Produced by National Register Company between 1888-1890 and purchased on November 28, 1890, this artifact is made of mahogany, highly ornate with inlaid designs, fitted with a marble drawer top.
Leon Clements, current Western Illinois Museum board member and one of the driving forces behind the formation of the museum, remembers when the museum acquired the cash register. The museum purchased a whole group of items from the Eph Mercer store. “Yes, Eph Mercer was quite a character…” Clements recalled. “His drugstore in Vermont sold old-fashioned penny candy and Eph displayed his personal collection of antiques in the store.” Vermont is a small village in Fulton County. Mercer’s antique collection was so well-known, folks would come to visit the store and bring him even more items to add to the collection.
Mr. Clements remembered at the time of Eph Mercer’s death, when the antiques were cleared out of the store to be auctioned off, there were 12 hay racks full of antiques! The Mercer family allowed the museum to come and select items it wanted to be apart of the museum collection. The cash register on display was one of the items acquired by the museum.
Once purchased, the Eph Mercer antique items were put on display on the third floor of Sherman Hall, the first location of Western Illinois Museum. Mr. Clements recalled they replicated Eph Mercer’s store including the cash register and a number of other store items. Said Mr. Clements, “The exhibit was beautiful, it was something we were really proud of…” According to Mr. Clements, acquiring the Mercer collection of antique items in 1976 was a turning point for the museum, establishing Western Illinois Museum as a showplace for local heritage.
This beautiful cash register is a classic example of the highly ornate registers made at the end of the 19th century. Previously most stores had a simple cash drawer where bills and coins were stored and from which change was made. With only a cash drawer, there was no way to track how much money was going in or out. The cash register was invented as a means to monitor purchases. Numerical keys were punched, a transaction recorded on paper in the machine and every time the cash drawer opened a bell would ring, signaling to the store owner (and everyone else) the cashier had a sale.
The National Cash Register Company began making the first mechanical cash registers in 1884. So commonplace today, it is hard to imagine that when first introduced cash registers were a real novelty that needed handsome and elegant cabinets to be accepted. Sold as an item every modern store owner would be proud to display in his shop, cash registers were a symbol of modernity. The wooden cash register in the museum’s collection was produced by the National Register Company as early as 1888, and still has an original tag indicating it was shipped to J V S Boyice in Vermont, Illinois on November 28, 1890.
The cabinet is mahogany with an inlaid design called the “clamshell” pattern. On top the drawer is a marble shelf and on front of the cash drawer is a nickel-plated drawer pull in the shape of a smiling satyr’s face. It looks as if it’s saying “I’m watching you!” Comparable models of this type of cash register currently sell on “antiques for sale” websites for over $3500.00.
From an essay by Heather Munro