Earlier this week, I was given about twenty Irish phonecards. There was some duplication but I have been able to add most of them to my collection.
Collecting phonecards became a big thing in Ireland in the 1990s. It started around 1991 but by 2001, the bubble had burst. They were sold in most stores in units of 5,10, 20, 50 and 100. They were used in phone boxes and it was very common to see children (and adults!!!) look for used phonecards. Some people even placed litter bins in phone boxes so that the used cards would not get dirty.
The first few years cards had the logo of Telecom Eireann on a blue background along the top of the card. Later cards had the logo at the side of the card. A third design of logo (I have very few of the later cards) was later used.
As always with any form of collecting, the early issues, “Trial” cards are difficult to find.
Cards fall into four categories. Definitive cards such as the Horse Racing card shown above are the easiest to find as millions were issued. Commemorative cards for events and seasons such as Christmas usually had a production of 200,000. Advertising cards had a similar number issued.
There is a fourth category of “customised cards” such as the Tia Maria card. As far as I know, only 10,000 were issued.
Certainly the bubble of collecting burst at the end of the 1990s and these phonecards are now a footnote. For the ten or fifteen years that the cards were produced, collecting them was much more popular than Stamp Collecting.
And while Stamp Collecting is now in terminal decline, the challenge of Phonecard Collecting faded away.
To understand how the bubble burst, it is necessary to understand why the bubble inflated in the first place. This was cutting-edge technology in 1990 in the same way that a postage stamp was revolutionary in 1840. The concept of inserting a chipped card into a phone was very new. A new generation was introduced to collecting and phone cards were readily available and discarded in phone boxes all over Ireland.
But the technology had moved on again by the start of the 21st century. Mobile/Cell phones became widespread and public telephones became almost obsolete.
But I think there are deeper reasons why phonecards are really just a novelty. There is something very “official” about a nation’s stamps…a stamp album is a Greatest Hits album….containing the best of History, Music, Environment, Sport, Literature. Phonecards depicting Burger King, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Nescafe do not have the same appeal to National Pride. More so, the advertising of products such as alcohol, should not appeal to children.
Likewise a “collecting” hobby should hold out the prospect of “completion”. So cards, that were only produced in numbers of 10,000 (like the Tia Maria card above) or cards in quantities of 5,000 used as promotions have no real prospect of being found on the ground in phone boxes.
Collectors were turned off by this “limited edition” ploy.
So Phonecards are really no more a quaint footnote, a mirror into 1990s Ireland.