Museum of Modern Art Adds Original 1999 Emojis to Their Collection


Shigetaka Kurita, NTT DOCOMO // Museum of Modern Art

Emojis may feel like a fairly recent innovation, but the cutesy, digital pictographs predate iPhones by about eight years. In 1999, the Japanese mobile provider NTT DoCoMo developed the original set of “emojis” for pagers. Now, the 12-by-12 pixel pieces of modern history have found a new home at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The New York Times reports.

The MoMA announced the acquisition of the retro emoji collection on Thursday, October 20. The set includes some images today’s texters will recognize: crude versions of a sun, a peace sign, and a smiley face are all represented. There are also a few glyphs that have failed to stand the test of time, like a '90s-style cell phone and a “FAX” emoji.

The NTT DoCoMo emojis were successful when they first debuted, inspiring many copycats throughout Japan. It would take over a decade for the concept to gain steam around the rest of the world with the launch of the first emoji keyboard for the iPhone in 2011. The symbols have since multiplied from the original 176 in 1999 to over 2000 today.

The old-school emojis are the latest digital collection to become a part of the museum. In 2010, they added the @ symbol, and in 2012 they acquired 14 video games including Pac-Man, Tetris, and The Sims. The new emoji installation, which will include 2D graphics and animations, will be on display starting in December at the MoMA in Manhattan.

[h/t The New York Times]

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at