Moffett Register for Recording Alcohol Sales

In the spring of 1877, to pay the interest on the public debt, the state of Virginia passed a law suggested by State Senator Samuel H. Moffett of Harrisonburg. Every liquor dealer and saloon in the state was to be equipped with a so-called Moffett register to record sales of liquor, allowing state tax collectors to know taxes due. This is an example of a Moffett register. Moffett and Otis Dean of Richmond received a patent for the device in 1877.
The counter has a black iron frame with a glass window in the front and a brass crank in the back. Two holes in the base allow the register to be fixed to a counter. Under the window are six dials, each of which can read any digit from 0 to 9. The dials are marked according to the decimal place of the digit. Turning the crank at the back an entire turn rings a bell and increases the setting on the tens dial (the rightmost). On the back is a covered keyhole. The case is locked and there is no key.
A mark inside the window above the dials reads: MOFFETT REGISTER. A mark on the outside of the front reads: ALCOHOLIC LIQUORS. Another mark there reads: No (/) 2872. The dials are labeled from left to right: 1 MILLION, 100 THOUSAND, 10 THOUSAND, 1 THOUSAND, 1 HUNDRED, TEN.
By 1878, use of the Moffett register reportedly was in decline.
Samuel H. Moffett and Otis Dean, “Improvement in Alarm-registers for Use in Bar-rooms, &c.,” U.S. Patent 194,951, September 4, 1877.
“Virginia,” Appleton’s Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1877, ns, vol. 2, New York: Appleton, 1890., pp. 758-762.
“Virginia’s Novel Liquor Tax,” New York Tribune, September 15, 1877, p. 2.
“Decline of the Moffett Register,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 3, 1878, p. 6.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
steel (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 11 cm x 22.5 cm x 13 cm; 4 11/32 in x 8 27/32 in x 5 1/8 in
place made
United States: Virginia
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Transfer from Library of Congress
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