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Star Electric Stock Ticker - Fact or Fake?



Gold and Stock Exchange ? Star Electric Company, Binghamton, NY Antiques Roadshow 2011

Fake Stock Ticker shows up on Antiques Roadshow -

I've been waiting 10 years for PBS's Antiques Roadshow to showcase a vintage stock ticker, and when they finally did, it appears to be a forgery. Or at best, it was a prop for a movie or play.

At first I thought it was legitimate. The black base, labeled "New York Gold and Stock Exchange," is beautiful and appears to be from an early self-winding ticker. I'd never seen a model like this, but there were a lot of obscure ticker models that didn't reach high production and are seldom or never seen. The self-winder went through several transformations in its early years, but this wasn't one of them.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no ink roller. (The large ink roller boxes weren't added until after 1930, but it still requires one ink roller to print.) Also the tape leaving the mechanism pushes straight down. It would need to make a 90-degree turn to exit the base. If you turned this on without an accompanying tape winder, the tape would bunch up and fill the glass dome.

Next, I noticed there were no magnets. Stock tickers normally have four electro-magnets, with at least two visible from any side view. This was beginning to look like a fire alarm register, which used two magnets deeper inside along with a key-wound spring.


Pictures of a regular Self-Winding stock ticker:

When I tried to research the Star Electric Company, I found no connection to stock tickers. But again, that's not unusual. Many different companies made tickers in small batches. I did find that Star made fire alarms, tape registers, fire bells, fans, and toasters. Similar to other electrical companies of the day.

Upon further examinations of the video (Couldn't you remove the dome?), I noted several other anomalies (see picture below)

1. This is an ordinary paper-feed wheel. It has no visible letters or numbers and no striker. Plus, the wheel is in contact with the backside of the paper.

2. Appears to be a modern screw, where the crank shaft for a winding key might have been. (Not found on stock tickers.)

3. This looks like a piston, used to punch holes in the paper tape. (Also not found on stock tickers.) It's cover plate and six screws are missing.

4. The plate cover for the piston has apparently been removed because the paper is too wide. Indicates to me that the oversized paper reel is probably from a different machine.

My conclusion is that this is a Punch Register, which has been retro-fitted with a bigger reel and made to fit on a stock ticker base.  I couldn't find any photos of Star Electric's registers, but here are a couple pen registers made by Gamewell on their original bases. These were used in fire houses across the country. When someone in the city pulled a fire alarm, the register at the station printed out the location of the fire, usually in Morse code. Some registers punched out dots and dashes, and others punched small holes for dots and large holes for dashes.

If you imagine them without the paper reels and bases, you can see the similarities with this ticker.


Even though its reminiscent of the Fiji mermaid (when P. T. Barnum sewed a monkey torso to a fish's tail), I still think the original stock ticker base is beautiful, and is probably worth $2000. But the rest is worth about $100 as spare parts. I don't blame the appraisers of Antiques Roadshow. The mechanism truly is old, and is a tickertape machine of sorts. Just not one used for stock quotations. If you don't deal in scientific instruments, most antique dealers would never see a stock ticker in their lifetime. I do, however, wonder why they didn't notice the reproduction glass dome, or that the piston plate cover was missing.

If anyone has further evidence for or against this argument, email Rusty at Wackypakkr@aol.com

You can watch the original broadcast here:



I enjoyed your debunking of that Antiques Roadshow stock ticker, and I can confirm (from slightly foggy memory) your theory of what the Gamewell mechanism did (especially what appears to be a punch mechanism near the output at the bottom).

A zillion years ago, I was given a tour of the Lynnfield, MA Fire Department, back when they were using what appeared to be the same Gamewell system for fire alarms, including call boxes mounted on telephone poles around town. Each call box had its own 3-digit code, and pulling the box transmitted that code to the fire station.

The paper-tape punch was used to punch the 3-digit codes as a series of triangular holes in the paper tape, counting out the first digit, then a gap, then counting out the second digit and so on. The mechanism shown in the ticker-tape images looks capable of doing exactly that.

The tape then proceeded into a mechanism that triggered a huge (hockey-game quality) air horn on the top of the fire station, sounding out those punches as a series of honks to alert the volunteer firefighters living in the area. Instead of having to go to the fire station, they could then converge on the call box instead, after looking up the code and box location on a little chart and map that I think most everyone had in their house, courtesy of the local hardware store. (Kids like us loved to look up the number, then race over on our bikes.) They'd meet the fire engine there, fight the fire or whatever.

So yes, that looks a little fake-ish, and does indeed appear to be a paper tape punch rather than a printer. Wonder what its real story is.


P.S. I didn't have a chance to explore your site all that thoroughly, but I hope your ticker movie sightings section includes "The Hudsucker Proxy." Great film...

Hi Andy, Thanks for the insight into the fire alarms. I've seen a variety of "used tape" from these, but never saw one in action. I will be adding "The Hudsucker Proxy" to my movie list soon. They built their own prop ticker for the film.

This is George of Edison Gallery (and ex. Skinner's) here.  I believe we've dealt with each other in the past.

I'm now living in Chicago and saw this ticker at a local auction house last year.  It is indeed a fake.  I took it apart and explained to the auctioneer what it was, and why.   You're correct that it is a fire register.  It's been flipped 45 degrees to fit into what was an original base that had been altered so it would fit (real shame there). 
Anyhow, suffice to say the auctioneer made an announcement about the piece being "as is, we don't vouch for it" and it didn't get a bid.  I think they opened it up near what this man's wife paid (it was obviously reserved high). Since the show was in Des Moines, I guess the owner then dumped it out that way in order to find another sucker, and they did.
Best regards and thanks for posting this.....it was in the Kovels Newsletter this week.
Hi George, Thanks for the confirmation. I was hesitant at first because of the limited view, but there were too many warning signs to ignore it. Very sad about the base being altered.

I'm sorry, but it is Roadshow's fault.  The individual experts choose what to cover on the show from a long line of prospects and have prep time to consult books or call another expert in the given discipline.  It's a well endowed production with plenty of brains, grips and gofers and it is recorded so there is even a second chance in the edit suite after initial production.

I have made mistakes in my antiques Q&A column and the last thing I need is someone holding my hand, telling me that it's ok.  I need to relive the mistake so it doesn't happen again.
Jay Moore
The Tampa Tribune
The Richmond Times-Dispatch

I understand your frustration, Jay. Mine is that there are no books on stock tickers, and very little on the web. And even the "experts" can be wrong if it's not one of the popular models. Sometimes they're wrong when it IS a popular one. Last time I went to the Thomas Edison Museum, the curators had the wrong ticker model (circa 1920) on display as Edison's invention (circa 1870). They even sell postcards of it in the gift shop.

Someone experienced with telegraph instruments would have identified this as a punch register. But those same instrument experts would probably identify this rare English stock ticker as a simple telegraphic printer.  
In the end, Roadshow's mission is to entertain (quickly and cheaply), and show us interesting things. So they do a google search, consult each other, roll cameras, and repeat. I doubt there's much research after the 2-minute spot is shot. I'm not saying it's OK to be wrong. I'm saying that when faced with an odd-ball stock ticker, many experts WILL be wrong.
While I've got your attention, how about giving me a value estimate on this AMEX trading post. It's been sitting in my hall for a couple years, and I'm looking to sell it.


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