NYC subway token still in heavy rotation
Droves of tokens are still turned in to NYC Transit, some ending up as designer jewelry. (Photo courtesy MTA)
Seven years after they went out of circulation, subway tokens are still making the rounds.
Straphangers who have held onto the iconic coins redeem thousands of them every year, and sales are on the upswing for retro token jewelry.
“It’s nostalgia, and nostalgia is everything,” said Ward Wallau, head of a California company that refashions tokens into jewelry.
Last year, straphangers turned in 27,000 tokens to NYC Transit, up 13 percent from the year before. Those who redeem the predominantly brass discs receive what they were worth when decommissioned, from 20 cents to $4 for express bus tokens.
About 12 million tokens are still out there, with some straphangers known to hoard the coins in the event of a fare hike. Last year, the MTA got back more than 1,000 of the 20-cent token, which haven’t been used since 1970, according to agency figures.
“It’s something everybody had to use. It was like the, ‘I belong to New York City badge,’” said coin expert George Cuhaj.
Wallau has tapped into the MTA’s mountain of old tokens, which are stored in a Queens warehouse. Since 1991, he has bought the tokens in bulk at a 40 percent discount to turn into jewelry, with the MTA pocketing about $35,000 a year from the deal, a spokesman said.
Wallau had a big bump in sales after actress Amy Adams sported a token necklace in the movie “Julie and Julia” last year, with the New York Transit Museum promptly selling out of the necklace. But $125 token cufflinks are still the hottest item, accounting for about 80 percent of his sales.
“It’s very tactile. It’s real and it’s authentic,” said Wallau, who sells them to the transit museums and on-line stores.
Overall, sales of recycled MTA materials are up, with the rush to buy merchandise from Shea and Yankee stadiums having a spillover effect, the agency said. Since 1996, transit has done $16 million in sales of old materials, with more than $1.4 million dollars in revenue made in 2008.