'Ticket machine' is a cover-all term. It can mean a basic mechanical device for dispensing a pre-printed ticket or a modern device using thermal paper and a complex stat gathering micro processor.
This guide relates to the mechanical machines that were seen up until the 1990s. Wayfarers and Almex A90 machines are fairly complex; Wayfarers in particular come in a number of shapes and sizes. The original machines could be programmed without the need for any other hardware or modules. Later machines would need a depot machine and module if you wanted to personalise your tickets. Oh yes - a 12 or 24V supply too! Printers on these machines were dot matrix and used mechanical pins and a fabric ribbon. These were prone to wear and well used examples will produce very fuzzy tickets. A decent set up allowing you to set up your own tickets will cost you £300.
Turning to the other sorts of machines... Setrights are rectangular boxes but very diverse and seen by many as the classic country bus machine. They print fares in the range 0-49p; 0-99p, 0-199p and 0-999p depending on what you buy. Generally ticket classes were Single, Return, Child, C Return, Special and odd special classes such as Multi Journey. They printed date, stage boarded (0-99) and a serial number. Ticket rolls are still available quite freely. Expect to pay £70 for a nice one. New ink ribbons are still available. Check it has a crank handle too - some were adapted for use with a motor drive...
TIM machines look the part but are generally quite well worn. The print plates may have lost clarity of the operator name and the ink roller will certainly have been compressed to a rock hard lump following years of use. Inking will generally give it a new lease of life (brushing the roller with a wire brush will encourage greater ink absorption) but as with all machines you must use OIL BASED INK! Stamp pad ink is water based and will rust the steel parts. TIP: Franking machine ink IS oil based but only comes in red - OK for a Glasgow TIM which always used red ink. If unable to source ink and machine print still visible? A squirt of WD40 on the roller will dissolve any dried in ink and give it a new lease of life.
A few local authority ones still surface (deck chairs, swimming baths, etc) and command higher prices than the numerous Salford or Belfast bus machines. The local auth ones tend to have less use as well. £30 - £90 depending on rarity. They take the same rolls as Gibsons...
Gibson A14 - the daddy of all machines! London Transport's classic conductor machine. Get the parachute harness with it and look the part! Most are alpha fare machines i.e. ticket shows a letter (A to P) for the fare paid but some old numeric fare machines do turn up now and again. Country area machines showed the date instead of the route number and command high prices. Expect to pay £250-£350 for a good alpha machine. Check that the LONDON TRANSPORT name has not been ground off the print plate - LT did this to a lot of machines when they started selling them off. Try and get it with a box and a harness - if possible, the box should have same number as machine. Machines numbered 3xxxx are later ones and will probably print a better ticket.
Almex machines are Swedish and generally you will see the Almex A - a modern looking machine with coloured finger dials to enter fare etc. Prone to jamming and very difficult to get inside. They produce a small square ticket. Generally sell for £20 or less as not as collectable. The larger machines with more than 5 bands have audit capabilities and will reach higher prices. The Almex E was used on London one man buses in the 1980s amongst others and whilst needing a power winder, they will work manually if the seller includes the emergency ticket lever. £70 for a nice one. Some operators had more info on their tickets - London just showed fare, stage, route and serial number.
BUYINGSetrights, Almex E and TIM tend to be the most frequent machines on eBay. When considering a machine, check the pictures. If the seller has posted a picture of the ticket produced, study it. TIM machines were in use up to 80 years ago and the print plates are generally quite worn on the edges. This is because they were rolled against a print pad then rolled against the paper which was kept in contact by a sprung roller. The plates cannot be refurbished although the print quality can be improved by picking the years of inky felt dust out of the spaces between letters/numbers - a toothbrush is a good tool. The main exception to this are machines used by non-transport institutions. Swimming pools, sports clubs and even laundries were known to use TIMs and their wear would be much less. Setright machines work on a different system - the printing is done by vertically squeezing the metal print against the ticket with the inked ribbon sandwiched between and lateral wear is minimal. Similarly, the Almex E works like this reducing wear to the print surface. Setrights have a ram plate which is a rubber block cut to the areas that will be printed. These can be replaced but taking a Setright apart is not a good idea! One end (the handle end) of the casing retains a VERY strong spring.
On occasion you will see Gibsons and the odd insert Setright. These command high prices and you need to be sure they are in top condition before buying.