Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

It’s 60 years since American Express UK launched its £ cards – we look back …. and reveal C F Frost

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

You probably haven’t given much thought to the history of the plastic in your wallet, but after American Express told us that today was 60 years since it launched its first Sterling card in the UK we thought it was worth taking a trip down memory lane.

American Express wasn’t always a financial services company. Founded in 1850 in Buffalo, New York, American Express was initially a freight forwarding company (hence the ‘Express’).

Around the turn of the century (the 20th century, that is), Amex diversified and started offering money orders, travellers cheques and foreign currency exchange. It opened its first UK office in London’s 3 Waterloo Place in 1896. The first European office of any sort was in Paris, opening in 1895.

60 years today since American Express UK launched
Image from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum

According to Amex:

“From 1914 – 1918 during World War I, American Express helped 150,000 stranded travellers in Europe by cashing Travellers Cheques and booking passage to America, at a time when customers had been unable to withdraw funds from their banks.”

Following the US nationalisation of express industry after the first World War in 1918, American Express focused wholly on its banking and travel services.

The first American Express Card was launched in 1958. It was a paper card in purple (photo above); embossed plastic cards followed in 1959. In 1969 the colour of the card changed to “money green” to match the colour of the US dollar.

It was another five years before the company would introduce its first pound sterling American Express Card (technically a charge card) in 1963.

Upon its launch, the BBC noted that:

“There will be an annual fee of £3 12s, but supplementary cards can be obtained at half price for immediate family members. Companies can also apply for cards and issue them to members of staff.”

Adjusted for inflation, £3 12s is around £90; average weekly earnings in 1963 were around £10 according to the Office for National Statistics. The BBC continues:

“American Express Vice President Maxwell Elliot said the people most likely to take up the new card would be managers and sales executives earning £2,000 a year or more.”

Whilst often synonymous with credit and charge cards, American Express was not the first provider in the UK; that was Finders Services, which launched in 1951 and merged with Credit Card Services to form Diners Club UK in 1962.

It was almost 20 years until Amex launched the Gold Card in 1981, with the Platinum Card following 10 years later in 1991. The card designs haven’t changed much in that time.

Membership Rewards, then known as Membership Miles, were introduced in 1993 and the first ‘proper’ American Express credit card was launched in 1995.

In 2000, American Express partnered with British Airways to launch the he British Airways American Express cards.

The rest, as they say, is history.

PS. Things you never knew you never knew ……

And finally …..

“Charles F. Frost was an Oglivy & Mather advertising executive who worked on the American Express account in the 1960s, and his name was kept alive by being featured on credit cards displayed in ads for American Express.”

Thanks to Adweek for this nugget.

Want to earn more points from credit cards? – September 2023 update

If you are looking to apply for a new credit card, here are our top recommendations based on the current sign-up bonuses.

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review

You can see our full directory of all UK cards which earn airline or hotel points here. Here are the best of the other deals currently available.

SPECIAL OFFER: The sign-up bonus on the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard is doubled to 30,000 Virgin Points if you apply by 2nd October. You receive 15,000 Virgin Points with your first purchase and a further 15,000 points if you spend £3,000 within 90 days. Apply here.

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

30,000 bonus points (SPECIAL OFFER TO 2ND OCTOBER) and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review

Earning miles and points from small business cards

If you are a sole trader or run a small company, you may also want to check out these offers:

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

For a non-American Express option, we also recommend the Barclaycard Select Cashback card for sole traders and small businesses. It is FREE and you receive 1% cashback on your spending.

Barclaycard Select Cashback credit card

1% cashback and no annual fee Read our full review

Comments (57)

  • mike sanders says:

    I remember fibbing slightly with the help of my boss to get my salary and benefits up to the required amount my first card was issued in if my memory serves me correctly in 1969.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please click here to read our data protection policy before submitting your comment

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.