A Knight’s Tale (110: Banknotes And Phonecards)

When Louisa was very young she became interested in foreign banknotes.  I took great delight in scouring Newark market stalls for samples with which to enhance her collection.  In her teens she moved on to other things and returned them to me.  In 2006 I was to pass them on to a client who was a collector.

Phonecards required me to be a bit more adventurous.  In the 1980s, when Louisa began collecting them, I was working in London, which is, of course, full of phoneboxes.  These cards contained a reader which recorded the time left available on them.  When exhausted, they would often be abandoned in the boxes.  Rich pickings for someone prepared to tramp the streets and, if necessary, cross the road to forage.  They would come in sets.  I remember one celebrating Goldeneye, a James Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan.  I would happily try to fill in the gaps for my daughter, proudly presenting them on my return to Lindum house in the evenings. 

It was a red-letter day when I found one of the first cards ever issued.  Since this was some time after its publication, I imagined it had been deposited by a tourist on his or her return to England.  I once mentioned this obsession to a friend of mine.  Now, these boxes also contained cards of another nature.  Often bearing obviously lying glamour photographs, sexual service advertisements were frequently pasted on the walls.  My friend got quite the wrong end of the stick and pulled my leg unmercifully.  Cursory glances into more recent telephone boxes on my return to Victoria demonstrated that these wares are still being marketed through this medium.  Most are now torn off, leaving stubborn fragments attached to the glass.  They look rather like a price label attached to a present, or a charity shop paperback, which you cannot completely remove.  Whilst carrying out my research I rather hoped that no-one watching would also get the wrong end of the stick.

That early phonecard, issued by BT (which in those days did truly stand for British Telecom) has now been superceded by a myriad of companies issuing cards without a reader; and the mobile phone has severely limited the call for public phone boxes.  Louisa eventually also donated that collection to me.  I donโ€™t know where it is now, which is a pity because the Goldeneye set still shows a profit on e-Bay.


  1. Isn’t it an interesting aspect of human nature that we like collecting things, though our focus might change over time. I used to collect pretty stones and succulents; I still don’t know what to do with my extensive collection of first day covers and stamp albums – I doubt if my grandchildren even know what a postage stamp is for!

    1. Stamp collectors are a shrinking breed, so perhaps there is no time like the present to sell yours? Unless you hope that one of the grandchildren get interested in history ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I would happily give the albums away. There is a lot of information to be mined in those first day covers …

  2. The world has changed so much over the course of our lives. Even 5 years seems quite a leap. It is almost impossible to find a public phone here now. I think it is mostly driven by rapid advances in technology.

    I hope you are able to find the phone card collection, Derrick. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I used to have a stamp collection too.
    Can you imagine asking the youth of today to collect stamps instead of obsessing over their social media accounts?
    You were a good father, Derrick.

  4. How interesting, Derrick! As kids, my siblings and I collected stamps. My youngest brother inherited the collection. My younger son was also a collector, ranging from marbles to flashlights.

  5. I’d never heard of anyone collecting phone cards. (I’ve never had occasion to use one or seek one out.) My husband still has his collection of foreign bank notes and coins from his time in the Navy.

  6. Amazing what people collect. I had a cousin who collected toilet paper squares from restaurants she would visit, while she was still a preschooler. Hope she no longer does that.

    1. I kind of hope she still does! And keeps them in a neatly labelled scrapbook, with notation of when where and what the occasion was.

  7. This post reminds me of my younger days when I was a voracious reader of mystery and secret series. You seem to have stumbled upon alarming mischiefs which you didnโ€™t pursue further mercifully!

  8. What a lovely thing for you to have done for Louisa – risking your reputation too! I hope you’ll find the cards – they would make an interesting picture post. My dad became interested in stamps via my small collection. His interest outlasted mine.

Leave a Reply