Payroll Counter or Denominator

At a time when employers paid workers in cash, knowing the combination of bills and coins needed to meet a payroll was a challenge. The Denominator, a device for counting items in classes, eased that task and similar cash payments. It consists of a set of eleven counters, each with a separate operating key. Six keys are for values of cents, and five for dollar values. Behind each key are three wheels; the value shown by the wheels increases by one each time the key is pressed. The keys are marked: $20; $10; $5; $2; $1; 50¢; 25¢; 10¢; 5¢; 3¢; 1¢.
A steel wing nut on the left side zeros when rotated. On the right side is a space for a sheet of forms.
A mark on the top behind the wheels reads: DENOMINATOR (/) PATENTS PENDING. A mark in front of the keys reads: DENOMINATOR ADDING MACHINE CO. (/) 224-226 SHEPHERD AVE. BROOKLYN, N.Y. A mark on the wing nut reads: 2249.
The Denominator Adding Machine Company of Brooklyn, N.Y. is listed in Thomas’s Register of American Manufacturers from 1916 through at least 1928. According to Martin, it originated in 1915. William A. Cook of Hollis, N.Y, and Joseph Levine of Brooklyn, N.Y., applied for a patent for a “denominating apparatus” March 9, 1921. Their invention closely resembles this product. When the patent was granted in 1923, they assigned it to the Denominator Adding Machine Company. The date of this patent application is taken as the approximate date of the object.
W. A. Cook and J. Levine, “Denominating Apparatus,” U. S. Patent 1,444,586, February 6, 1923..
J. H. McCarthy, American Digest of Business Machines, Chicago: American Exchange Service, 1924, pp. 42-43.
E. Martin, The Calculating Machines (Die Rechenmaschinen), trans. P. A. Kidwell and M. R. Williams, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992, p. 290-291.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1921
Denominator Adding Machine Company
place made
United States: New York, Brooklyn
Physical Description
felt (overall material)
steel (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 7 cm x 32.1 cm x 11 cm; 2 3/4 in x 12 5/8 in x 4 11/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Pratt-Read Corporation
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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