For 44 years it cost a five cents to ride a bus or subway and all riders needed to get on board was a nickel.
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers who reached manhood in the 1950s and 1960s can still recall receiving one of those little tokens in the envelope with their draft notices to make it easy for them to report to the induction center.
In 1970, a larger token, also with a "Y" cutout, debuted along with the 30-cent fare.
At the transit museum store, you can buy a set of the five "historic" New York City subway tokens, introduced in 1953, 1970, 1980, 19, as well as subway tokens made into key rings, lapel pins, cuff links, bracelets, and money clips.
Other stores sell ashtrays, paperweights, drinking glasses, coasters, mugs, ties, t-shirts, Christmas ornaments, even dresses festooned with the image of the token.
Phasing out the token, transit officials say, will save million a year in handling costs.
"In this time of dwindling resources, the shift away from tokens will allow us to be more efficient," Lawrence G.
The epidemic led to widespread disgust among even hardened New Yorkers, and to ingenuity among subway workers who fought back with mace, chili powder and even super-strength glue.
Fare increases also gave rise to a unique form of arbitrage.
"It says 'NYC' on it, so that's certainly a big part of its appeal, but it's also popular because it's a very democratic symbol," said Sarah Henry, a historian with the Museum of the City of New York, which featured the token prominently in its recent exhibition entitled "NYCentury" on the city's symbols.
"Because the subway is so deeply embedded in New York's identity and so many different kinds of people use it, the token by symbolizing the subway comes to symbolize the city." In that way, at least, the token will not be replaced: "The Metro Card," she said with a touch of scorn, "doesn't have the visual presence of the token." RELATIVE NEWCOMER The token is so closely identified with New York that most people do not realize that the subway system carried New Yorkers for 49 years before it acquired its own currency.
On one side was the legend "Good for One Fare," on the other "New York City Transit Authority." In the center were the letters "NYC" with the "Y" cut out.