Tag Archive | History

AMEX Credit Card Was Originally Purple Paper Not Black Titanium

American Express 1958 Original Card Purple PaperPaper, Plastic, Titanium, and Carbon Graphite?

Credit cards had existed prior to American Express, namely Diners Club (which was actually a paper or cardboard card that was in circulation).

The first AMEX credit card was actually introduced October 1, 1958 – American Express introduced travel-and-entertainment charge card (The original card was actually paper printed with purple ink to resemble Travelers Cheques)

The first plastic American Express appeared in the early 1960s, while their adoption had become increased as vendors found traditional AMEX booklets too difficult to manage. It was because of this that well received the new plastic cards, which used charge plate machines, thereby making transaction and record keeping easier and less error prone.

American Express AMEX First Plastic Card from 1960s

Plastic cards became dominant and remained the main player, however, it was not until 1966 that the common credit card came to, when Bank of America established BankAmerica Service Corporation to franchise the BankAmericard which then became known as “Visa“, still not black). Mastercard, originally Mastercharge, came to be in 1966 in addition, where both Visa and Mastercard credit cards were open-loop (inter-bank), and American Express was closed-loop (intrabank).

American Express took the lead again in 2004 in some parts of Europe, and in 2006 in the United States by changing their elusive BLACK CARD (formally known as the Centurion Card), to a hand crafted titanium card to replace it’s plastic ancestor. Times as changed, this isn’t your grandfather’s “purple cardboard,” although American Express Charter Members (Members since 1958) do get some special privileges.

American Express Centurion Card2008 of course brought the “Visa Black Card“, made from Carbon Fiber. The Wikipedia editors, however, did neglect to include credit cards in applications of carbon fiber (we’re kidding): “The properties of carbon fiber such as high tensile strength, low weight, and low thermal expansion make it very popular in aerospace, civil engineering, military, and motorsports, along with other competition sports.”

We’ll stick with black hand hammered titanium for now, someone update Wikipedia.

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Titanium Centurion First Introduced in 2004

The switch to titanium was first made when the Centurion card was introduced in France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Sweden in 2004. Later the Centurion card was introduced in the US

Original Centurion Card (Black AMEX)

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Titanium Version

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Original Centurion Card vs. Centurion

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Wall Street Journal 5/13/1988 – An American Express Black Card?

05/13/1988
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 1988, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.)

AN AMERICAN EXPRESS black card?

It was the ultimate in plastic — while it lasted, which wasn’t long, because so many of its holders found it easy to leave home without it.

The card was held by an ultra-select group of consumers who numbered fewer than 1,000 around the world. As a complement to their garden-variety American Express credit cards, it offered services as freebies.

Suppose, for example, on a 3-o’clock-in-the-morning whim, you decided to book a round-the-world trip; American Express would accommodate you with a travel service staffed 24 hours a day. In the market for a red 1965 Ferrari? If you were a black-card holder, American Express would kick tires in the world’s fanciest used-car lots. If you remembered in Singapore that you had left your favorite suit in a Hong Kong penthouse, the company would arrange to fetch it.

After a trial that lasted nearly four years, American Express abandoned the card in 1987. “It just wasn’t worth keeping it up,” says Lee Middleton, a company spokesman.

The card was never advertised. It was unobtainable by a large part of the world’s population, among them poor people and Americans. The card was given only to clients who had what Mr. Middleton calls a “substantial banking relationship” with American Express Bank Ltd., the New York parent of American Express’s bank subsidiaries in Switzerland. Because the Bank Holding Company Act kept the bank from doing business with Yanks, the card went only to rich foreigners.

While the card offered high-class ID for check-cashing, and free services, nothing could actually be charged on it. For charges, the card-holders were billed on their platinum- or gold- or green-card accounts.

Clients who did use their black cards got highly personal treatment. So few were the users that when they phoned American Express the “people at the other end of the phone would know who they were dealing with,” says Mr. Middleton. Typical chores included dispatching limousines or helicopters for clients, booking their vacations and finding medical care in exotic places. But Mr. Middleton says the platinum card, which didn’t exist when the black card was introduced, now offers “about 95%” of the black card’s services.

Ms. Rothman is a staff reporter in The Wall Street Journal’s New York bureau.

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