The last time the U.S. markets experienced such wild swings as they have in the past week, Wall Street warriors in their 20s and 30s were trading baseball cards and lunchbox snacks, not stocks and bonds.

But for those on Wall Street who have defied retirement and now have nearly 50 years of experience in markets, the sell-off is neither surprising nor unfamiliar.

In the early years, we used to have one, two or three corrections a year of 10 percent or more, said Stanley Nabi, 76, vice chairman at Silvercrest Asset Management Group in New York.

We haven't seen one in over five years, said Nabi, who was born in Baghdad in 1930 and drafted into the U.S. Army Finance Corps during the Korean War.

Despite the vertiginous moves, the Dow Jones industrial average is still up more than 6 percent this year, and the S&P 500 has a price-to-earnings ratio of 16.9, only slightly above the long-term average.

There have been several periods, such as the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the P/E ratio on stocks was in the single-digits, according to Howard Silverblatt, senior equity analyst at Standard and Poor's in New York.

You had two generations of people in this country who have never seen cheap stocks. Sooner or later we're going to get them it's going to be a huge shocker, said Richard Russell in La Jolla, California, who was born in 1924 and has published the Dow Theory Letters since 1958.

What you're seeing is a deflation bubble. Almost everything has been in a bubble, stocks, bonds, collectibles, even art is out in outer space, Russell added.

While they are keeping their cool, Wall Street's elder class does acknowledge the current environment is in some ways different than anything they have experienced.

This is an unusual, unique shock because we've never had a national shrinkage in housing prices and demand in my working life, said Robert Stovall, 81, global strategist at Sarasota, Florida-based Wood Asset Management Inc.

I have to conclude, looking at what's happened because of predatory lending, that it's a national thing and it is probably going to get worse, said Stovall, who like Russell is a veteran of both Wall Street and World War II.

This is much bigger than 1987 in implication, said Russell, referring to four straight days of declines that lopped about 30 percent off the S&P 500.

In '87 the market collapsed and it was over. The housing thing could really hit hardest next year. Banks are going to be in the real estate business, said Russell.

He is no stranger to the havoc wrought by market collapses. Russell's uncle jumped from a window after the crash of 1929, when the Dow plunged nearly 24 percent in two days. His grandfather committed suicide after suffering ruin in the panic of 1907, when speculation in copper shares brought banks to the brink of collapse.

One condition that could make the current mortgage-related meltdown more thorny than past crises is that markets have become more globalized, with trouble quickly spilling into other asset classes and national borders, both Stovall and Russell noted.

However, Nabi, who will celebrate his 54th year on Wall Street in December, remains sanguine.

In my judgment there's too much pessimism in this market. I realize we have a problem, but I don't think it is a problem that will knock the bottom out of the economy or the financial system, he said. We still have many measures we can take.