Collecting telephone cards in the UK didn't really establish itself as a hobby until the early 1990s, at which point there was reported to be around 100,000 people collecting Phonecards in UK alone. Today in 2017 in the UK far fewer people collect, which is mainly down to the fact that technology in the form of the mobile phone has replaced the need for telecom companies such as BT to issue Phonecards as a method of using their payphone network.
Early 1980s phone cards in the UK, which were issued by British Telecom (BT) contained four different values (10, 40, 100 and 200units) and all took on the same "green faced" appearance. Meaning there wasn't really that much to collect.
That though all changed in November 1987 when the first BT optical commemorative Phonecard was issued. Depicting a full colour photo of Regent's Street in London at Christmas, 100,000 copies of the 20 unit card were produced. The card was even mentioned and shown on BBC's Tomorrows World as a collectible item for the future.
Did you know? A person who collects telephone cards is known as a fusilatelist.
The seemingly endless flow of new issues kept fueling more and more interest from new and younger collectors to take up the hobby. Phonecards were also being issued in ever increasing numbers, again increasing the publics awareness. A good example is the Kelloggs Cornflakes Phonecard (pictured right) that was given away after collecting tokens - some 3,000,000 (3 million) cards were produced. Similar Radio Times also issued a set of 4 cards, again free with the collection of tokens.
Some collectors, collected used phonecards, while other collected mint cards and others mint and wrapped versions of the cards. Though not all cards issued were wrapped.
British Telecom (BT) themselves also set up a club called BT Phonecard Collectors Club (BTCC) and offered members a number of public and private issue cards through the club as well as some rarer and unique cards too.
There were also several clubs set up to support the hobby and one still exists to this day - Telephone Card Club of Great Britain.
After some 15 years (1981-1996) BT decided to update their cardphone payphone technology. Original BT Phonecards used optical/magnetic technology which had become dated, this was replaced in 1996 with new microchip technology.
Some collectors were keen to embrace the new chip cards - being there from day one. While other collectors decided to continue their collections of the now defunct optical cards.
The chip cards lasted just 6 years (1996-2002) before BT finally decided to call time on those Phonecards too. The main reason being that sales and their usage had simply slumped with the advent and increasingly popularity of the mobile phone as the new way to make phone calls.
It was reported in the Evening Standard that at their peak, BT sold £74 million a year worth of the cards. Sales in 2001 had slumped to only £7.2 million, when 92 per cent of phonebox calls were made with coins. Read the full Evening Standard story here.
Today, there could be as few as 700-1000 collectors in the UK. Though the exact number is difficult to say. What though is clear, with fewer collectors and less demand for telephone cards, the prices paid for cards has fallen from anything up to 95% off their peak in the 1990s. For more information about BT Phonecards valuations today in 2017 click here.
In 2009, Jill Papworth who herself was a keen phone card collector in the early 1990s wrote an article for the Guardian newspaper entitled "Five things you should never have collected" She writes in her article "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." You can read the full article here.
There is also a number of online dealers with Phonecards to sell, but the best place by far (in my opinion) to start or continue collecting Phonecards is the online auction website eBay. Prices for cards typically start at 99p, though sometimes people offer a small collection of cards for around 8p-10p a card. The rarer cards, do of course command a higher price. Typically this is around 10% of what the card was valued in the UK telephone card catalogues.
As for the continued future of collectible phone cards that remains to be seen.
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Last updated: 1st January 2017
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