Metropolitan Museum of Art retires beloved admission buttons

Credit: Bess Adler/Metro New York
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro New York

For decades, a shiny, colored button emblazed with an “M” was a mark of pride for tourists and New Yorkers who recently visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

But after 42 years, the Met retired the admission tokens Monday, citing the tin plate button’s rising costs and increased flexibility of a new paper ticketing system.

“I regret it slightly myself,” Thomas P. Campbell, the museum’s director, told The New York Times.

Each button costs about three cents, but to accommodate more than six million annual visitors, the museum orders about 1.6 million tokens four times a year, amounting to roughly $192,000 annually. A few years ago, the tokens were about two cents—$64,000 less.

“We realize, without sounding crass, that it’s a beloved brand and a beloved symbol,” Met spokesman Harold Holzer told the Times. “It just became too expensive. We saw that it was inevitable.”

Paper tickets, on the other hand, will only cost about a penny. They’re easier on the environment, too, as many visitors ignored the button-recycling bin at the museum’s exit and kept it as a souvenir.

The same day the Met converted to paper ticketing, the museum opened on a Monday for the first time since 1971, when “suggested” admission pricing was established and the buttons were first issued.

There have been hundreds of colors over time, but 16 colors, from a pale pink “piglet” to a dark blue “midnight,” were part of the final circulation.

The “M” is based on a 16th century book with woodcuts adapted from Leonardo da Vinci. As much as proof of purchase as a barge of honor, attempts to collect all colors were not unheard of.

“One of my assistants has a whole rainbow of the colored buttons on her desk,” Campbell said.

Ironically, the announcement signaling the end of the tokens features a graphic depicting their well-known likeness.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter: @AnnaESanders


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