Antique Cash Registers

Terry Hurley
Antique cash register

Whether their exteriors are made from ornately detailed metal or highly polished wood, antique cash registers are considered works of art by many collectors.

The First Cash Registers

In 1879, a Dayton, Ohio, saloonkeeper named James Ritty and his brother John, patented the first mechanical cash register. The purpose of the invention was to stop dishonest employees from helping themselves to extra cash from the cash drawer when no one was looking. Although the brothers developed several different cash register models, it was their "Incorruptible Cashier" that met with the most success. The cash register had:

  • Metal taps that showed the amount of the sale when they were pressed
  • An adder that totaled all of the key presses for the entire day
  • A bell that rang up each sale

The National Cash Register Company

In 1884, John H. Patterson bought both the cash register patents and company then called "The National Manufacturing Company" and renamed it the "National Cash Register Company", which is generally known as NCR. Within a few years cash registers were being made with a roll of paper that recorded the sales and in 1906 some were being manufactured with electric motors.

One of the many business strategies that Patterson used was making his cash registers visually attractive to the customers in addition to its being a deterrent to theft by the employees. The success of the National Cash Register Company grew rapidly and Patterson quickly took over most of his competition. By 1920, the company had sold more than two million cash registers.

The Beauty of Antique Cash Registers

As a focal point of many stores and business, antique cash registers were beautifully detailed and sometimes lavishly decorated. Some of the most beautiful examples of these early machines have cabinets made of highly polished:

  • Brass
  • Bronze
  • Bronze with black oxide
  • Copper
  • Antiqued copper
  • Silver plate
  • Gold plate
  • Nickel plated
  • Flat metal that was painted with fancy enamel designs or beautifully engraved

Wooden cabinets often had fancy inlaid patterns made of various types of veneers and burled veneers. Examples of the types of wood used for the cash register cabinets include:

  • Black walnut
  • Birch
  • Oak
  • Quarter sewn oak
  • Mahogany

Other parts of the cash register were generally nickel plated including the:

  • Knobs
  • Lid counters
  • Dust covers
  • Bill weights
  • Locks

Images of Antique Brass and Wooden Cash Registers

Most of the eye-catching metal clad cash registers were made of brass, and the years from 1888 to 1915 are known as the Brass Era of Cash Registers. To view several examples of these beautiful antiques, click on the following links.

Resources for Antique and Vintage Cash Registers

Whether you are an avid collector of antique or vintage cash registers or are looking for your first one, there are many resources available to you.

Dick and Joan's Antiques

In addition to buying, selling and restoring antique and vintage cash registers, Dick and Joan's Antiques provides:

  • A cash register collectors club
  • Information on dating cash registers including charts of serial numbers and corresponding manufacture dates
  • Images and explanations of the difference between patent date plates and serial number plates
  • A cash register grading system
  • Parts and accessories
  • Service manuals
  • How to use guides
  • A photo gallery
  • Appraisals

Books and Price Guides

  • The Incorruptible Cashier by Richard Crandall available at Amazon
  • Antique Cash Registers 1880-1920: The Yellow Book by Henry Bartsch and Larry Sanchez available at Amazon
  • Kovels online price guide

A Unique Piece of History

Adding an antique cash register to your home décor is a wonderful way to bring a unique and decorative piece of history into your home. An antique or vintage cash register makes a great addition to a recreation room with a pool table or home bar area, a game room or displayed in your living room or den.

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Antique Cash Registers