The birth of Phonecards in the UK in 1981 signified the dawn of a new age of telecommunications, coming as they did into a world where people were accustomed to forcing 2p pieces into cantankerous, old phones which guzzled money like charity boxes. To be able to use credit-card style payment revolutionised things for many, not least cub scouts who had been conditioned always to carry a coin in case they needed to make a telephone call.
The subsequent discovery by mischievous schoolboys that credit levels on Phonecards could be tricked by the cunning application of masking tape may have been one of the factors leading to the introduction of “smart” Phonecards.
The colourful designs used by telecom companies even led to the development of an enormous market for collecting Phonecards. The highest price ever paid for a BT Phonecard was £3,000 (dwarfed by a Taiwanese card which sold for £28,000). Even now, vast areas of the internet are being used to celebrate their life, many collectors unaware of the British Phonecard’s untimely death.
Friends may well see a certain irony in the death of Phonecards, overtaken as they were by technology itself. Phone boxes of every type seem to have met their nemesis in the rise of the accursed mobile phone. The improvement of service in coin-operated boxes removed also much of the uncertainty on which Phonecards thrived.
Perhaps the final insult came with the arrival of mobile phones which are themselves the size of credit cards.
I would love to write a longer, more flowing epitaph to the card that always used to sit in my wallet but I’m afraid my mobile is ringing…