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Cards get collectable

DO NOT chop up your credit card when it expires. You may be destroying a collector's item. Old credit cards are starting to appear on stalls at collectors' fairs, alongside the stamps, postcards and phonecards. There are also several US-based websites selling credit cards through online auctions.

So far this has been a fringe market in the UK, but that may be about to change. Tomorrow marks the launch of the world's first designer credit card, in a limited edition of 500. American Express commissioned the card from the fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and application forms will be available in the international designer fashion room at Harrods.

Just 400 cards are being issued to the public. Another 99 are going to "invited celebrities", and one is going into the Design Museum.

But who wants a designer credit card anyway? "We have aimed the card at people aged 25 to 35 who are interested in fashion and art," says Deborah Davies at Amex. She is hopeful that users will pay for purchases with McQueen cards but admits that Amex will issue a second, plain card for cardholders who do not want to show off their flashy plastic.

Not to be outdone, Goldfish has launched the first "textured" credit card, allowing customers to feel the scales and fins on a goldfish. And People's Bank is giving customers the chance to put photos of their children on the front of a card.

Is it worth viewing credit cards as an investment? Quite possibly, according to John Moody, editor of Stanley Gibbons' collectors' magazine, International Stamp News: "There's no money in this for speculators but who knows? We have seen silly prices paid for phone cards. Collectors will pay pounds 100 for rare ones."

Advice on American websites says that best prices are paid for pristine, unsigned cards. Unusual designs are also highly prized. An average modern credit card is worth between 60p and pounds 6 to collectors.

Behind all these gimmicks is the battle for market share. Amex Blue and Goldfish are trying to woo notoriously apathetic customers away from the high street banks. They have a long way to go: Barclaycard issues one in three credit cards in the UK. Undeterred, Ohio-based Bank One will be the next entrant into the market. It plans to offer cheap credit cards in time for Christmas.