Down-Home Farm Relics at Cato Hardware

Farm relics find a home at Cato Hardware in rural upstate New York

| July 2012

Viewed through the lens of history, 1920 was a bellwether year. Henry Leland founded Lincoln Motor Car Co., Babe Ruth began his 15-year career with the New York Yankees after being sold the previous year by the Boston Red Sox (arguably the dumbest decision in the entire history of Major League Baseball), passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote and Cato Hardware opened for business.

While the Red Sox finally overcame Babe Ruth’s curse 86 years later, Cato Hardware is still at its original location smack dab in the center of the upstate New York village of Cato. Practically everything about the hardware and, for that matter, the village itself, is old.

Carved from the northern reaches of the town of Aurelius, N.Y., Cato was founded in 1805 as a military township on land that was part of the original Revolutionary Tracts. For those not familiar with New York history, Revolutionary Tracts were lands set aside by Congress as compensation for the officers and enlisted men of the Continental Army.

Century-old register rules

Walk through the door of the hardware and take a step back in time. From the wooden plank floors to bins of loose nails, it’s a throwback in the modern world of prepackaged lock washers. It’s also home to a fascinating collection of antiques, not the least of which is the cash register.

On the counter, next to an antique nail scale, is a brass-and-oak monster, a 1910 Class 900 cash register manufactured by National Cash Register Co., Dayton, Ohio. The hardware’s owners, members of the Bramble family, also have the original operator’s manual. The cash register was there when the family purchased the business in 1960.

Unlike modern models, the register’s cash drawer contains six separate coin compartments. When the register was manufactured, silver dollars and half-dollars were in wide circulation. The marble slab mounted above the cash drawer was used to test for counterfeit coins. During the early part of the 20th century, coin counterfeiting was rampant. If dropped on that marble slab, only a silver coin would produce a characteristic ringing sound.