The Swiss phonecards

Swiss phonecards are of the optic type. They consist of a sandwich of plastic and aluminium, with an optic band located inside the card. The card is inserted widthwise in the telephone through a special slot, a laser beam later reading the optic band, determining the remaining value of the card and burning a code independent to each country.
Produced in Zug, Switzerland, by the Landis & Gyr corporation, optic cards have invaded the market since 1981, upsetting traditional cabin phoning.
Collectors classify phonecards in accordance with their source and attribute them code letters.
Two large families can be distinguished:
- "over-the-counter" phonecards sold by the PTT through post offices, newsstands and special telecom outlets, traditionally known as P-cards.
- phonecards used for advertisement and sold to corporations as give-aways, traditionally known as K-cards.
Other types of phonecards are known to collectors: complimentary phonecards from the swiss PTT, benefit cards sold through the "over-the-counter" channels with profit distributed to charity organizations and test cards used by special PTT workers.

Each phonecard displays a unique number allowing for a clear and easy understanding of the origin, type and date of production. The number, placed on the back of the card, is composed of three digits, one letter, and five digits. The first three digits indicate the date of production: year and month.

back of a card

As an example, 409 would mean 1994 (4..)+ September (.09).

The letter indicates the typology of the card and the machine on which it was produced (A, B, C,... F for over-the-counter cards, G and H for benefit cards, L for complimentary cards and M for test cards).
The last five digits, in growing order, number each card individually, making swiss phonecards some of the rarest collector items on the market. On special occasions, when more 100'000 cards are produced in a month's time, numbers start over at zero, with a change in either the first three digits or the letter, depending in the typology of the card. Ex. An over-the-counter card produced in April of 1993 with a print-run of 200'000 cards will be numbered from 304AO0000 to 304A99999 and from 304B00000 to 304B99999. Also, when 130'000 complimentary cards were produced in the same thirty days time span in April of 1993, they were numbered from 304L00000 to 304L99999 and from 324L00000 to 324L29999. The change in the second digit indicating a second series of 100'000 cards.
Exceptions in this numbering have been noted: 444L, indicating the third series of 100'000 cards produced in April 1994 (and not 434L), 531L and 532L for obvious reasons.

For new collectors, I recommend choosing "over-the-counter" phonecards as a start. With a small amount of visuals produced (55 only for a complete collection), one can quickly achieve an almost complete collection. Two 20.- models, known as P4A and P4B in Switzerland are rare and can fetch up to CHF 1500 in used condition. These two exceptions were produced in 1988 and quickly withdrawn from the market for technical reasons (the cards were too thin). Only a few pieces are still in circulation, thus explaining their rarity. Other visuals can include defects, such as misspells, colors changes or stains and are avidly hunted by the collectors (ex. Barrigue's "Tour de Pise", Eiger or Jean-Jacques Rousseau). Mistakes in the numbering exist in some cases, but the value of these cards has dropped in recent times.
Avid collectors will want to have at least one card of each number printed. It is not rare then to have one keep up to six or eight times the same visual in a collection, with some rare numbering existing (only 4000 copies).
"Over-the-counter" swiss phonecards come with a strip of "thermolack" paint on the front. The remaining value of the card is easily recognized through small brown markings located on the strip, separated by every 10 centimes. They are caused by the burning of the card's optic band through a laser beam.

The value of the used phonecard is determined by its condition, but also by the condition of the white band and the number of brown markings located on it.
Collectors use lettering to describe the condition of the card: U ("ungebraucht" in german) describes new cards, while G ("gebraucht" in german) describes used cards. A criteria for quality, measured from 1 to 5, uses the following guidelines:

  1. phonecard in mint condition.
  2. phonecard in great condition, presenting some defects, either from first-time uses or from light scratches.
  3. phonecard presenting traces of use, generally a maximum of 4 markings on the strip, or severe scratches.
  4. phonecard presenting strong traces of use (faded colors, slighly bent, large number of markings on the strip).
  5. phonecard presenting severe traces of use.
For collectors in search of a beautiful collection, G-1 phonecards are the only way to go. Unfortunately, because of the rarity of some visuals and numbers, one has to satisfy himself with lesser quality phonecards (G-2 or G-3). He will have later time to improve on his collection by trading or buying better quality pieces at shows, auctions or sales.

Since November the 1st, 1996, public phones use chips cards. We still don't have enough informations about how the cards have been numbered to give trustable explanations. As soon as possible an update will be made.

With these basic explanations, I hope to have interested with the passionate hobby of swiss phonecard collecting.

Jean-Bernard MANI

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