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On Ticks and Tapes: Financial Knowledge, Communicative Practices, and the Rise of Financial Information Technologies
Unformatted Document Text:  On Ticks and Tapes 9 they had reached 1200. Other publications (Gibson 1889, p. 82) claimed that by 1882 there were1,000 tickers in New York Cityalone, rented to offices at a rate of $10 per month. Peter Wyckoff(1972, pp. 40, 46) evaluates the number of tickers in use at 837 in 1900 and 1,278 in 1906. Bondtickers were introduced in 1919. The ticker was also mentioned in the correspondence and diariesof well-to-do New York investors. We encounter the example of Edward Neufville Tailer, a rich(though not among the richest) woolen goods wholesale merchant, who kept a diary between1848 and 1907. When Tailer undertook a business trip through the Midwest and South in 1880,he regularly went to brokerage offices in cities like Nashville and Cincinnati, in order to watchthe ticker. At least some of the New York City restaurants had tickers in the dining rooms. At Miller's and Delmonico’s, investors could follow the price variations in real time, ordering a mealand some stocks at the same time (Babson 1908, p. 47). Private stock auctioneers also installedtickers on the exchange floor. Not only that the ticker was present in places where the uppermiddle classes congregated—it was also present on the fringes of the marketplace, in the badlylit, narrow bucket shops where poorer people came to invest their few dollars. So strong was theinfluence of the ticker and the prestige associated with it that bucket shop operators feltcompelled to install fake tickers and wires going only to the edge of the rug, together withadditional paraphernalia like mock quotation tables and fake newsletters (Fabian 1990, p. 191;Cowing 1965, p. 103). The ticker became a prized possession, to be kept until a speculator’s last breath: when Daniel Drew, the famed speculator of the 1850s and early 1860s died in 1879, his onlypossessions were a Bible, a sealskin coat, a watch, and a ticker (Wyckoff 1972, p. 28). V. The Ticker as a Sociolinguistic Machine In the absence of the ticker, it was understandable that even big brokerage houses like Richard Irvine’s did not bother much sending telegrams: the telegraph did not solve a basicproblem of the marketplace, that of directly tying prices to floor transactions. In-between therewas a myriad of paper slips littering the floor, a crowd of courier boys running in all directions,ears at the keyhole, as well as some forgers (not very rare). This whole system of socialinteractions obscured any direct relationship between the published price and the interactionalnature of financial transactions. The said transactions were, then as in the 18 th century (Preda 2001b) and as today (Knorr Cetina and Bruegger 2002) conversational exchanges. Securitiesprices were set by conversational turns; a “market turn” meant in early 19 th century London a conversational transaction, a price variation, and the broker’s fee on £100 worth of transactedsecurities. Contracts were written down by back office clerks at the end of the working day. This meant that the interactional price-setting mechanism of the marketplace was the speech act. This had to fulfill specific felicity conditions in order to be valid, of course:participants knew each other, had legitimate access to the floor, and had a transactional record,among others. But this does not obscure the fact that it was the perlocutionary force of a speechact which set the price (Austin 1970 [1961]). Paper slips fixed and visualized this conversationaloutcome post hoc and only for momentary needs. They were an ephemeral trace left byconversations, which could otherwise be observed only from the visitors’ gallery, as aconglomerate of shoutings and wild gestures. Conversations could not be directly andindividually witnessed; the only proof of them having taken place lived less than a fruit fly. Thisis why all commentators of the financial marketplace, from the 18 th century on, emphasized the key role of honor as an unspoken condition for the felicity of transactions.

Authors: Preda, Alexandru.
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On Ticks and Tapes
9
they had reached 1200. Other publications (Gibson 1889, p. 82) claimed that by 1882 there were
1,000 tickers in New York Cityalone, rented to offices at a rate of $10 per month. Peter Wyckoff
(1972, pp. 40, 46) evaluates the number of tickers in use at 837 in 1900 and 1,278 in 1906. Bond
tickers were introduced in 1919. The ticker was also mentioned in the correspondence and diaries
of well-to-do New York investors. We encounter the example of Edward Neufville Tailer, a rich
(though not among the richest) woolen goods wholesale merchant, who kept a diary between
1848 and 1907. When Tailer undertook a business trip through the Midwest and South in 1880,
he regularly went to brokerage offices in cities like Nashville and Cincinnati, in order to watch
the ticker.
At least some of the New York City restaurants had tickers in the dining rooms. At
Miller's and Delmonico’s, investors could follow the price variations in real time, ordering a meal
and some stocks at the same time (Babson 1908, p. 47). Private stock auctioneers also installed
tickers on the exchange floor. Not only that the ticker was present in places where the upper
middle classes congregated—it was also present on the fringes of the marketplace, in the badly
lit, narrow bucket shops where poorer people came to invest their few dollars. So strong was the
influence of the ticker and the prestige associated with it that bucket shop operators felt
compelled to install fake tickers and wires going only to the edge of the rug, together with
additional paraphernalia like mock quotation tables and fake newsletters (Fabian 1990, p. 191;
Cowing 1965, p. 103).
The ticker became a prized possession, to be kept until a speculator’s last breath: when
Daniel Drew, the famed speculator of the 1850s and early 1860s died in 1879, his only
possessions were a Bible, a sealskin coat, a watch, and a ticker (Wyckoff 1972, p. 28).
V. The Ticker as a Sociolinguistic Machine
In the absence of the ticker, it was understandable that even big brokerage houses like
Richard Irvine’s did not bother much sending telegrams: the telegraph did not solve a basic
problem of the marketplace, that of directly tying prices to floor transactions. In-between there
was a myriad of paper slips littering the floor, a crowd of courier boys running in all directions,
ears at the keyhole, as well as some forgers (not very rare). This whole system of social
interactions obscured any direct relationship between the published price and the interactional
nature of financial transactions. The said transactions were, then as in the 18
th
century (Preda
2001b) and as today (Knorr Cetina and Bruegger 2002) conversational exchanges. Securities
prices were set by conversational turns; a “market turn” meant in early 19
th
century London a
conversational transaction, a price variation, and the broker’s fee on £100 worth of transacted
securities. Contracts were written down by back office clerks at the end of the working day.
This meant that the interactional price-setting mechanism of the marketplace was the
speech act. This had to fulfill specific felicity conditions in order to be valid, of course:
participants knew each other, had legitimate access to the floor, and had a transactional record,
among others. But this does not obscure the fact that it was the perlocutionary force of a speech
act which set the price (Austin 1970 [1961]). Paper slips fixed and visualized this conversational
outcome post hoc and only for momentary needs. They were an ephemeral trace left by
conversations, which could otherwise be observed only from the visitors’ gallery, as a
conglomerate of shoutings and wild gestures. Conversations could not be directly and
individually witnessed; the only proof of them having taken place lived less than a fruit fly. This
is why all commentators of the financial marketplace, from the 18
th
century on, emphasized the
key role of honor as an unspoken condition for the felicity of transactions.


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