The Visa Cash cards introduced for the Summer Olympics are hot items for collecting and trading.
Indeed, enthusiasts see the Atlanta games as the impetus for a collectibles market in the United States similar to one that has been developing in Europe since the advent of chip-based phone and payment cards in the 1980s.
"When was the last chance you got to collect a whole new form of money?" asked Murray Church, publisher of MoneyCard Collector, a Sidney, Ohio-based newsletter. "That's what's exciting to people."
Mr. Church said the electronic-cash cards with photos of Olympic athletes, symbols, and other bright designs are attracting collectors from all continents. He estimated 40% of the cards are reaching the international market.
He said the "esthetics of the cards" - issued by First Union Corp., NationsBank Corp., and Wachovia Corp. - "are helping to drive the market."
Three dealers - KARS Unlimited and B&B Fone Cards and Promotions in the United States, as well as International Cash Cards in Holland - are distributing the smart-card cash replacements.
"Banks are aggressively seeking out the collectors market," said Kathleen Shapiro, co-owner of KARS Unlimited, Ormond Beach, Fla. Collectors can "help spread the word" about Visa Cash.
Collectible cards in mint condition retail for $8 above face value. Resale values tend to be highest on limited-edition items - especially low numbers within those editions - with the cash amounts in the cards unspent.
Ms. Shapiro expects the Olympic-theme cards to rise in value after the games, when the original designs are sold out.
The novelty of Visa Cash and its pilot status makes the cards collectible. Especially prized and appreciating rapidly, said Mr. Church, are "pretrial" cards, like those tested in bank headquarters and distributed only to employees.
A Wachovia "Olympic swimmer" card distributed in Atlanta last December at the Bank Administration Institute's Retail Delivery conference, an edition of 1,500, is selling for $200, said Ms. Shapiro.
Promotional items, such as the $5 NationsBank card given to the 85,000 people at Olympic Stadium for opening ceremonies, are expected to rise in value.
There could be a windfall for banks, too. With collectors and dealers doing such brisk business, many cards will be circulating with unspent funds. The banks can earn interest and can invest that money for a period of time.
A spokesman for NationsBank said it will donate the unspent funds to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee after the cards expire.