This interview with Greg Tunks, one of the people behind the Credit Card Collector newsletter, sheds light on the credit card collecting hobby back in the eighties…
Credit Card Collector: How’s the state of the hobby?
Greg Tunks: The hobby’s in good shape. I’m not saying things couldn’t be better. But all in all, I’m pleased with the progress we’re making.
CCC: Progress such as?
GT: Credit Card Collector’s subscription base continues to grow on a regular basis. Just a good slow steady growth. The hobby still gets publicity every month in some form or another. That keeps new collectors entering the hobby on a regular basis. Even if they don’t take Credit Card Collector, there are more and more people saving expired cards instead of destroying them. That doesn’t help the hobby much in a lot of cases, until a few years later.
I’ve found that people can write for hobby information and not sign-up. But after they’ve started accumulating 50 to 60 cards over a period of a few years, then their interest starts to pick-up. That’s when I hear from them again. It’s not unusual for someone to subscribe a few years after they initially make contact with the hobby. It’s sometimes a slow process to have a person’s interest in collecting grow.
One thing I’m particularly excited about is possible future growth.
CCC: What do you mean?
GT: I’ve decided to do a book.
GT: Yes. But it’s not what you’re thinking. I bet the first thing that popped into your mind was a book with lots of beautiful photographs of credit pieces. That’s not at all what I have in mind.
CCC: What do you have in mind?
GT: Before I tell you what I’m thinking, let me give you a little background that led up to this decision. I’ve been approached by publishers a couple of times, in the last four years, to do a book. I’ve declined each time.
GT: I just didn’t think a big book, with lots of photos of credit pieces, would sell enough copies to make it profitable for the publisher. And if it’s not profitable for the publisher, then they’re not going to make any money. They won’t want to hear about any other book ideas from me.
It’s important that your first book be successful so publishers will want to do a second, third, and fourth. You get the idea. Besides, it can take a year or two to write a decent book. If it flopped, that means I get a book advance fee for a couple of years of work. I’ve felt no hurry to rush into a project until I believed it would be worth my while.
CCC: Okay. I understand. So what kind of collectibles book is it going to be?
GT: I’m not for sure you can call it a collectibles book. It will definitely have a large portion about collecting in it. I’m thinking that if I can get down on paper what I have in mind, that the end product will actually be classified as an investing or business book. In other words, that’s the section of the book store you’d find it in probably. Not the hobby or antiques/collectibles section.
CCC: So what’s in it that makes it a business book and not a collectible one?
GT: Good question. I wish you wouldn’t have asked it. I can only give vague generalities now. Basically, I need to keep my mouth shut about specifics. A book like this has never been done before. At least as far as I know. I don’t think anyone can steal my topic, but I want to make sure they don’t. I believe it’s a good one. I don’t think it can be stolen because most of the information is in the heads of people I know. It’s never been written down before. I have the contacts to get the information. I’ll just need everyone to cooperate fully with me.
So the two things I’ve got to do, is get the information and then put it down on paper. I don’t think getting the information, in bits and pieces from people, will be that difficult. I’m concerned if I’ll be able to get the manuscript to come out how I vision it and then put it in marketable form.
It’s a very touchy subject. If I can accomplish what I have in mind, it will be marketable to a wide range of people. Some of the people will be excited to see it. Others are going to get mad.
To be completely honest, I view the book to be sort of like the Satanic Verses of credit cards. In other words, there’s going to be some very upset people when this thing comes out. It should be quite controversial. I’m not trying to make enemies with the book, but the nature of
the topic pretty well guarantees it.
CCC: Sounds interesting. What specifics about the book can you give?
GT: Concerning the book’s subject matter, I’m not going to say anything. I really do need to keep my mouth shut.
CCC: What do you see for photos in the book?
GT: Believe this or not, the way I view the book now, there won’t be any photos. There’ll be a lot on collecting, but I just don’t really classify it as a collectibles book.
CCC: Who’ll be the publisher for the book?
