Throughout its history, National Cash Register has manufactured many different machines. Early products can be roughly grouped. Registers with wood cabinets were primarily made between 1885 and the early 1890’s. The first generation cast metal cabinet registers were made in the early 1890’s and continued through 1908. In 1908, the second generation of cast metal cabinets appeared, along with a new numbering system. These continued to be made through 1918 approximately, at which point the first “modern” look cash registers appear. These registers featured cabinets made out of stamped metal that were usually finished in either an imitation wood grain or black enamel paint. Major technical and styling changes also occurred in the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. For now, however, this page will concentrate on the early machines that we receive the most calls about.
Between the years 1908 and 1918, National Cash Register built more than 1 million machines, almost double their production run between 1885 and 1917. In the decade of the 1920’s, they built another million plus machines. Due to the numbers produced, machines built between the years 1908 and 1930 will be the primary focus of this page, with future updates to feature information about the earlier registers.
Beginning in 1908, National introduced a new numbering system that divided the different registers they produced into Classes based on their function and construction. Within each class, there were multiple models – each with its own model number that usually designates the machine’s size and options. This page will attempt to provide a general description for the most popular registers, along with a key to understanding individual model numbers. Before proceeding, you should review the “How Old is My Cash Register” page to determine the age and model number of your register. The first digit of the model number indicates the register class. For example, a model number 342 is a Class 300 register, and a model number 1058 is a Class 1000 register. If you have a register that is not listed below, please call our collections department at Dayton History at (937)-293-2841.
The Class 300 was a basic cash register capable of keeping track of total sales. It served in a variety of setting including candy stores, cigar stands, restaurants, and dry goods stores. The cost of Class 300 new in 1909 ranged from $50 to $175, possibly higher depending on the options added. The 1909 National Cash Register Catalog describes it in this manner:
“All Class 300 Registers are total-adding machines and are operated by pressing down the registering keys. When an amount key is pressed down the amount represented by it is automatically recorded and added on the total-adding counter, the amount recorded is shown by figures on the indicators in the top of the register, a bell is rung and the cash drawer thrown open. The total-adding counter shows at all times the total of all the cash recorded. This enables the merchant to know accurately and quickly how much money should be in the cash drawer at the close of a day’s business or at any time during the day. The amount shown by the adding wheels can only be seen when the lid of the register is unlocked and open.” (from The National Cash Register Catalog, August 16, 1909)
Explanation of Model Numbers – Class 300
The Class 300 register comes in 5 sizes and with or without a sales printer. The five sizes are as follows: size1 – 15 keys, size 3 – 22 keys, size 4 – 27 keys, size 5 – 33 keys, and size 6 – 37 keys. There is no size 2 in this numbering system. In the Class 300 model number, the first number indicates Class. The second figure denotes the size. The third number tells the kind and key arrangement. Numbers ending in 2 and 3 are registers without a detail strip printer. Numbers ending in 6, 7, 8, and 9 are numbers with a detail strip printer. Numbers ending in 2, 6, and 8 have 1-cent key arrangements. Numbers ending in 3, 7, and 9 have 5-cent key arrangements.
Model number 357 – the first figure (3) denotes the class (Class 300). The second figure (5) denotes the size (33 keys). The third figure (7) indicates the kind and keyboard arrangement (detail strip printer with a keyboard laid out in 5 cent increments).
