Cybele Elaine Werts
In the spring of 1984 I
moved from Philadelphia to San Diego where I discovered a beautiful
battery-operated toy cash register that looked exactly like one
I’d had as a child. I bought it for $10 and set it on my
windowsill to admire. Twenty years later I have over 100 toy
cash registers and love every one. This is the story of how one
little toy turned into a passion for collecting.
The Early Days
For the first few years my toy cash registers
functioned simply as a decorative element for my windowsill.
They had not yet achieved the status of being a "collection." At
a certain point I realized that I had something worth displaying,
and I started cataloging and displaying them. The first home
computer, the Apple computer, had just come on the market and
none of us knew how to use it yet, so instead I created color-coded
catalogue sheets and dutifully recorded the make, model, and
measurements of each toy. During this time there weren’t
that many items available, so my standards were very low. In
other words, I bought anything that I found.
A Change to a World Market
Things went along this way until 1999 when
I discovered eBay. Prior to the internet, collecting was limited
by geography in that I could either buy new toy cash registers
at toy stores or old ones at antique shops; a costly proposition.
eBay created a world market, so that items like the 1970’s
Tom Thumb metal cash registers which previously sold for $60+,
now are worth $5 or less. They became essentially worthless because
of this shift to an international market. The resulting loss
in value is the downside of this revolution.
The upside is that I can now buy items
that are both unusual and relatively inexpensive. I’m very
lucky that I collect something that possibly no one else does
(to my knowledge) which means that I can get far better deals
than if there was a huge competition like there is for popular
collectables like dolls and teddy bears. I rarely play more than
$35 for an item, and quite often significantly less.
How this Change Affected my Collection,
and Collecting in General
This change in how toys were bought and
sold affected my collection in a major way. Once I realized that
the majority of my collection had little worth, I created a more
focused mission statement which centered on collecting only character-based
registers like Disney and Sesame Street, musical cash registers,
one of a kinds, and miniatures. I changed my mindset from an
approach of buying anything I could get my hands on, to only
buying items that made my heart go pitter patter.
Around 2002 I found that my livingroom
had become overrun with toys, so I donated about 150 registers
from my collection to a local good works group. This donation
included contemporary toys that had no distinguishing features,
older registers like the ubiquitous Tom Thumbs, and antique items
that I just plain didn’t like. I didn’t want anything
taking up space in my home unless it had some unique design factor.
I can just imagine what they were thinking when they opened up
all those boxes!
The best buys I’ve
found have been ones where the seller was unaware of the value
of the item, and started with a very low bid. If I was really
lucky, they offered a low "Buy It Now" price which
I was able to snap up. The key thing here is to check the listings
every day so that you can catch items as soon as they are put
up for bidding. If you are working on a budget, as most of us
are, don’t waste your money buying items that are just "nice." Wait
for the truly special items and bid more for them.
If you are using eBay, learn to use the
advanced search mechanism so that you don’t have to browse
through tons of irrelevant items. For example, if you simply
search of "cash register" you will find thousands of
them, most of which are actual cash register, not toys. But also
be careful not to look in too narrow a category area such as "mechanical
banks" because many interesting items are either misfiled
in other categories, or things you might not have thought of.
A good example of this is the tape measure cash register, which
is not considered a toy.
In the beginning it can be difficult to
know what is a truly unique item, and what is not. That’s
why educating yourself is the single most important factor in
getting good deals. Sellers often call their items "antique" and "rare" even
if they aren’t. My approach now is to bid a medium low
amount, then check in near to closing. I place a large bid on
the item a few hours before it closes so that the other buyers
are less likely to respond to the outbid notices before the item
Why Toy Cash Registers?
There are several reasons why toy cash
registers really speak to me. A lot of people think that it’s
because I’m a shopaholic or money hungry, but it’s
not that at all. I’ve always enjoyed toys even though I’ve
never particularly enjoyed children. I love the bright colors
and the amazing number of creative ways that toymakers come up
with unique and wonderful products. The bottom line is that there’s
something intangibly wonderful about toy cash registers that
I still feel after twenty years of collecting.
How I Define a Toy Cash Register
Toy cash registers have some similar features
with both typewriters and with slot machines so things can get
muddy sometimes. I decided early on that I needed to be careful
about what I collected so as not to dilute my collection with
items that didn’t fit my mission. There is no one descriptor
that you can use for every toy in my collection, rather I define
a toy cash register as a toy that has the "spirit" of
a cash register. This usually includes one or more of these type
of character traits: buttons you can push, pop up tabs with the
prices, a cash drawer, and a hand crank. When there’s doubt
in my mind, I look at whether the item has a preponderance of
What is a Well-Designed Toy Cash Register?
I believe that an interesting collection,
whether toy cash registers or matchbooks, should have a focus.
I focused my collection primarily for space reasons, but any
collection will be far more interesting if there is a theme.
As with all collectibles you’ll look for condition, rarity,
and age. What I look for specifically with toy cash registers
is for creativity and unique characteristics, as well as detailing.
This is the reason that I don’t collect a number of well-known
toy cash registers including the Uncle Sam and Tom Thumb lines.
The reason is that I don’t find these designs at all creative
or pleasurable to look at. If you look at my favorites (see sidebar
at right) you’ll notice that each one is truly unique in some way,
fun to look at, and brings you back again to look again.
Items I do NOT collect
One of the most common questions I hear
is "why don’t you collect real cash registers?" The
answer to that is because they are big, heavy, and expensive.
Besides, toys are much more fun! I also do not collect items
that are not unique in any way, pictures or other collateral
materials (with a few notable exceptions), or accoutrements such
as lights, advertising toppers, coin dishes, drawers, keys and
Toys and Technology
I am fascinated by how toys reflect technological
progress. For example the oldest toys reflect the mechanical,
rounded front cash registers of the early 1900’s. Here’s
This is not unique in any way, but
it's a lovely example of the traditional cash register design with
the rounded front. It's quite pretty. Blue Box, Singapore.
When actual cash registers became electric, that
design style was reflected in the toys which changed to a "flat" front
style and were mostly plastic. Hereís a nice wooden example:
This is from Creative Playthings in Princeton,
New Jersey where I lived until I was about 12. It's absolutely
unique in that it's entirely wooden.
As scanning registers became popularized, you
see toys with bar code scanners, both the "gun" type and the "pass
over" type. The Hello Kitty register is unique in that it actually
scans bar codes and shows the total in the electronic window. Here
is an example:
This is the current version, still with the cute Hello Kitty figurine.
Electronic of course. This register is the very first electronic
one I've seen that has a REAL hand scanner (not pretend). It
comes with items that have bar codes on them, and this scanner
actually read the bar codes. Amazing! Toho, 2002, China.
Most recently, the toys have credit card slots,
some of which make sounds or actually make that modem connecting
electronic crackle as they "approve" your purchase. Here's an example:†
This Barbie register really floats my boat. Slide the little American
Express card to make the register "modem" for approval, complete
with electronic modem sounds. It then says, "Charge Approved!" Clearly
Barbie never maxes out her credit cards. Mattel, 2002.