Is it Brass or Cast Iron? with What Finish?

2 – What is your National Cash Register made of and what finish does it have?

Ornate National Cash Register’s basically came in 2 materials:

brass and cast iron and
three finishes: bronze (red brass), Nickel (Ni) and Copper Oxidized (CuO2). You should try and figure out what you have!

Most NCR cases are made of brass (bronze). These can be Ni plated or Copper Oxidized. A few NCR machines “low end” or cheap machines” had cast iron cases which were always either Ni plated or Copper Oxidized.

Let’s look at material first, This is the easy part:

Does a magnet stick to a majority of the exterior case?
  1. Brass or (brass Ni plated): The magnet won’t stick!
  2. Cast iron: The magnet will stick!
Now let’s figure out the finish:

NCR had 3 distinct finishes. A letter on the paper label under the drawer designates the original finish. Here are what the letters generally stand for:

Letter A Finish

A: Generally Copper Oxidized CuO2 (sometimes bronze)

Copper Oxidized, CuO2 — Letter A

These machines can be cast iron or brass and appear as copper color that has tarnished black in the detail. This is the least common finish as is not very well known because people generally mistake it for a really dirty machine and start to polish it and think it is brass.

CuO2 is often not restored; very few professionals can do it properly. First the original finish is stripped off, then it is polished and cleaned, then it is plated with copper and then oxidized (a chemicals applied with turns the whole case black) finally the smooth parts and some details are polished back to copper. The resulting register has an elegant look, which is unique to ornate registers.

Letter B Finish on NCR

B: means Nickel-plated

Nickel-plated Finish — Letter B

These machines can be cast iron or brass and appear silver or chrome. It is fairly hard to find a Nickel (Ni) plated machine with good original finish. The Ni is usually worn through in many places.

One thing to note about Nickel plated machines is that NCR used cheaper yellow brass and standard bronze as the material to plate over on different pieces of the case, thus if your strip away the brass you could end up with 2 different colors of brass. You sometimes see this on machines for sale in antique malls. This is a the result of someone stripping off the original finish and not bothering to replate the machine (this also goes for CuO2 machines.)

Nickel NCRs can be buffed and polished with a suitable compound like Brasso. Ni does not tarnish.

Redoing a Ni machine requires a professional to strip the old Ni, polish and then replate, a very fairly expensive process. But remember that Ni does not need to be lacquered because it will not tarnish.

Note: The dust cover over the counters on the inside of certain machines was always Ni plated.

Some people think Ni is less desirable than bronze machines or CuO2. This is really personal preference. In reality, Ni advantages include no tarnishing and some patterns like Renaissance look great in Ni.



Letter C: Polished & lacquered Bronze (red brass) on an NCR Model 8

Letter C: Polished & lacquered Bronze (red brass)

Brass/Bronze Finish – Letter C

These machines are solid brass which can be polished to a beautiful reddish gold color. Polish or buff with Brasso or have it done professionally and lacquered. Lacquering will delay tarnishing.

Uncoated bronze will tarnish slowly to a nice patina like any brass object.

Final comments on the finish

Sometimes finding out the finish on your machine is really difficult if really dirty or, as is often the case, your machine has been painted.

  • Look under the lid or remove a piece held on by a few screws and look around the edges you can often see the original finish here.
  • A good thing to check behind is the model or serial number tag.
  • One great way to identify a Ni plated machine is to examine the drawer front very carefully. Many times the drawer front on a Ni machine is made of solid Nickel. This was because the drawer front was handled the most often and would have quickly worn through the nickel plating so NCR just made it of solid Nickel. (Sometimes but not always).
  • A copper machine is often really had to identify because it just looks really dirty and when polished can look like bronze.
Well, I hope this has helped you figure out what your ornate National Cash Register is made of and what finish it has. Now go on to figure out what pattern your machine has. Each Step puts you closer to an appraisal.
(3) Next Step – What Pattern is in the metal of your NCR?

or back to Step 1