From tiny individual subway tokens to full-size vintage operational subway cars, the archives and collections of the New York Transit Museum tell the ever-evolving story of mass transportation in New York City through a plethora of artifacts. The museum acquires historical items through a variety of means including purchases from auctions, public gift donations, internal transfers from other MTA departments, and even donations from other museums that have items that fit more appropriately in the Transit Museum’s collection. In a new exhibit, What’s Old is New Again: Recent Acquisitions, you can see some of the Museum’s recent acquisitions, including the oldest item in its entire collection, a ledger from the 1800s.
The New York and Harlem Railroad Ledger Book dates back to 1831 and, barring the core samples of Manhattan schist rock in the collection which are millions of years old, is the oldest item in the collections. The item was purchased at a flea market by a book collector who appreciated the original full sheepskin binding, unusual decorative gilt bands and extensive tooling. At the time, he was not aware of the ledger’s contents or its importance to railroad history. He later offered the item at auction, where the Museum purchased it.
New York and Harlem Railroad Ledger Book, 1831-1937; New York Transit Museum Collection
This ledger offers insight into the construction of the city’s first rail line, with entries dating from June 1, 1831, just a few weeks after the incorporation of the New York and Harlem Railroad. Expense accounts show the sources for the company’s iron rails and granite stone, and the wooden rails ordered for the Bowery portion of the line. Also listed are the contractors who were hired to perform grading work along Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue), whose earnings totaled over $570,000.
You can see the ledger up-close in the New York Transit Museum’s new exhibit What’s Old is New Again: Recent Acquisitions. The exhibit highlights a selection of transit treasures that have been acquired over the last decade, including photographs from the New York Central Railroad and New York City Transit Authority, terra cotta and ceramic samples, signage, posters and more. Photographs and artifacts included in the exhibit span more than 180 years, providing a fresh perspective into the storied history of New York City and its transportation system. What’s Old is New Again will be on view through October 20, 2019.
On Thursday, July 25th, you can learn more stories behind the exhibit’s items through an engaging presentation and lively discussion with the museum’s archives and collections staff. At this event, Inside the Archives, visitors will learn how the Museum acquires and preserves objects and archival materials, and view recent acquisitions. If you are an Untapped Cities Insider, you can save $5 off your ticket to this event by using the discount code posted in our members-only Facebook group. Tickets to the event are on sale now and can be purchased online here.
Next, check out The Top 20 Secrets of the NYC Subway