Forty years ago this weekend, on January 1, 1971, The Metropolitan Museum of Art first distributed admission buttons, replacing the envelope-sized, two-color tickets that had been used during a transitional period in 1970.
The current button design features the Museum's distinctive letter M logo, adapted from the 1509 book De divina proportione by Luca Pacioli (Italian, d. ca. 1514), the first known publication to treat the construction of the alphabet and to discuss the shapes and proportions of classical Roman letters. The Museum's button has changed a bit over time. One early version used a Bodoni M, (see image); another used the initials MMA. Hundreds of colors have gone in and out of circulation over the past forty years. The sixteen colors that are now in rotation—they are changed daily in a random order—have been in use for the past decade. (Each color has a name. They are, in no particular order: Barney; Mold; El Mar; Joker; Firefly; Rodeo; Kea; Hubba Bubba; Midnight; Nephrite; Positano; Juniper; Phoenix; Piglet; Robin's Egg; and Poupon.) Distributed to about five million visitors annually, the buttons are collected at Museum exits at the end of each day for recycling.
The Met's admission button is so well known it has even been incorporated into works of art, some of which are now in the Museum's collection. For example, Ji Eong Kang's 1997 Dress is constructed from silk with a V pattern of overlapping beige, brown, and blue admission buttons. The Met Store also offers products featuring the iconic symbol of the Museum.
James Moske is managing archivist in the Museum Archives.