We’ve been scouring the internet, libraries, archives, and antique shops all over western New York in search of anything we can get our hands on that may have had anything to do with Rochester’s subway. It’s all fair game— from old photos, postcards, tickets and passes—even stories and opinions from our readers. In our searching we’ve learned that the tiniest subway finds are usually the coolest. Case in point—tokens—at just 16mm (that’s millimeters), many of these coins are small enough to get stuck up your nose. But don’t try it. Trust us.
Rochester’s first tokens were introduced in 1887 by the Rochester City and Brighton Railway. In those days, city trolleys were horse drawn and tokens (23mm in size), were sold 22 for $1.00. Due to a lack of popularity, tokens were discontinued and replace with tickets until 1900 when the Rochester Railway Co. reintroduced them in their smaller (16mm) size. Since then, tokens have been used regularly for city fares by Rochester Railway Co. and then Rochester Transit Corp. when eventually they would change from metal to plastic… PLASTIC?!?
In 1943 Donald Byrne, who was with the RTC and it’s rail predecessors for 59 years, recalled the following:
When tokens were introduced, riders had to walk to the front of the car and hand one to the driver. Later, fare conveyors were installed and passengers could board at the rear, find a seat, and drop a token into the conveyor. On the old cars there was a device that registered the passengers as they stepped onto the rear platform. That indicated to the driver how many passengers were aboard. If someone tried to evade paying a fare the driver would jingle a warning bell—“and everyone would look to see who didn’t pay.”
When we discovered this amazing little roll of tokens (above) in a Rochester antique shop, we were amazed — if slightly confused. Amazed because we had never seen an unopened roll of Rochester transit tokens before… Confused because this roll of tokens seems to have a bit of an identity crisis. While the roll itself has been clearly stamped by Rochester Transit Corporation (RTC), the tokens inside are those of New York State Railways. It turns out, RTC took over operation of Rochester’s rail lines from N.Y.S. Railways in 1938, but the old tokens weren’t discontinued until 1939. So it appears that RTC continued to use the old N.Y.S. Railways tokens during this one-year overlap. A similar token reading “Rochester Transit Corp.” would later be introduced. Tokens always had the advantage of not requiring the bus driver or trolley motorman to make change, but they also could be used for quantity discounts. With a fare at 10 cents, you could buy 13 tokens for a dollar. According to Jim Dierks of the NY Museum of Transportation, “A roll like this one is likely the form the tokens would be kept in at the company or in distribution to retail sales locations like newstands, etc.“ Nifty!
If you’re still reading then you’re probably just like us… a little geeky but cool enough to admit it. We took our favorite Rochester token and immortalized it on our chests. But if you’re not into tattoos, there’s always this t-shirt. It’s just as cool on the back as it is on the front. Plus it’ll keep you from being naked.
So whether you’re a coin collector, rail aficionado, or just have affinity for things that are round, visit our page on Rochester transit tokens. And please contact us if you’ve got a token or subway artifact you’d like to share with RochesterSubway.com.
Tags: collectible coins, Donald Byrne, history of Rochester, Jim Dierks, New York, New York Museum of Transportation, New York State Railways, NY, NYS Railways, Rochester City and Brighton Railway, Rochester history, Rochester Railway Company, Rochester Subway, Rochester Transit Corporation, rochestersubway.com, RochesterSubway.com Token T-shirt, token roll, tokens, transit tokens, trolleys
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