Philly businesses memorialize the SEPTA token with jewelry

Is the weight of nostalgia heavier than the SEPTA tokens that once clinked in your pocket? Not to worry — a handful of local businesses have come up with inventive ways to memorialize the soon-to-be-archaic coin.

With SEPTA getting rid of tokens, shops like VIX Emporium in West Philadelphia and Etsy’s Token of Affection are working to fill an impending void by making small keepsakes — from necklaces to earrings to key chains — with the coins.

“We got the idea as soon as SEPTA announced it was phasing out the tokens for real this time,” said Anita Mastroieni, one of three women behind Token of Affection, which sells about 35 items, including chokers, pass holders, and earrings, named after stops along the Market-Frankford and Broad Street Lines. Prices range between $12 and $25.

Camera icon Token of Affection
A SEPTA token necklace selling for $20 on Token of Affection’s Etsy shop.

The transit agency’s phase-out plan, which began in January, is moving according to schedule, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said. Commuters can no longer buy tokens from cashiers’ booths, and vending machines that dispensed tokens at subway stations have been removed.

Sales of tokens have continued to drop as the agency encourages commuters to transition to SEPTA Key cards. About 1.65 million tokens were used as payment in January, dropping from 2.75 million in January 2017. SEPTA still accepts the token as a form of payment, however.

“We’ll continue to roll [the tokens out] throughout the spring to where the options for places to purchase them are going to continue to sort of dwindle,” Busch said.

Camera icon Token of Affection
A SEPTA token eyeglass holder, $25, and earrings, $20, for sale on Token of Affection’s Etsy shop.

Businesses selling the mementos are concerned about how they’ll get hold of tokens after they’re gone from stores.

Emily Conroy Dorn, who runs VIX, said she has about 100 tokens stockpiled to turn into key chains, which sell for $7, and necklaces, which sell for $12. Mastroieni said Token of Affection had about 200 on hand.

“And we’re going to need more than that,” she said.

>> READ MORE: Eulogy for the SEPTA token

But for the time being, both said their items are selling well. Conroy Dorn said the key chains were popular stocking stuffers around the holidays.

“I appreciate that [SEPTA’s] getting into the computer age with the cards, but the tokens are so cool,” Conroy Dorn said. “And Philly held on for as long as they could, I guess.”

Camera icon Emily Conroy Dorn
A SEPTA token key chain, $7, and necklace, $12, for sale at VIX Emporium.

Looking for other options? A little internet digging shows that Conroy Dorn and Mastroieni aren’t alone in their creative token endeavors. Coinedjewelry, a seller on eBay, has a pendant necklace featuring a vintage bicentennial token for about $25.  Another seller, Russrazor, sells cuff links and money clips for about $20 and $12.

Though interest may be growing because of the historical significance, token jewelry isn’t exactly new — a set of earrings, a bracelet, and a necklace were pictured in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on Dec. 31, 1952.

Camera icon Temple University Libraries, Special Collections Research Center / George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection
A set of transit token jewelry in 1952.

As for SEPTA’s own homage to the last transportation token to be used in a major U.S. city? The agency sells its own cuff links in its transit store, and has a history of joking that it would make its own jewelry out of the tokens.

Before deciding on any such creative effort, Busch said, phasing out the coin is the top priority.

“We want to give some kind of recognition that they’ve been a pretty big part of people’s daily commute for many years,” Busch said.