The Class 400 was more complex than the basic Class 300 machine. The 400 could keep track of different types of sales, such as cash, credit, or no sale. Additionally, if so outfitted it could keep track of two different cash drawers at the same time. This machine was often found in stores that did a large volume of business like a department store, florist, or drug store. Cost of Class 400 new in 1909 ranged from $75 to $400, possibly higher depending on the options added. The 1909 National Cash Register Catalog describes it as follows: “All Class 400 Registers are total-adding machines and are operated by pressing in the registering keys and turning the handle. When an amount key is pressed and the handle turned the amount represented by the key is automatically recorded and added on the total-adding counter, the record is shown by figures on the indicators, a bell is rung and the cash drawer thrown open. All registers of this class are equipped with a special counter which shows how many times the register was operated. Registers of this class which have special keys such as received on account, charge, and paid out, are equipped with special counters which show how many records of each kind were made. These counters can be reset to zero at any time when the lid covering them is unlocked and opened. The total amount of cash recorded is shown by the adding counter and can be seen at any time by unlocking a lock. This enables the proprietor to know accurately and quickly how much money should be in the cash drawer. The total-adding counter can be reset to zero at any time by unlocking a lock and inserting a counter resetting key. A special counting mechanism which cannot be reset shows a record at all times of how many times the adding counter was turned to zero. This makes it impossible to reset the total-adding counter without detection.” (from The National Cash Register Catalog, August 16, 1909) Explanation of Model Numbers – Class 400: The Class 400 comes in 6 sizes with 6 kinds of printer arrangements. However, unlike the Class 300 where size indicates the number of keys, on the Class 400 size indicates the number of vertical rows of keys. Registers are numbered in 3 figures from 400 to 499. Registers numbered below No.440 are given arbitrary numbers; those numbered 440 and up are in accordance with the following plan: The first figure denotes the class. The second figure denotes the number of rows of keys or size. The third figure denotes the functions or kind as follows: 0. Total adder, no printer. 1. Total adder and detail strip printer. 2. Total adder, detail strip and check printer. 3. Total adder, detail strip and sales slip printer. 4. Total adder and stub check printer. 5. Total adder, detail strip and check printer with number printing device. If the letter E appears after the model number, this indicates the register has an electric motor. If E-L appears after the model number, this indicates the register has an electric motor and lights to illuminate the indicators. Numbering Example: Model number 452-E-L – The first figure (4) indicates the class (Class 400); the second figure (5) indicates the number of rows of keys (five rows); and the third figure (2) denotes the kind (Total adder with a detail strip and check printer). The “E” indicates that the register has an electric motor, and the “L” means that it has electric lights near the indicators.
The Class 500 was the most complex and ornate register manufactured by National during this time period. It could keep track of up to nine separate totals, which meant that it could be used by nine different clerks or keep track of nine separate departments at the same time. The Class 500 is often found on stands that hold more than one cash drawer to take advantage of its power. It was also the most expensive machine produced at the time, with prices when new in 1909 ranging from $315 to $555, possibly much more if a floor stand or other options were added. The 1909 National Cash Register Catalog describes it as follows: “Class 500 registers are furnished with five rows of keys; registering capacity, 1 cent to $99.99 and one row of special keys, and with six rows of keys, registering capacity, 1 cent to $999.99, and one row of special keys. Each of the above are supplied in 3 different kinds: total adding and detail strip printing; total adding, detail strip and check printing; total adding, detail strip and sales slip printing. Any of the three kinds can be furnished with any number of extra adding counters, from two to nine in number, in addition to the grand total counter. The extra total adding counters record the total cash take in by each clerk. The grand total counter record the total cash taken in by all the clerks. The special counters record the number of records made by each clerk. The separate adding counters can be used for recording separate totals of the clerks’ sales or different classes of records, such as cash, charge, received on account, and paid out records. They may also be used for keeping separate totals of sales made in different departments or of different classes of goods. This is the most popular class of register used in connection with extra cash drawers as it provides a separate adding counter for each drawer. Any desired arrangement of keys will be furnished.” (from The National Cash Register Catalog, August 16, 1909) Explanation of Model Numbers – Class 500: Numbered in three figures, from 500 to 599. Registers numbered 511, 512, and 513 are given arbitrary numbers; those numbered 521 and up are in accordance with the following plan: The first figure denotes the class; The second figure denotes the number of total-adding counters; The third figure denotes the functions or kind, as follows: 1. Total adder, detail strip printer; five rows of keys. 2. Total adder, detail strip and check printer; five rows of keys. 3. Total adder, detail strip and sales slip printer; five rows of keys. 4. Total adder, detail strip printer; six rows of keys. 5. Total adder, detail strip and check printer; six rows of keys. 6. Total adder, detail strip and sales slip printer; six rows of keys. Other common letters or symbols that might appear in the model number are: “E” which indicates the register has an electric motor. “L” which indicates the register has electric lights near the indicators. “4C” which indicates the register is on a 4 drawer countertop base. “6F” or “9F” which indicates the register is on a 6 or 9 drawer floor stand. Numbering Example: Model No.592-E-L-6F – The first figure (5) denotes the class (Class 500); the second figure (9) denotes size (9 separate total-adding counters); the third figure (2) denotes the kind (detail strip and check printer, 5 rows of keys); E and L indicate that it has an electric motor and lights; and 6F denotes that it is on a six drawer floor stand. Look here for more register information coming in the future.