GT: I don’t know. I haven’t looked for one yet. It all really depends on how the book turns out. If I can get on paper what’s in my mind, then I don’t see getting one as a problem. I’m still working with the book’s outline to see if I can at least get it straight on paper.
One other problem I’m facing is the book’s length. I’m thinking now it might come out around 15,000 words. That would make it a booklet. But it’s still way too early to know for sure.
CCC: It sounds like you’re getting ready to write a book without even knowing if you can get a publisher for it. Is that correct?
GT: Right. The thing that has to be understood here is, I’m doing the book whether I can find a publisher or not.
Even if no one wants to touch it because of the subject matter, I believe I can still self-publish it and make enough money to make it worth my while. I believe if I self publish it, that I can price it high enough and sell enough copies to make it worth my while.
CCC: How high is high?
GT: I’m thinking that $45, with a $50 refund if you’re not completely satisfied, would be about right. If I can get on to paper what I want to accomplish, then even a price of $100 or $200 a copy would still be acceptable in my mind.
Obviously, not many people would buy it at that price. But I believe the information will be quite valuable. I’ve just got to see if I can accomplish what I want. But I don’t know yet. And I don’t want to go into a lot of maybes. That’s still real far off.
CCC: What impact do you think this book will have on the hobby?
GT: It depends. If I self publish it, probably not much. There’ll be a lot of happy collectors out there when they start applying the information. But that’s about it.
On the other hand, if a publisher picks the book up, it could have a major impact. Let’s say that the book turns out to be a relative non-event. In other words, it does okay and sells 5,000 copies. Five thousand copies isn’t that big of a deal for a book. But in the process, I’d be forming 5,000 new and highly dedicated credit card collectors. That could have a major impact on a small hobby such as this.
Of course, the book could do better and have even a larger impact. The controversial aspect of the book is why I believe a publisher may get interested in the book’s rights. I think that’s what makes it very marketable and gives it good potential.
Like I say, it all just depends if I can get on paper what I want to accomplish. A lot of what I want has never been in print before. I need to see if I can get the information and then organize it properly. I’ll just have to see.
CCC: What impact will the book have on the prices of credit pieces?
GT: If I self publish it, probably not any. If a publisher picks it up, there’s no telling. It would probably be the best publicity source the hobby has gotten. Every time up till now that important publicity appeared, prices moved higher. And that’s just mainly off newspaper and magazine articles.
I would think an actual book, that’s properly marketed, could get things really going crazy. But remember, there’s no book yet. There’s no publisher. It’s just an idea I have. I haven’t even completed the outline yet. It’s all just guess work.
CCC: What else would you like to talk about?
GT: I want to cover a few more topics. NFL Visas. I need to explain something to collectors. And if there’s enough time, I’d like to go into how the regulation of the coin industry, by the Federal Government, could possibly affect us.
CCC: You sure you want to talk about coins?
GT: I’ve got to. We could possibly be affected in some way by this. Collectors need to at least be aware something’s going on. I’ll tell you what. Let me just hit the high point, to make sure collectors at least understand the basics of what’s going on.
The coin hobby, or industry, or whatever you want to call it is being investigated by the government. Basically, the government has received a lot of complaints from consumers about problems. Things such as over grading, over pricing; you get the idea.
The problem is as fast as dealers are brought to trial and the settlements are found, then more complaints pop-up. In other words, it’s an endless string of consumer complaints and lawsuits about the same thing, over and over.
So when it’s the same basic problem, over and over, the government comes in to see where the problem is coming from, and look for possible solutions.
Basically, if an industry won’t clean-up its own problems, then the Federal Government will do it for them. And when the government comes in to clean-up a problem, it does a thing called regulate it. Regulations. The thought of being regulated appears to put real fear into most of the coin industry’s leaders. Basically, it’s all the licensing, reporting and red tape that they’re going to have to go through when they come under the government’s wing.
Because they don’t want the limitations and paper work of being looked after by Big Brother, the coin industry leaders want to organize and try to set up some type of thing where the industry can regulate itself. Self regulation.
