No Complaints to register with this ‘machine’

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published February 14,1996 in the Suburban Life, added March 14, 2015

An old cash register at the Bookshelf in Madeira takes care of money without benefit of modern computerized parts, or even electricity.  The top has a hinged lid that lifts up to reveal a storage area.

An old cash register at the Bookshelf in Madeira takes care of money without benefit of modern computerized parts, or even electricity. The top has a hinged lid that lifts up to reveal a storage area.

If you walk into one of my favorite Madeira hangouts, the Bookshelf, and look around, you’re apt to think you’ve been beamed back to a warmer, quieter, pre-machine age.

First, you see all the books inviting you to browse.  Then you spot chairs and a table bearing an ever-filled coffee pot so that you can relax.

Finally, when you check out, one of the women owners will total your purchase herself and give you change from an ancient-looking, wooden cash register box that looks like something from a Dickens novel.

Why the thing isn’t even plugged in, for heaven sake.  It just sits there, atop a table, awaiting your money.  No clanging. No jangling. No clicking. No grinding of mysterious computer innards while spitting out a sales ticket.

The clerk doesn’t have to know diddley about keyboarding.  But she does have to know how to wield a pencil or a calculator to figure up your bill and how to compute sales tax.  All by herself. What a concept.

I love it.  I’m so mechanically inept that I have trouble with a TV remote.  And I figure that battery-powered watches should be worn by people with no fingers to wind them.

And I hate being pushed into giving up familiar, old possessions, especially if they still function.  My flower power jeans from the 1960’s still fit and the rotary phone in my basement will still dial up my friends.  Why consign them to Rumpke’s dump?

This cash register has had the good fortune to encounter owners along the way who appreciated it.  And it has stood the test of time.

Just how much time it has stood, I’ve been unable to discover yet.  But it has graced two businesses in Madeira already.

When the Bookshelf opened 20 years ago, its owners – Blair Garvey, Anne Harrison and Gen Rosenkranz – bought the cash register from another Madeira shop, which was going out of business.

At that time, the register sat quietly in a charming, little gift shop owned by Brownie and Helen Morgan.  Their shop occupied a small building with a humongous fireplace in back of the Morgan’s home on Miami Avenue, where the Christ Hospital Medical Center now sits.

This was not your ordinary gift shop with tacky souvenirs or paintings on velvet.  Here you could find the old, the treasured, and the one-of-a-kind gift found nowhere else.  These items were ferreted out by Brownie and Helen on leisurely buying trips around the country.  They found the register on one of these trips.

Brownie explains how they went to gift market shows in Chicago and New York.  Sometimes by train.  Sometimes by car.  If they went by car, they’d take side trips.  They’d scrounge the back road shops and those in small towns along the way.

On one such trip, they stopped over in New Brunswick, N.J., to visit a friend of Helen’s who had served with her in the Red Cross Foreign Service in southern England in World War II.  The two friends had kept in touch and still visited each other.

While in New Brunswick, the Morgans went with their hostess to some area flea markets.  At one of them, they spotted the old cash register.  They brought it to their gift shop in Madeira, where it handled all sales.

Twenty years ago, Brownie and Helen decided to pursue another dream.  They bought some acreage at Winchester, Ohio, where they built a house on a hill and then build a lake for it to overlook.  Then they started strewing wildflowers as they walked through their woods, much as Mr. Krippendorf had done years and years ago when he started the Cincinnati Nature Center in his own woods.

At this time, the Bookshelf women fell in love with the cash register and bought it, making it a focal point of their fledgling bookstore.

In the years since, the Bookshelf has expanded to twice its original size, and none of the original owners remain.

A parade of owners has followed – Patsy Winn, Ellie Paulsen, Prissy Connell, Dibby Johann, Janet Kindel and Louise Borden, who is a well-known children’s book writer.

The present owners are Cary Boswell, Nancy Hancher, Robin Nielsen and Jeanne Schmidt.  Jeanne now works full time at another job, but her daughter, Anne, helps now and then.

The owners have come and gone, but the cash register stays, beloved by all, especially Nancy Hancher.

“I like it because it can’t break down,” she said.  “If it broke down, I’d have to fix it.”

Brownie Morgan thinks the register is solid oak and says it obviously preceded the industrial revolution.

It looks handmade, but a tiny plate on the back says,  “Dalton – Cincinnati U.S.A.” So, although it came here from New Jersey, it originated here.

It looks like squatty, two story building.  If you hit a tiny lever, a drawer in the bottom part pops out.  The drawer has compartments for various bills and change.  The top part of the register is merely a storage box with a hinged lid that lifts up.  By human hand.

The Bookshelf women also use the register as their bulletin board.  They cover it with important stick-on notes.  It’s their organization center, where they never lose things.

The register is apt to sit there.  Maybe forever.  It does what a cash register was intended to do – take care of money.  It isn’t going to suffer a mechanical breakdown and have to be replaced.

The Bookshelf women love it too much to send it to the dump.

And if they did, we readers would miss its charm.  We’d complain. A lot.