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.

Date Made: 1877

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Virginia

Subject: MathematicsSpiritsTaxes


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Mathematics, Counters, Science & Mathematics


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Transfer from Library of Congress

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: MA.319732Catalog Number: 319732Accession Number: 235052

Object Name: counter

Physical Description: brass (overall material)steel (overall material)glass (overall material)Measurements: overall: 11 cm x 22.5 cm x 13 cm; 4 11/32 in x 8 27/32 in x 5 1/8 in


Record Id: nmah_690545

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