Credit and Charge Cards

Credit has been an integral part of the American economy for centuries. Starting with ledger books where clerks carefully wrote down each person's purchases, credit has evolved to chip cards and even entirely virtual lines of credit. Simply put, credit exists because there are certain transactions where it's difficult if not impossible to use cash.

What is the Difference Between Credit and Charge Cards?

While many people may think of them as interchangeable, there are some significant differences between credit cards and charge cards:

  • Charge Cards: Charge cards offer two primary features. They do not usually have a preset spending limit, and the amount charged must be paid off in full at the end of the month.
  • Credit Cards: Credit cards give the user access to a revolving line of credit. You can carry a balance from month to month, and the cards normally have a limit as to how much you can charge at a time.

How Did Credit Work in the Past?

Credit did not magically leap from individual ledger pages to interconnected data networks that allow for worldwide purchases in the blink of an eye. Early credit did not involve cards with chips to protect from data theft, or that you could wave over a sensor for instant, stress-free payments. There were no prepaid cards or debit cards that tied to online, virtual accounts. In fact, there were a number of different stops along the way to the development of instantaneous networked credit transactions as we know them.

  • Charge Coins: One of the earliest forms these coins went to customers, and sellers used them to imprint the receipt, recording how much a person charged.
  • Charge Plates: Charge plates followed charge coins as another form of metal charge card. Department stores often issued these, and they embossed the owner's name and address on the plate.
  • Diners Club: Originally usable at 27 New York City restaurants, Diners Club charge cards introduced the concept of the universal card that could be used at multiple establishments.

Collecting Credit

While people have been collecting coins for as long as people have minted them, there is also a contingent that holds onto credit cards as well. This may seem unusual if you're the sort to cut up your old cards when they expire. However, many will add limited or collectors' editions of credit cards, often coming out in themes for events, locations (countries or cities), specific restaurants or attractions, and others, which make them visually distinct. Cards from old department stores and similar items give a collector a piece of history or may even tie to a cherished memory. Of especial value might be expired credit cards that belonged to celebrities, alive and dead. 

While these are often important their historical interest, there is also a thriving market in loaded gift cards that work along similar principles. While you value the loaded cards according to the amount of money on it, collectible ones are valued differently, often via factors like condition and casing.