Antique Cash Register

by Dr. Lori Verderame

Ohio saloon owner James Ritty invented a version of the adding machine to prevent his employees from stealing money from his till. Ritty’s invention was the cash register and it made employees accountable for the cash they took in on behalf of the saloon. Ritty’s secured a patent for the cash register in 1883.

The clerk would hit a key, put the money into the drawer, and the machine would record or register the transaction. When a key was hit, a bell sounded, and a drawer would open. Keys on the cash register corresponded to drawers marked A, B, D, or E. The C drawer was not used as typically the letter C stood for cash or cash drawer. The machine by letter recorded who accepted a customer’s money. The cash registers had oversized till drawer in order to accept oversized bank notes common to the early 1900s. This was operational by hand with a crank.

What to look for

Cash registerLook for the characteristics of a National Cash Register when hunting for them at yard sales, antiques stores, and flea markets. National cash registers were made of decorated brass with scrollwork details, floral and organic decorations, and details like a sign stamped with the name of the business or merchant atop the cash register.

National cash registers dating from the 1905-12 command good money with collectors in working condition. If you know where to look—beneath the till drawer in the back of the register–identifying the firm for which the cash register was made is easy. There is a serial number and stamped label stating the merchant’s name and address on the machine. Most antique cash registers sell for several thousands of dollars on the antiques market depending on several factors.

National cash registers are often uncovered in abandoned general stores, flea markets, yard sales. The highest values for antique cash registers are those with extensive decoration and in working condition. When it comes to old cash registers, beautiful designs, and working parts make collectors go cha-ching!

Get an online appraisal of your cash register from Dr. Lori.