The most beautiful manhole covers in Manhattan

This site is a big fan of the 19th century cast-iron covers that dot the city’s streets and sidewalks—covers that once opened into utility holes or coal chutes.

Many survive to this day, some quite decorative and inventive.

But perhaps the loveliest of all are those built with ornamental design and colored vault lights—small bubbles of glass that allowed sunlight into the underground space.

Jacob Mark (later Jacob Mark Sons) was a leading manufacturer of vault lights and architectural iron work in the late 1800s. His whimsical covers—patented in 1870—with their six-sided stars still glitter a little when the sun catches the glass the right way.

The top one is on Waverly Place and MacDougal Street; the bottom cover, Madison Avenue and 37th Street.

More examples of Jacob Mark’s vault lights can be found here.

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9 Responses to “The most beautiful manhole covers in Manhattan”

  1. petey Says:

    that vault light site is great!

  2. Michele Brody Says:

    What a pleasure to see someone else interested in these cast iron medallions. There is one like this that I point out on my Manhole Cover tour through, which runs from the meat packing district to Union Sq along 14th and 13th Streets. Unfortunately it has mostly been covered over by concrete and asphalt but it is still a wonderful discovery. Hope you can join me on October 27 or November 10 for a visit.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    I just visited your site to try to find out which manhole cover it is! Fascinating stuff.

  4. Bob Jessen Says:

    Are you familar with “New York Lids” by yours truly. Over a hundred lids from private collections & on the ground listed n’ photoed.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    I am now, thanks for informing me. Some of the private collections should be loaned to a museum for an exhibit!

  6. Manhole covers that left their mark on the city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Jacob Mark created his signature covers with colored glass, which look like jewels when the sun hits them the right way. The one at top of the page was discovered in Tribeca. […]

  7. Kirsten Trolle Says:

    Great collection, and yet another reason to go to New York.

  8. Bob Jessen Says:

    Try “New York Lids” Kirsten…

  9. Reading coal hole covers underfoot in Manhattan | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Vault lights are basically glass skylights that allow sunlight into a space, though I’m not sure why that would be advantageous in a hole designed to store coal. […]

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