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Ticker Ink and Rollers


Western Union used a dark purple ink for their stock tickers.

Service men were issued a can of ink, labeled "1 Pint, #56 Purple, Ticker Ink"

I think I saw a gallon can once, but don't have a photo. Since it is numbered 56, I assume Western Union purchased ink from a manufacturer rather than mixing their own. (I doubt that Western Union needed 56 different color shades of ink.)

And it was tough stuff. No eco-friendly, water-soluble inks back then. If you've ever cleaned an old ticker-tape machine, you probably walked away with purple hands.

Originally, all stock tickers came with only one roller, made of felt, and held in place by two screws. I'm not sure how long it lasted before re-inking (week or month?), but tickers would have gotten a new roller during their annual service visit.

Service men usually carried a dozen new felt rollers in a can with about an inch of ink inside.

They used ice tongs to hold the inky rollers while dipping, screwing, or unscrewing.

But the system changed in 1930, when the new Black Box Ticker came out with its handy-dandy ink roller box.

This new stock ticker used a second roller made of rubber, placed between the felt roller and the typewheel. It had fewer drips, printed cleaner characters, and lowered the wear and tear on the felt. But the big difference was that the rollers rode on pins, rather than screws, and could be easily dropped in place via two slots. No more struggling with screws while holding a wet roller in the broker's clean office!

Soon afterward, a similar ink roller box for self-winding tickers was produced, and the universal ticker got a make-over as well.

There wasn't room to add a box to the universal stock ticker, so a stainless steel mount was created, that screwed into the old brass roller brackets.

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Soon all the Western Union tickers were converted to this new roller system. They even created special roller tongs just for tickers.

They had a "V" cut for pulling the roller out by its pins, four teeth for grabbing, and crescent-shaped ends for pushing the rollers down the slot. Again, you can see these old tongs still have purple ink stains.

So what would I do if I wanted to get an old stock ticker to print, but had no ink and no rollers?

Well, for the ink, I'd check with typewriter collectors. That's the only ink I can think of that's both permanent and won't dry out quickly. There are a lot of collectors on the web, so I'm sure they have a supplier or a make-your-own formula.

The rubber roller is not essential to printing, but one could be made from rubber hose with a spool placed inside. If appearance is not important, a cork may work in place of rubber.

There are some reproduction felt rollers on the market, but they are mostly for show. They are made with glue that is not "ink tested" and could lead to disaster.

For a realistic felt roller, I'd check a plumbing supply store. Some faucets use felt bushings that are pretty big. A simpler but less authentic alternative would be to find a tiny paint roller. They come in all sizes these days.

Another possibility is looking for a roller like the one used on the reproduction ticker below.

I remember having rollers of this type back in the 1990s, but don't remember what they went to. Electric typewriter or computer printer? But mine were only half that size. They may have produced their own roller for this ticker.

Exchange Telegraph Stock Ticker

Edison's Universal Stock Ticker

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