Even though the basic balance scale has been around for thousands of years and its accuracy has improved dramatically over the last several centuries, the principle behind this tool remains unchanged. Its parts include a fulcrum, a beam that balances on it, two pans at the ends of the beam to hold the materials to be weighed, and counter-balancing weights.

Balance scales that require equal weights on each side of the fulcrum have been used by everyone from apothecaries and assayers to jewelers and postal workers. The most accurate mechanical equal-arm scales, as they are called, are housed in wood-and-glass cases to keep dust from tipping the scales, so to speak. Firms known for their high-quality balance scales include Philip Harris of England, Becker of Belgium, and U.S. maker Kohlbusch.

In the 19th century, portable suspension balance scales were used to weigh coins—in those days, it was not uncommon for the value of the gold in a coin to exceed the coin’s stamped denomination. These scales, which could be hung from the nearest hook, were designed to fit into metal or wooden cases, including their brass pans and cast-iron or lead weights.

Another type of balance scale has a weighing pan on one side and an arm on the other. Known as an unequal arm balance scale, this variety builds the counterweight into the device. Ball scales are good examples of these sorts of scales, as are union scales.

Counter scales used in dry-goods stores featured Japanned (blackened) cast iron and bronze trim. Made by companies such as Howe and Fairbanks, the footed tin pans of these scales were often oblong, some encircled at one end so bulk items could be easily poured into a bag. Seamless pans were typically stamped from brass and given style names like Snuff (the smallest) and Birmingham (the largest). Some counter scales were designed for measuring spices, others for weighing fat slices of cake.

Yet another type of unequal arm balance scale was the steelyard scale, which was designed to be mounted to a wall. The most ingenious steelyard scales could be folded against the wall they were attached to so they could be moved out of the way when not in use.

In the 18th century, spring scales appeared. To produce these scales, a manufacturer would use the resistance of a spring to calculate weights, which could be read automatically ...

One of the most common types of spring scales was the kitchen scale—also known as a family or dial scale. Designed for horizontal surfaces, these scales used the weight of goods in a pan at the top of the scale to force the spring down. Such scales were common in early-20th-century households and were sold by Sears and Montgomery Ward. Many had flat weighing surfaces but some were topped by shallow pans. Companies such as Salters, Chatillon, and Fairbanks made both.

One specialized type of spring scale was the egg scale, which was used to compute the weight of an egg, the weight of a dozen eggs, and whether the egg could be classified as small, medium, large, or extra large. Jiffy-Way scales, which were made in Owatonna, Minnesota, beginning in 1940, are popular with collectors for their attractive red painted-metal housings. Another Minnesota company, Specialty Mfg., Co., was known for its Acme egg scale.

Even more particular are the spring scales made by Salters that featured a wicker basket on top rather than a tinned pan. The reason? These handsome scales were designs exclusively to weigh newborn babies.

Finally, there are hanging spring scales made by numerous manufacturers, including the prolific Landers, Frary & Clark. Most of these scales had rectangular, vertically oriented brass faces, although some featured round dials—they were used for weighing farm goods like butter. Capacities ranged from 12 to 24 to 50 pounds.

The desirability of hanging scales to collectors is usually not dependent on the manufacturer since they all had the same sorts of finishes and were all of about the same quality. But a hanging scale that features advertising on its face is generally more desirable than those that do not.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Machinery

Vintage Machinery

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, also includes a large database of manufacture… [read review or visit site]



Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Hms Prince 45" Wood Model Ship Large Scale Sailing Tall British BoatAntique Vintage Egg Scale On Wood BaseRare! Antique Cast Iron Turnbull's Novelty Scale 1877 Patent No Reserve!Candy Scale Pans, 2, Vintage, Scoops, Toledo Dayton ScalesW & T Avery Antique Victorian Iron & Brass Scales And Vr Weights In Wooden BoxAntique Victorian Mordan Postal Balance, C1850, Complete Set Original WeightsVintage Chatillon 20# Gold 027 Grocery Farm Hanging Scale With Pan Double FacedHms Bellona 48" Wood Model Ship Large Scale Sailing Tall British BoatNice! Vintage Apothecary, Assayer Balance Beam Scale ~ E H Sargent ~ ChicagoHuge Victorian Brass Letter & Parcel Scales With Weights,circa 1900 & 99p Start!Antique Georgian Gold Soveriegn / Coin Brass Pan Scales & Weights In Treen CasePreway Modern Enameled Black Metal Fireplace Small Scale VintageVintage Antique Blue Penn Scale Co Hanging Produce Scale Fabulous Antique W A Webb London Portable Travel Apothecary Scales & WeightsSet Of 6 Antique W.&.t.a Avery Apothecary Scale Weights & 2 Others VictorianmarkVery Clean Set Of Vintage Wood & Brass Postal Scales & Weights In Good ConditionRare Antique National Store Specialty 2 Lb Candy Scales Look!Vintage Detecto Scale - Pre 1975Vintage Advertising Columbia Family Scale-hardware StoreAntique Toledo Mercantile Candy Scale Early And Unusual Rare Antique Brass Cino Chemical Products Apothecary Weight Set - CompleteAntique Iron Henry Boker German Buffalo Hide Scale C Scale No Reserve!Two Brass Stick Barometer Scale Plaques One With London Maker Vintage David Bradley Jiffy Way Sears, Roebuck & Co Egg Scale Green VgcAntique Cast Iron O.w. Bedell Zenith Egg Grading Scale Earlville, Ny No Reserve!Antique Metal Cased Apothecary Scales & Weights With Brass PansWood Cased, Antique, Brass Pan Coin Scales, "averys, Birminghham"Chatillon Red Hanging Produce Scale 720 20 Lbs X 1 OzAntique Vintage Mascot Egg Grader Scale Prospectus Mfg Co Farm BarnVintage Antique Green Egg Scale Antique Central Scientific Co Apothecary Scale Weight SetGreat Antique 1849er Gold Scales In Wooden Hinged CaseVintage Jiffy Way Egg Grading Scale By Brower Mfg. Co.quincy Ill. U.s.a. Vintage Set Of 8 Brass Egg Weights To Verify Or Balance Egg Grading ScalesEggs Scale Jiffy WayAntique Fairbanks No.3 Mercantile Scale + Tray + Dep. Weights And Measures TagAntique Egg Grading Scale Magic Scale National PoultryAntique Brass Country Store Weight Scale Scoop Pan Measure 21 3/4" X 12" X " 5Antique Gold Scale In Original Wood BoxVintage Old Kentucky Home Kitchen Scale By Belknap Hardware Louis. KyVintage Green American Family Metal Kitchen Scale - Weighs Up To 25 PoundsAntique Henry Troemner Apothecary Pharmacy Gold Scale With Brass WeightsRailway Express Scale With Logo/jacob Brothers Co Brooklyn Ny"jiffy-way" Working Vintage Green Egg Scale Farm / Country DecorVintage Gray Metal Mascot Egg Grading Scale Rustic PrimitiveVintage Hand Carved Mechanical Man Wine/bottle Stopper Marked Dubonnet *no Reserve* Antique Gold Jewelers Apothecary Scale Wooden Box W/ Drawer WeightsVintage Collectible Eks Anita Swedish Made White Enamel 12kg Sliding Scale Large Antique Vtg Brass Scale Scoop Pan Dish Bowl Teardrop ShapeVintage Premier Egg Grading ScaleAntique The Computing Scale Company Counter Topper Dayton Ohio19th Century Pair Of Pocket Gold Scales Weights MinerPharmacy Scale Antique Advertising Drug Store Usa Torsion Balance CoEarly Vintage Antique Kitchen ScaleLarge Antique 12.3 Pound Brass WeightVintage Acme Egg Grading ScaleFour Bronze Roman Armour Scales Lorica PlumataVintage Antique Penn Scale Co Double Sided Hanging Produce Scale Sears & Roebuck & Co Model 1906 Scale Yellow Counter Top Kitchen StoreVintage Brass Metal Decorative Cherub Scales Of Justice