ASL was never this filthy

You’ve probably already seen this – the WSJ picked it up on Sunday – but if you haven’t, fire up TradingPitHistory.com. Ryan Carlson, an independent trader at the CME, is building an encyclopedia of all the hand signals that futures pit traders used back in the good old days of shouting and manual trade tickets and brightly coloured jackets.

You’ll learn all sorts of stuff from having a browse around. From the basics – palms in means “buying”, palms out means “selling” – through the signals for numbers, months (it’s hot in August, right?) and years (with bonus elaborate visual puns), options strategies, order executions (reload!)…

But the best part by far are the hand signals used to identify market participants. The WSJ article mentions Merrill Lynch (bull horns, sure, but on CBOT they had a different signal) and Bear Stearns, and touches on the little kerfuffle over Deutsche’s hand sign – but if you thought that was politically incorrect, wait ’til you see how inventive Liffe and Simex traders were.

Nomura on Simex (drinking from a glass – from nomu, Japanese for “to drink”) is one of the more printable ones. Fuji Bank (as they were then) on Liffe is another visual pun. The LIFFE signals for IBJ, Chemical Bank, and Babcock and Brown are probably enough to get the site blocked in certain uptight jurisdictions. And the solitary entry from the SFE – for Bankers Trust – speaks volumes about the Australian character.

(On a more serious note, it’s heartening that someone’s archiving all of this information. Carlson has a sideline as a professional collector of market paraphernalia; without people like him, all of this market history would be lost in a torrent of technology and up-to-the-minute analysis and uninformed rubbish. And that’d be sad.)

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