QUEUING has never been a national pastime. Waiting your turn outside a public telephone box requires a particular patience.
At an ungodly hour on Saturday morning, however, a queue of more than 600 people snaked around Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge to shape up limited edition "phone cards.
Thousands descended on the Big CallCard Challenge Collectors Fair over the weekend. They studiously inspected the stalls displaying phone cards from far a flung lands, commemorative issues, valuable rarities, or biscuit tins full of cards which have actually been used to make calls.
Eight years ago, long before phone cards had joined stamps, coins and postcards as collectables, two cards were issued by Telecom Eireann, bearing the logo of the Irish Management Institute. One of the designs featured on a run of 750 cards, while only 250 of the other card were issued.
Most of them were handed out at business conferences and were casually thrown away. These cards now fetch about £1,300. Serious collectors are searching high and low for them.
The real rarities fetch far more. Ralf Kricke from Germany, who became a professional callcard dealer six years ago, once sold a rare Telefon Karte for the equivalent of £12,000. Only 20 of the cards exist.
He has also attended fairs in Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy and Spain.
The CallCard Collectors Club, based in Dame Lane, Dublin, now boasts 15,500 members. Of these up to 4,000 are fanatics, some of the trainspotter kind.
They have every single Irish card, don't take them out of their wrappers, and get particularly excited about cards which were issued bearing mistakes, as these increase their value.
Phone cards hold a special fascination for children, however and it is easy to see why. Cards picturing Big Bird, Super Mario Bros, and Tom and Jerry were on display, along with others picturing soccer teams and rock and cinema icons. Used cards can be bought for as little as 25p, well, inside pocket money constraints.
Jane Laurence (six), from Geashill, near Tullamore Co Offaly, was adding to her collection, along with her two sisters Emma (eight) and Moyra (nine). She has already amassed a series of Irish callcards and is now collecting cards with animals.
Her father Patrick escorts them on expeditions to telephone boxes, where they forage for discarded treasures.
"Sometimes they leave them in the place where you make your phone call and sometimes they leave them on the floor," said Jane.
The biggest attraction at the Dublin fair was the sale of two limited edition 10 unit callcards, one featuring the Molly Malone statue. Only 7,000 of each are being issued, and most of them have now been snapped up.
A standard callcard run would reach 200,000, but designs are changed, every month as more companies buy advertising space on the cards, according to Ms Catherine Brady, marketing manager for CallCards.
The under 24 age group provides 60 per cent of the callcard market and advertisers exploit popular images.
"If we do a card for George Michael or Tina Turner they run out of the shops. What is on the cards will affect sales," she said.