Sophisticated Souvenirs

Erin O’Hara

Empire State Building snow globes and I ♥ NY T-shirts have their place in the souvenir spectrum as kitschy New York City icons. (Because who can resist a little kitsch?) But the City's many museum stores offer other enticing and not-so-standard mementos. Chances are you've already visited—and if you haven't, you must—the Met's spacious visitor shop and the MoMA Store, but that's only the beginning. Take a detour from typical souvenir shops and head to museums throughout NYC to find that unconventional gift (and view the exhibitions, of course). Check out our six picks that range from classic to quirky.

Museum of the City of New York: Carte Postale New York, $12
If you haven't noticed, old is in. Carte Postale New York, a set of 18 assorted vintage postcards, includes re-creations of classic NYC scenes—from old-school drawings of the Empire State Building to Coney Island and the Manhattan skyline. Put them in your photo album or send them out (just be sure to keep the reusable "New York, New York" tin for yourself).

New-York Historical Society: Manhattan in Maps: 1527–1995, $50
Manhattan in Maps: 1527–1995 is a cartographic love letter to New York—past, present and future. The attractive tome chronicles the geographical and industrial evolution of New York City, from the first known map (the Maggiolo Map from 1527) to those drafted just over a decade ago to the latest satellite photos of Manhattan. Its informative commentary makes for an interesting read, while its design and images make it an easy-to-peruse coffee-table book.

New YorkTransit Museum: Grab Hold, $35
"Stand clear of the closing doors, please"—and hold on. Taken out of commission in 2003, Redbird subway cars (built in the late '50s, '60s and early '70s) now seem like ancient relics compared with newer, sleeker NYC trains with digital signs and automated announcements. But few New Yorkers forget the comfort of the hinged handholds that characterized the defunct cars. Now you can take home one of these coveted artifacts—the limited-edition steel stirrups hail from actual Redbird subway trains and are sold "as is." Find a creative way to make the handle functional in your apartment (above the bathtub, perhaps?), or just bolt it anywhere as a conversation piece.

American Folk Art Museum: New York City Pillow, $153
This hand-embroidered pillow is the perfect place to rest your head after a trip to the city that never sleeps. The pillow—which requires more than 50 hours to complete—features a jumbled-up map of the Big Apple. The design is made up of words and pictures representing quintessential New York neighborhoods and landmarks—from Battery Park to Harlem to the Statue of Liberty to the Brooklyn Bridge. Pick one up to dream of NYC, no matter where you reside.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum: NYC Manhole Cover Door Mat, $30
Bring part of the NYC streets back to your hometown. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum sells a surprisingly convincing manhole-cover doormat, with the same design and "N.Y.C. Sewer" lettering as the real deal. It's made of 100% recycled truck tires (that have probably seen their fair share of real manhole covers) and durable enough for indoor or outdoor use.

Brooklyn Museum: WeeGee Coney Island Scarf, $60
From the late '30s into the '50s, photographer Arthur Fellig (better known as Weegee) made a statement capturing New York City on film with beautiful and at times shocking black-and-white shots of socialites, deviancy and the overall NYC day-to-day. Now you can pick up your own Weegee fashion statement at the Brooklyn Museum—a 100% silk chiffon scarf printed with his famous photograph Crowd at Coney Island (1940).