A rich history of cash register machines dates to the late 1800s

It always amazes me that, when I go to check out at a store, when I give the cashier the payment, that the person will know exactly how much change I should receive. That has happened to all of us.

Sure, the cash register has a program that can automatically calculate how much change, if any, the customer should receive. Just like at gas stations when you pay by cash and you ask for money to be returned because you had given the cashier too much money when you prepaid.

Yes, it’s the 21st century, and things have changed since the Dark Ages, or the 20th century for that much. But when you’re as technologically challenged as I am, you marvel at all these developments, and wonder what is next.

But it all took time. Even the cash registers. How did it originate? Actually out of necessity. A Dayton, Ohio, restaurateurs named James Ritty ran a popular café in the 1870s. However, as crowded as it always was, the café continually lost money. Ritty blamed it on the employees’ dishonesty, who often used an old cigar box for their transactions. There was no way to track sales. Ritty knew that something has to be done, so, while on a ship to Europe, he observed the workings of an automatic device on board that recorded the revolutions of the ship’s propellers. Ritty soon was trying to design a similar device that would record amounts of money passing through the cash drawer. By 1879, Ritty had assembled his first cash register. He quickly founded a cash register company.

Although Ritty did not sell many registers, he soon sold the company to a John Patterson, who would call the company the National Cash Register Company.

By 1900, the company had sold over 200,000 registers throughout the world. In 1922 alone, over two million registers were sold. The company dominated the market, as competitors were bought out if necessary. By 1944, National Cash Register had applied for 2400 patents.

However, in the 1970s there were radical changes. Why? It was the dawn of the micro processing technology era. However, despite the upgrades, most companies realized that cash registers were still a necessity. You could not allow your employees to use outdated registers. Using old equipment would either indicate that you did not want to keep up with the times, or you had a liking and admiration for antiquities. Either way, eventually you had to change over.

But for collectors, there is a certain appeal to vintage cash registers. Collectors will keep an eye out for them, but they are popular auction items. Here are some examples of cash register sales.

A gilt bronze cash register manufactured by the National Cash Register in 1913 sold for $1,750. Instructions are even on the back of the register as well as how to repair the machine and how to order supplies. This register is common to what you see when you picture an old bronze vintage cash register.

An even older register, one from 1902 sold for $2,250. It has a nickel-plated finish, and is in running condition. Another vintage register with an antique brass finish sold for $3,600 at auction.

A rare Ferris Wheel cage register model 562-4-C, made by the National Cash Register sold for $6,000. The register was quite elaborate and larger than most.

The cash register has changed dramatically, especially with the introduction of Paint of Sold Systems, your common registers that are computerized. Most registers nowadays are found in retail stores and restaurants. The computerized registers use touchscreen terminals which allow for scanning of items, as well as for credit card transactions. These new registers also allow for the register operator to tell me how much change I’m owed, as well as to tell the operator how much change was owed a person who had made a $1.50 payment with a $100 bill. Just another example of relying on machines.

Jeff Figler has authored more than 700 published articles about collecting. He is a certified professional appraiser and one of the world’s leading experts on collectibles. His latest book, “The Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia” has been #1 on Amazon. He can be reached at info@jefffigler.com.