It's been over a decade since the MTA did away with subway tokens, those dirty metal bits of New York-ness that seemed unremarkable until, suddenly, they were gone. Since then, rumors have swirled about the fate of the 60 million tokens once in circulation—where were they? Now, we have an answer.
The question of what the MTA did with all those tokens—tons of them—is an ongoing bit of lore in NYC. Back in 2003 when the tokens were decommissioned in favor of Metrocards, The New York Times wrote that "the agency will not say what will become of the remains, 60 million of them, except that it has no plans for disposing of them." The same year, Gotham Gazette reported that 41 million of them had ended up in a "vault somewhere in Queens." And earlier this week, a listicle from Thrillist about the NYC subway brought up the fate of the tokens once again. "After a few calls to the MTA, it seems what happened to them is still largely a mystery," they write.
It's a romantic thought: An anonymous warehouse, perhaps in some industrial part of the city, where piles and piles of bronze tokens glitter in the darkness. I got in touch with MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz to find out for sure. Turns out, my dream was just that. Ortiz says that 45 million of the tokens were scrapped—meaning that they were melted down and turned into scrap metal for other uses. "We still have an inventory of approximately 9 million tokens of different varieties that are sold to licensees as part of agreements to use the tokens for marketable items like cufflinks, watches, golf markers, etc," he says.
Of course, nine million is still plenty of tokens—but nowhere near enough for Scrooge McDuck to swim through.
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