Ode to the Phonecard

 I don’t remember precisely when Phonecards disappeared from the cultural landscape. They somehow just faded away. Once almost every wallet in Ireland was incomplete without one. I guess I personally stopped using them in the late 90s when I got my first mobile phone. Many people with mobiles continued to use them because they were the best way to make international calls without a home phone. So for collectors of phone cards, and there were many, foreign students were the best source of used cards.

Phonecards were obviously, in hindsight, an intermediate stop gap between technologies. Cash payphones were cumbersome and expensive to maintain. Prepaid phonecards allowed phone companies to collect money for calls without physically having to go to collect the cash. Mobile phones were expensive to use and required minimum monthly commitments. But when mobile phone companies began offering prepaid mobile calls, the phonecard’s days were numbered. Anyone who was organized enough to prepay for calls from payphones, was organized enough to prepay for mobile calls too.

In the early days Irish phonecards were not unlike postage stamps. They were expected to reflect the national identity and the earliest cards depicted idyllic pastoral scenes of the Irish countryside and later national monuments. Soon however, Eircom began selling advertising on callcards. Bands, concerts, movies, and breakfast cereals were all advertised on cards. Callcards were an ideal way to get a brand in front of the lucrative youth market.

I recently saw a notice on a phonebox near my house. The phone company is planning to take it away because no one uses it. I guess the humble phonebox is also destined to just slowly fade away.

Interesting links:
Eircom Callcard Gallery


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