In other words, the coin industry has come under a direct frontal attack from the government. The coin industry has decided they have to do something about it. It appears that it’s the classic case of too little too late, or at least it looks that way to me. There’s a whole lot more to this deal than that, but that’s a real basic overview of what’s going on.
Now, as far as I know, this whole mess is basically a problem for coin dealers. I don’t think it’s a problem for paper money dealers, token dealers or medal dealers. The dilemma we could get caught in is when the government regulates the coin industry, will they be regulating coins or will it be all numismatic items? Will all dealers get caught in it, whether they specialize in paper money, tokens or just medals?
So that’s the basic problem, who and what will actually be regulated when it comes down to the final result. As long as the government is just interested in regulating coins and coin dealers, then we’ve got no problem.
But, if the coin industry’s problems drag all of numismatics into it, then we have potential problems since we’re considered numismatic. I think it’s just a problem for the coin dealers. It probably won’t have any effect on us. I just wanted to make sure collectors were aware of what was going on. That’s all.
CCC: What do you think the actual chance of us being affected is?
GT: Probably none. It’s just something that needed to be mentioned.
CCC: You had something you wanted to tell collectors?
GT: Right. I’ve got some collectors peeved at me. I owe them an explanation.
CCC: What’d you do?
GT: It’s not really what I did. It’s more like what I don’t do. I think the word has pretty well gotten around now that I don’t meet with collectors. I think some people are starting to take this personal. They shouldn’t. It’s not meant that way.
I often get requests from collectors who want to meet with me. They’d like to stop by and visit and share their collections with me. They’d also like to see mine. They’re just being friendly. You know, doing what collectors do with one another. Stop in, visit, get to know each other. Just be sociable.
I get too many requests from people wanting to visit with me. If I met with everyone who wanted to see me, I wouldn’t get much work done. I probably wouldn’t have much of a personal life. In other words, I’d be doing credit card 24 hours a day.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy credit pieces as much as the next person. I enjoy talking to collectors and learning things. It’s just there’s too many who want to meet with me. I’ve found the only fair thing to do is just tell everyone, no.
Anyway, I hope this clears-up any misunderstandings. Now don’t get me wrong. I still love to get the calls and letters.
CCC: What did you want to say about the National Football League Visas?
GT: I first want to say, those things are unbelievable!
CCC: In what way?
GT: I’m talking price movements. It’s got to be one of the most incredible collectible opportunities I’ve ever seen.
CCC: That’s quite a statement.
GT: I know. But think about what’s gone on with them. They first came out probably two years ago. I know a fellow who applied for his over the phone using Citibank’s 800 number. When his two cards came in, he immediately called the 800 number and got two more. So far, that means he got four cards that haven’t cost him anything.
Remember, Citibank doesn’t charge an annual fee for the first six months on those cards. Well, when this guy’s annual fee bill came in after a six month period, he wrote cancel on it and sent it back. Now remember, his only out of pocket expense was the postage stamp to mail back the bill with cancel on it.
So what I’m saying is, he paid 25￠for four NFL Visas. That’s not a bad deal at all, particularly when you consider the team he got was the St. Louis Cardinals! Can you believe that?
GT: For anyone not aware of the price performance history of the St. Louis cards: The first one sold probably 15 months ago for $30. That was a shocking amount at the time. Remember, we’re talking a card that was free and just expired. It sold for $30! Since then, the price movement of that particular team’s card has been: $60. Then $75. Then $90. Then $125. And finally, $150! Four cards for practically free when one can sell for $150 isn’t too shabby.
The most amazing thing is the least expensive Mint St. Louis card any collector is offering is now $225! That’s really incredible to me.
CCC: That is incredible isn’t it?
GT: It sure is. But listen to this. Three NFL Visas, of teams that are now available to anyone who applies, have sold for $75. That’s $25 apiece for cards that are currently being issued. Believe that?
CCC: Unreal. What do you think the future price movement for those cards will be?
GT: I have no idea. I don’t even want to hazard a guess. I really just wanted to bring up past performance. I find those cards incredible.
CCC: Anything else about those cards?
GT: No. But I wonder if the baseball and basketball cards have the same potential? We’ll just have to see…