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This Credit Card Prototype Is So Old It's Made Out of Cardboard

Illustration for article titled This Credit Card Prototype Is So Old Its Made Out of Cardboard

In 1960, engineers set out to develop the technology that would convert our society into debt-crippled shopaholics. But before we all started wielding plastic, it was made out of cardboard—and now you can buy the original IBM prototype.

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Despite being nothing more than a small piece of cardboard with some magnetic tape wrapped around it, Sotheby's is expecting to sell the "Prototype for Magnetic Striped Financial Transaction Card"—one of only two in existence—for upwards of $15,000. That's steep, sure, and you could probably make your own for less than a dollar, but this thing is serious techno-financial history:

The earliest trials were done on cardboard, although the acceleration of the invention meant that only two such prototypes were made before the plastic card was developed.

As [IBM engineer Jerome] Svigals explains, "IBM did the work for free and didn't even patent the machine-readable card it came up with. Rather, it offered its solution gratis to all, assuming that the more transactions conducted using machine-readable media, the more computers would be sold to process them. The strategy worked beyond anyone's dreams."

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Register to bid now! They accept credit cards, of course. [Sotheby's via The Billfold]

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DISCUSSION

stevenmcmahon
Did not agree just bc i clicked

My first job we had an old push button cash register. Nobody swiped then, we took your card and physically made an imprint on a carbon copied little bill, then inserted it into the register to ring the amount onto the card slip. Before we did that we had to look up the number manually in a booklet that came every week with the latest stolen and canceled card numbers. When we got a bad card we were supposed to cut it up.