious exception of BTG's which should have a minimum print run of at least 2000 so as to restrict the number being issued and reduce the extent of profiteering currently taking place.

Now that Mercury have stopped producing cards, BT will be under even greater pressure to issue new cards. In this context, it is essential that BT control the number of new issues, otherwise BT collectors will be put off even more, still further rationalising collections by reducing the extent and variety of categories collected.

In the long run, continued rationalisation by both collectors and dealers will create a lack of confidence which will undermine the value of cards and the hobby will enter freefall. The hobby is dependent upon a coordinated and sound issuing policy so as to not only retail collector interest, but to also attract new collectors of all age groups.

I am not sure that numbers of new BTC cards for instance is to the longer term benefit of the hobby. How many people can afford to spend £150 on the new English Heritage set, following in the immediate footsteps of £120 for the Flags set?

Are BT therefore acting in the best interests of collectors by firstly issuing so many cards and then also, in some cases, controlling and often purposely restricting their distribution and availability? Do collectors matter that much to BT? After all there are many more users of cards than the level of collector interest in BT cards. The key players in the hobby must agree a coordinated structure for the systematic monitoring and review of the health of the hobby. It is not words but direct action that is needed. I hope it is not too late."

The above letter appeared in the December 1995 issue of TeleCard Collector International magazine.

Read more about the current value of BT Phonecards in 2023.

Last updated: 1st January 2023

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