Although it is currently partially obscured by a high display case on the main counter, the McCaskey Account Register in the MSU Museum’s general store usually receives attention by adult visitors. The register sits next to the cash register (to be a topic of another post), and the placement of these two objects encourages comparison and contrast. This register is part of the original furnishings given in 1963 to the Museum by the Rykala family from their general store in East Lake, Michigan.
These two registers tell the story of retail accounting in establishments such as general stores and, at the turn of the twentieth century, grocery stores. Department stores, mail order concerns, and automobile dealers were increasingly offer credit and installment paying, while grocery stores were shifting from customer credit accounts (the McCaskey Account Register) to cash and carry (the cash register).
The editor of Trade: A Journal for Retail Merchants noted in September 1910, that
there are a whole lot of merchants who hesitate about changing from a credit to a cash basis and even after they have persuaded themselves that a reform of this kind is advisable, defer putting the plan into effect for fear everything will not work out as they desire and they will lose some patronage as a result.*
Perhaps it was also the case that the two systems—credit and cash—could co-exist nicely for general stores such as the one the Rykala family owned and operated.
The Register is composed of twelve sheet-metal “leaves,” each hinged so that an individual “leaf” may be viewed. Each “leaf” contains ten wire spring-clips on each side. Each clip held credit receipts (also produced by the McCaskey Register Company). The “leaves” are housed in an oak case, the base of which has three bins, perhaps to hold past credit receipts and/or receipt blanks. In a 1910 patent infringement case instituted by the company, the presiding judge found that “such apparatus is simply a loose-leaf notebook set up in a cabinet,” and that is a terrific way of explaining the shift from previous pencil-and-ledger-book accounting systems. Much like we term what we see on our computer screens a “webpage,” borrowing from the paper sheets and book leaves we also use, the judge in this case understood how one mental system of accounting was being transferred from one material form to another.
Invented by a former grocer, Perry A. McCaskey (1867-1945), of Lisbon, Ohio, the McCaskey Account Register received various patents from October 10, 1899, to May 14, 1907, making the earliest date of this object 1907. In 1903, McCaskey established the McCaskey Register Company in a former blacksmith shop in Alliance, Ohio. Although McCaskey left the company in 1908 to pursue other interests, the company continued to make accounting systems and credit registers until it was purchased in 1953 by the Victor Adding Machine Company. The company had expanded to Canada in 1908 and England in 1920, while a printing plant in Waltham, Massachusetts, supplied the printed materials for the “McCaskey ‘One Writing’ Cash Register” system. The immediate scarcity of metal during World War II and long-term competition from companies such as the National Cash Register Company contributed to this sale and the end of the McCaskey product line.
*Trade: A Journal for Retail Merchants 17:37 (September 14, 1910), p. 4. This journal was published in Detroit, Michigan.
Links to Pertinent McCaskey Patents (PDF files):
Bill and Account File, May 19, 1896
Credit Accounting Appliance, December 10, 1902
Credit Accounting Appliance, July 9, 1907
Credit Accounting Appliance, October 15, 1907