Prepaid phone cards. They're practical, popular as collectibles, a way to pay for long-distance calls in Europe and Asia -- and virtually unknown in the United States.
The cards, the size of a credit card, have a design imprinted on one side and instructions on the other. Customers call an 800 number, punch in the card's code number and the number they're calling.
Depending on the card, before or after the call, they're told how much time remains. Once the time is used, the card can be thrown away or saved as a trading card.
According to Finish Line president Art West, the cards were tested in North Carolina convenience stores and are now available nationwide through hobby dealers. He said the cards were doing well. West said his company plans to put more drivers on cards that should be available in June.
Global Telecommunication Solutions has issued cards featuring the 26 NHL teams and will soon have 32 cards honoring the 1969 New York Mets. It plans to have cards of the major-league baseball teams within two months. Its cards are distributed by LogoFon, which will soon market a line of supplies similar to those collectors buy for trading cards.
LogoFon's Bob Feldman, who is also a trading card distributor, says, "A phone card always has a basic use. . . . You can't take your baseball card and buy a hot dog with it."
But, he notes, collectors in Europe and Asia consider unused cards more valuable than used ones.
Feldman says interest in phone cards has been growing, at least among dealers. "We're getting 20 or 30 more calls every day," he says. "Our sales go up every day."
There's even a magazine for collectors, Premier Telecard.
The major telephone companies are producing or have plans for phone cards, and World Cup sponsor Sprint will be issuing World Cup phone cards for this summer.
What season is this? This month Topps is releasing its 1994 Football's Finest set, the first NFL set on the market with 1993 statistics. There will be 220 cards.
Jordan baseball cards
Michael Jordan might not be in the major leagues, but his cards will be. The retired NBA superstar gets two Upper Deck major-league cards (he's also an insert card in its minor-league set).
He's on a regular player card and in the Diamond Collection insert set. By delaying production to near Opening Day, Upper Deck also has Bo Jackson in a California Angels uniform, Julio Franco as a Chicago White Sox and Rickey Henderson back with the Oakland A's.
Ultra II basketball
Fleer's Ultra basketball Series II includes a 12-card subset featuring Team USA. Collectors can get three other Team USA cards by mail. The basic Series II set has 175 cards.
Gretzky in silver, gold
Wayne Gretzky's record 802nd NHL goal will be honored by bronze, silver and gold medallions from Enviromint. They range in price from $14.95 to $850. Call (800) 299-MINT for information.
Precious metal cards
Highland Mint has added silver and bronze replicas of Topps cards for Brett Hull, Barry Sanders, David Justice, Eric Lindros, Emmitt Smith and Jim Kelly to its lineup. The cards are Topps' first of the six stars. Call (800) 544-6135 for dealers.
Through Oct. 31, "Sheriff and His 'Boys,' " exhibit on Sheriff Fowble, Babe Ruth Museum, 216 Emory St., (410) 727-1539.
April 22-23, Professional Sports Equipment and Memorabilia Show, Econo-Lodge (I-695 and Route 40, Exit 15A), April 22, 6 to 10 p.m., April 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., (202) 780-1212.
CARD OF THE WEEK
Finish Line's 1994 Winston Cup set has 150 cards, and each card carries team colors. Random inserts include future stars, Rookie of the Year Jeff Gordon, Busch Grand National drivers and a tribute to Harry Gant. Each card is also produced in a foil-stamped version, and each 12-card pack has a foil-stamped card.