Collecting Phone Cards

BT Focus July 1981

What's new about Payphones

..... On display at the ideal home exhibition this year, and attracting a lot of attention, was our new entry in the payphone range the cardphone......

About 200 of these press button cardphones are currently on trial in London,Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, in busy places like airports, main line railway stations and city centres ............

The card units are valued at 5p and there will be two value cards available on of 40 units for £2 and 200 unit card at £10 which is double- sided.........

April 1982 Focus issue 15

Renters Payphones

....when we know more about the reaction to cardphones, we will consider introduction of these as rented items too......

Card trapped in slot

On July 28th 1981 following a successful trial by BT, Great Britain saw the introduction of a new type of public payphone with a new source of payment.

The phonecard was a credit size

card which when inserted into the payphone (and when in credit) allowed the bearer/user to make telephone calls. No need for coins, the cards were making calls simpler and easier than ever before.

BT Phonecards were available nationwide, brought typically from newsagents and petrol stations and were available in different denominations (value of credit) ranging from 20 units to 200 units - each 10 units was comparable to £1.00 GBP. The later BT Phonecards which used a microchip (introduced in 1996), didn't include a units amounts instead just the price of the card e.g. £10.00 GBP.

Look no notch !
Burn my hologram and destroy another unit

On making a telephone call with a phone card the units/value of credit would countdown on the payphones LCD screen and the payphones card reader would burn and erase the credit, until the value of the card had been used.

Used Phonecards could be discarded and a new one was then needed to make subsequent calls. BT had considered a charge card system whereby a used card could be recharged with new credit. But it was thought that this would be open to fraud.

With so many Phonecards being needed to supply the UK's demand, and following BT's decision in 1986 to allow advertisers to print their logo, company message, etc on the front of their Phonecards. A new hobby was born in collecting the seemingly ever increasing number of cards.

Telephone card collectors or fuselilatists as they

become know in the UK numbers swelled to a peak of around 100,000 people in the 1990's. Many of the phonecards values (what they were selling for) also soared too, some rarer cards reportedly selling for several £100.00 or even £1000.00+ GBP.

There's always one that's differnet
BT Phone Card - Differnet insert arrow styles

But the hobby of collecting telephone cards in the UK was to be (relatively) short lived. As advances in technology had brought about the cardphone/phone card payphone, it also brought about it's

demise. With the increasing use of the "mobile phone" BT found that their payphone network usage was dropping, which of course included their Phonecard payphones. Finally in 2002 a decision was made by British Telecom to end production of the BT Phonecard.

This decision naturally had knock on effect to the collectors market, and in the subsequent 10+ years, UK collector numbers have dramatically fallen. As have the prices that phone card collectors are willing to pay. The hobby does still live on, but in seemingly ever decreasing numbers.

For more information about collecting telephone cards and specifically the history and story of the BT Phonecard, please see

From BT Journal Vol 8 Number 1

From BT Journal Vol 8 Number 1

'Boxing' to win the payphone battle

British Telecom's payphones modernisation programme is showing results throughout the UK. The new phones have improved features and facilities and customers are making more use of them.....

British Telecom has ordered 25,000 new-style electronic telephones as part of the final stage in its programme to modernise the UK's 77,000 public payphones.

The contracts for new telephones, worth a total of £23 million, are for:

• 15,000 electronic payphones which accept all coins from 2p to £1, return unused coins at the end of a call and automatically report their own faults, ordered from Plessey Telecommunications Products Ltd of Liverpool;

• 10,000 Cardphones which operate on holographically encoded pre-paid Phonecards, from Landis & Gyr of North Acton, London.

A total of 56,000 all-electronic payphones have been installed and the trend towards 'cashless' telephones has been boosted by the installation of 6,000 public Cardphones with Phonecards now available from 8,000 outlets.

Payphones using Phonecards have proved to be a huge success in improving the quality of service. Because they do not have cash boxes the attraction for thieves is removed and British Telecom plans to increase the numbers installed particularly in major towns and cities.

All existing electronic payphones and Cardphones are being modified to provide operator access for assistance and transfer charge calls when coin payphones are in the emergency call-only mode because of fault or vandalism.

They will also reduce the intrusion of the operator-alert tone which alerts staff of attempted transfer-charge frauds and allows payphone calls through the operator to be charged at the appropriate rate.

The majority of Cardphones have already been modified to allow access to the 100 Operator for reverse charge and British Telecom credit card calls. The modifications will be completed throughout the country during the year