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Old Cash Registers Can Make New Registers Ring

By Wendy Brunner Lewis

It seems as if everyone today collects something. The Internet is full of collectors' pages, and bookstores have aisles of books telling the value of certain collectibles. With all that information available, now seems like as good a time as any to start collecting antique cash registers.

What Should Collectors Look For?
"This question can't be answered generically," said Ann Arbor, Mich.-based antique cash register expert and author, Richard Crandall, "because there are different kinds of collectors with different motivations.

"Some collectors want to focus on a register type, era or manufacturer and collect one of each register in that category...If that is your direction, then concentrate within the National Cash Register (NCR) line or maybe with Hallwood/American. (T)here are enough model differences to make this strategy an active pursuit.

"Some collectors like just early machines. If this is you, be prepared for a hunt because the really early registers are scarce. If you pry an early machine from another collector, be prepared to spend $5,000 to $20,000, depending on which machine (you're buying), (its) rarity, beauty, historical importance, etc."

Other collectors find the showy brass machines more to their liking.

"Brass machines are definitely collector's items," said Jim Erne, former NCR employee and avid collector from Medina, Ohio. "Also, the smaller machines that only ring up to $1 are true collectibles."

Determining Value
According to Crandall, "Collectors are generally looking for beauty, mechanical interest, rarity and unusual sizes.

"The dial registers invented by Kruse and furthered by NCR after its acquisition of Lamson are among the most desired by collectors. The round face, painted designs and/or cupid and moon casting really gets people going."

Erne said that brands such as Remington and NCR are valuable, too.

But what determines the value?

"Well, you know," said Crandall, "it's worth what someone will pay."

Caring for Your Collectible
"Cash registers are hardy," said Crandall. "They were built for continuous use, although the Nationals are usually the sturdiest." If your brass register is in good shape and still in working condition, just "clean it with a brass cleaning solution and spray the rest of it with a cleaning solution," said Erne.

If you have a brass register, though, and you want it highly polished and displayed, "you'll need to take the 'skins,' or the metal case, off and get it to a good plater," Crandall said. "Before you leave a plater the parts, make sure...he knows how to do highlight buffing. Register castings were designed to be polished only on the highlights, or the parts that stand out the most. Some (platers) will polish out some of the finer detail of the casting, which is permanently ruinous of the machine and its value.

"Wood-cased machines can be treated just like furniture. Again, if the original condition is good enough, just clean it and apply some furniture wax. If it needs restoring, either take the case to a good wood finisher or do it yourself by stripping (it) using a paste stripper, cleaning, light sanding with a very fine sandpaper, and applying some restorative stain and varnish.

"Usually the biggest problem cosmetically restoring cash registers is how to re-plate the key stems. It is a big pain because the mechanism has to be disassembled to get at them. Leave this for a professional restorer.

"So, where to start?" said Crandall. "I would suggest perhaps flipping through the pages of The Incorruptible Cashier books (written by Crandall), and see what stirs your emotion. Of course, just because you find a register in the book doesn't mean you can actually find it in reality. However, if you call around and keep at it, you'll be rewarded."

Editor's Note: For more information about Richard Crandall's books, The Incorruptible Cashier, please e-mail him at

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