Great Engineering: 100 Year Old Antique Cash Register


They are built to last!

I heard a pretty remarkable story and thought I would share this. A friend of mine bought a 1909 National Register brass cash register. As a collector, he stashed this away for a few years before finally committing to including this in his “Man Cave” bar areas. His primary goal was to bring as much care to this piece of machinery after sitting for so long. Think about it; this unit has not been in service in over 100 years.
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In his observations of the machine, he quickly noticed it had a place for three keys. It was now his goal to seek out anyone who may have knowledge of this machine and where he could access the keys. About the time he started to reach out, a gentleman by the name of Dick Witcher started to populate his Google searches. I pulled this little blurb from an article on the Antique Trader.

Although it isn’t a popularity contest, as with most collecting interests, in the world of cash register parts a few items are often at the top of wish lists. According to Crook and Richard Witcher, seasoned collector, a retired salesman for National Cash Register, former cash register restorer and past vice president of the Cash Register Collectors Club, name plates, front lids, and top signs are some of the most sought-after.

Dick was a wealth of knowledge and knew exactly what was needed. He specifically called out that my friend would need a 1, 2, and 6 series set of keys. He asked Tom to verify the numbers on the brass keyholes, and to Tom’s amazement, there were numbers on each keyhole calling out 1,2 and 6. Dick would sell him copies of each at $10/key, or Tom could have the originals at $20/key. The one caveat was there would be no guarantee these keys would work. He could make no assurances the internals of the register was in good working order. With that understood, Tom made his payment and waited for his keys.

The keys arrived as expected and Tom was anxious to put them to work First with key 1…….No luck. Key two was the same. Unfortunately, he experienced the same thing with Key 6 as well. Worst case scenario, he had original keys for the machine, but something did not sit right. As luck would have it, he used a Penetrating Oil in each keyhole. He saw a little promise, working the keys back and forth to get the oil to penetrate. He left for lunch, returned an hour later, and all three worked like a charm. It was apparent that the machine's insides had frozen shut over the last 100 years.

As I understand it, Dick is now in his 80s, and I am sure there are fewer people with his knowledge as each year passes. I know my friend Tom is thankful to have found Dick and hopes to have his register fully restored. They don’t make equipment like they used to. As my friend, Tom stated, “The brilliance of the past engineers was mind-boggling.”
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