An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Update (October 1, 2020): Last year, Stephen Fantone ’74, in partnership with the Sophomore Class Ring Committee, piloted the Brass Rat Melt Project described below, which raised more than $10,000 for the Brass Rat Financial Assistance Program and helped more than 60 students overcome the financial gap to purchase a class ring.

The effort continues. Please consider donating a Brass Ratif you have a ring from a loved one or know of someone who doesor contributing to the fund.

Stephen Fantone ’74 has a hobby that is unique to MIT: He collects Brass Rats, the commemorative ring worn by MIT students and alumni for nearly 90 years.

“The Brass Rat is a symbol of pride and accomplishment,” he says. “It’s the connection between your own time at the Institute and the next generation of MIT students.”

Fantone is the owner and caretaker of some 30 Brass Rats, most of which he purchased in jewelry stores and online. “I was an early adopter of eBay,” he says.

But a few have a family connection, including Brass Rats belonging to his late father, Joseph Fantone ’48, and his sons, Stephen ’05 and Dennis ’09, who have lent him theirs for safekeeping. His collection even includes a Brass Rat worn by his mother, Jeannette, who graduated from Boston University but was gifted an MIT ring by Joseph during their courtship in the 1940s.

“There’s definitely an emotional connection,” he says. “Because I know that these rings hold some really great memories.”


Brass Rat Ring Melt Program


His collection includes rings of various sizes and alloys, including one customized ring with a small diamond set in its bezel and another with the class year listed as 1929—peculiar since the Brass Rat was first made available to the graduating class of 1930.

“Every ring has its own story,” he says. “You can guess which were worn every day, and others that may have only been used on special occasions.”

But Fantone is no longer looking to add to his collection. In fact, he’s donating a selection of gold Brass Rats to help raise funds for the MIT Ring Committee’s financial assistance program, which works to help MIT students purchase a Brass Rat regardless of economic standing. And he’s hopeful others can do the same.

Fantone’s donation is inspired by West Point Military Academy’s Memorial Ring Program, which allows graduates, or their descendants, to bequeath West Point class rings for the purpose of incorporating the gold into the class rings of future graduates.

“When I learned about West Point’s ring program, I immediately thought of MIT,” he says. “I knew a program like this would resonate with older alumni and even their children, who could appreciate the impact that MIT had on their parents.”

The Brass Rat is a symbol of pride and accomplishment. It’s the connection between your own time at the Institute and the next generation of MIT students.

Fantone is working with the Class of 2022 Brass Rat Committee to bring the tradition to MIT, and is hopeful that alumni or their descendants will donate gold Brass Rats no longer worn or in use. For each ring donation, the gold would be melted and used in new Brass Rats, and its monetary value would be donated to the committee’s financial assistance program.

“The Brass Rat is an amazing tradition to be a part of,” says Lara Ketonen ’22, the Class of 2022 ring committee chair. “MIT is a community of passionate and bright-minded people, but everyone knows you can’t make it through by yourself. My hope is that the ring melt program will help create a stronger connection between every MIT student––past, present, and future.”

Fantone and the committee hope to collect at least 12 rings for the project, which could translate to more than $4,000 in financial assistance for new ring owners.

“Every student has earned the right to have their own Brass Rat,” says Ketonen. “And the ring melt program helps make that happen.”


Brass Rat Ring Melt Program


Fantone, the founder and president of Optikos, an optical engineering services firm and  manufacturer of optical imaging equipment, is unsure if there are any other Brass Rat hobbyists, especially those who may be interested in donating a portion of their collection. But he suspects he’s not the only one.

“I did lose an eBay bid for a ring from 1930,” he says. “So maybe there are more Brass Rat collectors out there!”

Photos by Rebecca Rodriguez.


Kyriakoula Kofiani

Mon, 12/16/2019 6:23am

This is a touching story, to which I can personally relate and I am sure many of the international students, in particular, would as well. The institute is providing us lucky ones with a great education. Having a physical piece of MIT with you at all times gave me the strength I needed many a times. In a sense, I was able to take this magical bubble with me after graduation. Leaving MIT was a shock to me. I felt that outside of 77 Mass Av, people didn't really understand me and having that piece of "home" with me gave me the strength to remember that, if I found it once, it is out there still and to fend off disappointment. In my case, it took me a couple of years to raise the finance to enable the purchase of my BR. It fills me with happiness that didn't waver and took the cost regardless and I am glad to hear that there is now support to bear this, for some, great cost at the start of one's career.

