Lord of the collectors: 80,000 phone cards

Selahattin Kaya proudly shows bills included in his antique-money collection. (PHOTO SUNDAY’S ZAMAN)

July 01, 2012, Sunday/ 13:24:00

An item that is considered junk by most people may be priceless to some. Collectors, whose hobby is often considered abnormal in mainstream society, are major exponents of this concept.

We’ve heard of collecting stamps, antiques, currency, pocketknives, buttons -- but a new collecting craze is increasing in popularity: phone cards.

These objects are tossed out by most people once they run out of credit, but collectors are happy to scoop them up, hang onto them or exchange them with fellow collectors all over the world via the Internet.

Selahattin Kaya, one such individual, works in the textile sector. He explains that collectors tend to be educated people. Over time he has met collectors who share his passion for phone cards, although he remarks that some people have taken the hobby to extremes. Kaya is ranked the 15th most active collector on http://colnect.com, a website with 35,000 members from 204 countries who exchange phone cards. Once a month Kaya meets with fellow collectors at Çınaraltı in the district of Beyazıt. “We have become the veterans of telecommunication trade fairs, they all know us,” he says.

Spending two hours on his collection every day, Kaya justifies his dedication: “People call collectors ‘crazy.’ However, all of my collector friends are well educated, and none of them are silly. Some are engineers, some are businessmen and some are military officers. Through the cards you come to understand the culture and history of the country that the card belongs to. I am very interested in it. I forget about all my problems and concerns.” Explaining that the practice of collecting is common in his family, Kaya states that one of his siblings has received an award for a collection relating to worldwide water sports, while his other siblings collect model ships and cars. Kaya began collecting stamps when he was at primary school. However, when he came to attend Saint Benoit French High School his mother decided Kaya was spending too much time on his collection and falling behind in his studies, and subsequently burned his stamps. To this day Kaya is regretful about that collection, describing it as “very important.”

Kaya continued to collect stamps, as well as banknotes and coins, but after being influenced by a friend while traveling abroad Kaya began collecting phone cards in 1996. Today he has a sizeable archive, focusing on butterfly images and Turkish and Islamic content, and has completed an important series of Swiss cards. Kaya states proudly, “I do have phone cards that can’t be found in the archives of PTT [Postal and Telecommunications General Directorate] and Turkey’s telecommunication center Türk Telekom.”

Kaya has a special storage system for his cards. The boxes he uses are purpose-made, and the cards are categorized according to country of origin and date of release. Other kinds of tickets and cards -- such as concert tickets and gift cards -- are included in his collection. Kaya now has over 80,000 cards, and many still to be archived. New cards are often brought to him by friends, and he also attends international phone card fairs, prioritizing international phone cards with Turkish themes. Kaya writes for “Infopuce,” a magazine about phone cards released once every three months.

Kaya owns a currency collection worth a fortune

Kaya’s currency collection is worth a fortune. His rich archive contains everything from silver coins of the Ottoman sultans to present-day currency, a period from 1927 to 2012. The collection includes the first currency minted in the Turkish Republic; banknotes on which former President İsmet İnönü had his own face printed; money printed during major inflation; and unused banknotes and coins. He particularly seeks out radar banknotes, which have a special serial number. For instance, you may see banknotes with a serial number like 00000001. Kaya also has 1 lira banknotes and TL 1 million banknotes. But for Kaya, the most precious items in his collection are banknotes with misprints.

It has been difficult for Kaya, who values the collection of international currencies, to access samples from of countries with low populations, such as San Marino and Monaco. Bills and coins once minted individually by American states, currency used in Yugoslavia in a time of war and a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill -- with 12 zeros, once the world’s least valuable currency -- hold pride of place in his collection.

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