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Interest in collectible credit cards won't expire

Devotees to vintage plastic dream of old charge coins, expired celebrity cards

By Emily Starbuck Gerson

When your credit card expires, you probably cut up the card and throw it in the trash without thinking twice. But before you shred that plastic next time, consider tucking it away in a drawer and letting it age; your card may be valuable to hobbyists several years from now, especially if it is a special edition or rare.

This vintage gas card once was owned by actor Henry Fonda

Henry Fonda's old Texaco card fetched almost $100 in auction.
Source: Heritage Auction Galleries

Why credit cards? Chuck Jennings, board member of the American Credit Card Collectors Society, says, "A lot of us went from collecting coins as younger guys to looking for something that we found more interesting. Some of us believe that coins may eventually be a thing of the past, though not in our lifetimes. Credit cards are used much more now -- I'd call it a migration from one to the other, or a narrowing down."

Credit pieces
Jennings says the group usually has 75 to 150 members at any one time, and it exists to exchange information and allow for trading of collectible items, or what they call "credit pieces." The group, originally called the American Credit Piece Collectors Association, holds a convention every other year, at which 20 to 60 people revel in credit piece collecting.

They call the objects of their desire "pieces" because the collectibles encompass more than plastic. "We collect credit coins, charge plates and credit cards," Jennings says. "The coins are the oldest, and there's also a group called celluloids. Celluloids and coins were around in the turn of the last century. I find the coins the most interesting: You have them from most of the major department stores from the last century up until around the 1950s and some in the '40s. There are some credit coins worth hundreds of dollars now." (See related story: "Before credit cards: charge plates, coins, celluloids.") 

Members of the ACCCS find many of their items on eBay, Jennings says. A quick search for "vintage credit cards" on eBay brings up a long list of diverse results. When this story was being written, items up for grabs included: a Star Trek mug/credit card collector set, a Chevron credit card that expired in 1968, an expired UK AmEx Black Card (yes, the enigmatic pass to all the world's luxuries!) and a lot of three vintage Charga-Plates from long-gone department stores. Original Diners Cards and BankAmericards can be found, as well.

While eBay may feel like the jackpot for credit card aficionados, the site has several rules about what can and cannot be sold. Inactive credit or debit cards may be sold, "provided that the expiration date on the face of the card is at least 10 years old." The site also advises sellers to examine the terms and conditions on the card to ensure that it can be sold, and insists that if a picture of the card is posted, at least part of the name and/or card number should be covered or blocked.

Expired cards from expired celebrities
Celebrity credit cards are also a hot item amongst collectors. In October 2005, Heritage Auctions acquired Henry Fonda's Texaco Credit Card from 1953 from his son, Peter Fonda. It was sold for only $95.60, most likely because it was unsigned. Auctioneers Butterfield & Butterfield sold Elvis Presley's American Express card from the early 1970s several years ago at a jaw-dropping $41,400. The hunka plastic was signed by the King himself.

Credit card memorabilia is traded, as well. Vintage tin signs promoting American Express or declaring that "Sinclair cards are accepted here" are sold on eBay, and sell anywhere from $3 to over $400. A credit card board game from the '70s was found on eBay, and the site Magazine-Ads.com even sells vintage credit card ads from old magazines. In the world of e-commerce, anything is possible.

To comment on this story, write to editors@creditcards.com.

Published: November 7, 2007



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