Cheryl Dawson

Sun, 12/22/2019 3:20pm

My Brass Rat has been a connection with people in many a university bookstore where I was reaching for a math book and the guy next to me said "Class of '64. How about you?" a class on dyeing yarn at a spinning/weaving school, where a fellow classmate said " that a Brass Rat? I graduated in..." (I've forgotten his dates, but it meant we understood each other through the rest of the week.)...and most recently, on a weekend mushroom foray where another 'shroomer said "Oh...I graduated in Course VIII. How about you?" I replied "Well I started out in Course VIII but switched to XVIII..." Again, we understood each other the rest of the weekend.

It just enables us to know a Tech grad when we see one.

Walker Sloan

Sun, 12/22/2019 2:00pm

How can one acquire a ring for one's class (1968)?
Walker Sloan (really -- not made up)

Nicole Taylor

Sun, 12/22/2019 9:15pm

Hi Walker: you can find information about how to acquire a Brass Rat for your graduating class on this page:

Joseph Boling

Mon, 12/23/2019 3:51am

I have been waiting 55 years for some metal detector or jewelry shop owner to contact me and say s/he has my ring. I lost it on Fort Benning during officer basic training. My wife gave me a replacement about 1969 but since my full name was engraved in the original, I figured somebody would have found it and traced me by now.
I guess it got melted during one of the gold price peaks between then and now.
Joseph E Boling '64

Joning Chan

Mon, 12/23/2019 10:35am

Visited your above link and found no info for Class of 1974. Of course I contacted Herff Jones Company in MA which produced 1972 - 1975 except 1974 to no avail. I already tried other listed companies and got no where. My experiences tell me these companies are only interested in working with MIT directly, not individuals. Anyway, I am Joning C. Chan of Class 1974 Course 8. If you or any other alumni can help me with info getting a new BR, much appreciated. Here is my contact info:

Thank you and wish you all a Very Happy Holiday Season.

Thomas Friebel

Tue, 05/12/2020 8:14pm

Hi Joning,

I, too, am trying to replace my lost '74 Brass Rat. Have you been able to find the original manufacturer? Or otherwise solved your problem,

Best regards,

Tom Friebel, Course 7

Joning Chan

Mon, 12/23/2019 10:47am

Greetings, Stephen,

Very interesting and noble idea from a fellow member of Class of 74. Wish you much success. I lost my second BR couple years ago and have been monitoring eBay/internet for my BR to no avail. Will you please check your collection and see if, by a billion-to-one chance, it is there? Here is my contact info:

Class 1974
Course 8
Joning C. Chan

Hajime Sano

Wed, 02/05/2020 3:47pm

Hi Stephen,

If you're still looking for an early Brass Rat, I just spotted a Class of '32 ring for sale on eBay.

Haj Sano '82

Hajime Sano

Wed, 02/05/2020 3:51pm

On my post-graduation road trip, the summer of '82, we were at the New Orleans airport Hertz counter to report an incident. One of us noticed the older gentleman (probably younger than I am now) next to us obviously on a business trip picking up his rental car was wearing a Brass Rat. A short discussion ensued before we parted ways.

I wore my Brass Rat for a few years post-graduation, but put it away to wear on special occasions. Since I like to tinker, I was afraid the ring might get caught on a moving part leading to injury. I'd seen my mom and a close friend both almost lost their ring finger when it caught on a moving part. Amusingly, my hand has grown since graduation to where the Brass Rat is now a pinky ring.

Haj Sano '82

Joning Chan

Wed, 07/29/2020 10:35am

Hi, Tom, you may want to try Balfour MIT Grad Rat. The only draw back is it won't give you "SB" on the ring on their website, instead, you can select "Eng" for Engineer.

Other than that, you can have the Class Year (1974), your name inscribed (as an option). The overall ring design has been updated (vs. our 1974 version) and more in line with recent graduation rings (such as the Boston and Cambridge skylines bezels).

BTW, do you remember Henry Hall of Course 7? One of my roommates at MIT. He should be one or two years before you.

Stay safe in this pandemic time.

Best regards from Boston.

Thomas Friebel

Thu, 07/30/2020 4:29pm

Hi Joning,

Thank you for the ring info.

No, I do not remember a person by the name of Henry Hall.

Stay safe! And best regards from Honolulu.