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This is a 3-digit hand tally register. It is round, just under 6 cm in diameter, with a small round window in its centre in which the counter can be seen. It sits comfortably in the hand, and there is normally a ring attached to the back in which you can insert your ring or index finger for a more secure hold. Pressing the button on the side with the thumb or index finger increments the counter. On the back there are two small knobs with which the tens and the hundreds digits can be set to zero. To clear the counter, press the button until the units digit is zero, then turn the knobs so that their digits become zero, too.
Its mechanism is very simple. The three number wheels are placed such that the outer two overlap the middle one, so that the three digits that will form the register are directly next to each other. The middle number wheel turns in the opposite direction to the others so that carry can be performed directly between the wheels. The units and tens wheels both have a small arm that interacts with a gear on the next wheel to push it one step forward. All the wheels have a spring mechanism that clicks them into the correct alignment.
These tally registers were first made by the Benton Manufacturing Company, New York, from at least as early as 1884. The company was founded by John Barnaby Benton in 1874. I have not found the patent for the tally register, but John B. Benton has many patents for other devices with counters (passenger registers, fare registers, ballot boxes, etc.). Until the late 1880s, most of John Benton's patents were assigned to the Railway Register Manufacturing Company. It is not clear what the relationship was. It would not be surprising if the tally register was also originally produced with the railway in mind, as they were extensively used there. They were often called pole counters.
In the early 1880s the company made the "Excelsior" cyclometer, a device that measures the distance a bicycle travels, which seems to have been highly prized for its accuracy. It should be noted that in this context the company was often referred to as E. B. Benton Mfg Co., but it is unclear if E. B. Benton was a real person. It was not uncommon for companies to use different addressees in different advertisements, so that incoming mail could more easily be sorted according to the product involved, and the initials E.B. could therefore be fictional.
The company must have had a good reputation for manufacturing experimental devices, as Thomas Edison had them make the Talking Machines (a.k.a. Phonographs) that he exhibited at the 1889 Paris convention.
In around 1897 James O. Benton took over the running of the company, and he was probably John Benton's son. The Benton Company made the tally register for many years, apparently without any material changes in design. From 1907 a more expensive 4-digit version was made as well, which had the 4th digit visible in a small hole above the middle digit of the main counter. In the first World War, the US Army placed a very large order for tally registers. At some point after 1917 production was taken over by the Tally Register Corp., New York. According to the packaging of their tally counters they had an exclusive license from Benton to produce both versions, and they did so until the 1960s and possibly 70s. It is possible that the production lines set up to fulfill the Army's order were spun off to become the Tally Register Corp., leaving the Benton Company free to do more specialized and interesting productions. The Benton Manufacturing Company seems to have remained a family business, as I was told by a descendant that Benton Benjamin Kendig (grandson of John B. Benton through his daughter Fannie May Benton) became secretary and treasurer of the company, and his younger brother Thomas Hart Kendig eventually bought the company and ran it for decades.
My tally counter has no serial number, and no indication of a brand name or manufacturing company, and came without its box. I am therefore not sure which company made it, nor when it was made during the long production run. While the oldest counters have Benton Mfg. Co. engraved or stamped on them, it seems that Benton also made unmarked ones for resale. Later counters by Tally usually had the company name moulded on the back plate. One way to date it may be the fonts used for the digits, but this is tricky too, as the three wheels of my tally register all use a different type. This suggests it was manufactured in a hurry, and that it could be from that US Army order in WW1.
Here are various advertisements and catalogue listings of this tally register that I found in online archives.
Here are a few articles related to the Benton Manufacturing Company and the tally register, including John Benton's obituary from the New York Times.
I have not found any original patent for the Benton Tally Register, though there are many patents by John B. Benton for other kinds of registers. There is however one later patent describing a modification of it. This patent has drawings of the mechanism of the Benton Tally Register, but just describes it as the "conventional flat type tally register" and has no reference to an original patent.
|Patent||Filing date||Priority date||Name||Description|
|US 162,717||20-02-1875||27-04-1875||Hamilton B. Towle & John B. Benton||Passenger register|
|US 167,057||18-03-1875||24-08-1875||John B. Benton||Passenger register|
|US 168,195||10-06-1875||28-09-1875||Hamilton E. Towle||Bell punch|
|US 213,492||05-02-1879||25-03-1879||John B. Benton||Liquor register|
|US 225,044||05-01-1880||02-03-1890||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 227,206||26-02-1880||04-05-1880||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 229,662||12-02-1879||06-07-1880||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 230,169||21-01-1880||20-07-1880||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 234,742||12-08-1880||23-11-1880||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 235,407||07-11-1878||14-12-1880||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 235,498||09-07-1880||14-12-1880||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 252,417||22-08-1881||17-01-1882||John B. Benton||Fare register|
|US 260,526||31-10-1881||04-07-1882||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register|
|US 327,645||12-02-1885||06-10-1885||John B. Benton (Standard Cancelling Ballot Box Company)||Ballot box|
|US 511,322||02-11-1889||26-12-1893||John B. Benton (National Cash Register Company)||Register and Calculator|
|US 547,981||24-02-1894||15-10-1895||John B. Benton||Cash Register|
|USD 24,755||16-10-1894||15-10-1895||John B. Benton (Railway Register Manufacturing Company)||Fare register face-plate|
|US 552,463||23-08-1895||31-12-1895||John B. Benton & Edward B. Hess (Metropolitan Register Company)||Cash Register|
|US 1,027,613||14-03-1907||28-05-1912||Robert E. Kimball (Tickometer Company)||Ticket counting machine|
|US 2,812,908||17-02-1954||12-11-1954||George F. Fox||Tally Register|
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