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In the struggle to enforce a system of law in the new nation, this ‘Omnibus Fare Register’ was a small, but telling, contribution. Riding the Philadelphia bus network in the early 1850s, the inventor F.O. Dechamps suspected that his fare was going into the driver’s pocket rather than the bus company’s coffers. And he was not alone. This scam was suspected by many passengers because the bus companies would not issue a receipt of travel, in the form of a ticket, nor would they give their drivers decent pay.

The public-spirited Mr Dechamps addressed the first half of the problem with his fare-register, pictured right, which would become the sheriff’s badge, the mediator of justice on the city stagecoaches.

“The driver has charge of the instrument... but should he be dishonest and inclined to cheat, his true character will be exposed to the general public,” Dechamps wrote to the Philadelphia patent office in 1852. “When the fare is paid it is registered by the driver (and) plainly indicated to the passengers both by the position of the hand on the face dial and the striking of a bell,” he explained.

Dechamps saved the bus companies money, and they in turn made Dechamps a rich man, using his registers until they became obsolete in the 1870s. With twin apertures indicating the total number of passengers, a stencilled bell and a gilt metal figural bell striker, the 15in (38cm) dial was offered at Skinner’s salerooms in Bolton, Massachusetts on April 13, where it attracted $850 (plus 17.5 per cent premium).