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]

Old Woodworking Machines

Old Woodworking Machines

This collective website, which started as an online discussion forum, now also includes a large database of manufac… [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    

Vintage Detecto Hanging Scale - With Metal Basket & Extra Chain - AntiqueStunning Antique C1860 Victorian Apothecary Balance Complete Original De GraveAntique 18thc Gold Guinea Brass Balance Pan Scales & Weights W CaseAn Antique Set Of Postal ScalesAntique Zenith Cast Iron Egg Grader Scale Earlville Ny Vtg Chicken Farm ToolVintage Chix Jiffy Way Chicken Egg ScaleVintage Antique Hanson Hanging Produce Scale W Hanson Scoop PanVintage Antique Detecto Gram Counter Scale General Drug Store Candy Dry GoodsAntique Brower Egg Scale For Chicken & Turkey Eggs / Rare Jadeite GreenAntique Parnell Brass Postal / Letter Scale Ca1900 British Made Hand-held 0-2 OzVintage Chatillon Type 33 Serial H Hanging Produce 40 Lbs Scale With Meat TrayBeautiful Red Chatillon 720 Hanging Grocers Scale W/basket 20lbs X 1ozVintage Chatillon Hanging Produce Scale W/basket ~ Tray ~ Blue Old PaintVintage Antique Chatillon Glass Face Hanging Scale~ Basin PanVintage American Family Hanging Scale 60 Pounds Patented Oct. 1912Fine Victorian Bronze Candle Stick Letter Scales By Joseph & Edmund Ratcliff.Antique Boxed Balance Scales & Weights C1890Antique Dry Goods Scale With Weights!!Antique Civil War Era Apothecary Brass Balance Scale W/ Wood Storage Box &weightVintage Landers Frary & Clark Universal Household Kitchen Scale New Britain CtRare Full Set Victorian Stacking Cup Nesting Weights 12 Ounces To Quarter OunceVintage American Family Scale Weighs 25 Pounds WorksAntique Miniature Boxwood Vernier Caliper With Cm's & Unusual Scale RulerAntique Chinese Pailou Graduated Stack Set 3 Bronze Medicine / Spice Scales TrayVintage Pelouze Mfg Chicago Usa Laboratory Mechanical Scales H.boker Antique Buffalo Fur Animal Hide Trappers Old West Scale Vintage, GermanyVintage American Family 1906 Scale 25 Pound W Pan Orange Red Black Spatter NiceHeritage Scale Transistor Radio Wrigley Shaped Candy Scale Antique Antique**rare**early Henry Troemner Cast Iron Balance Scale A Set Of Very Nice French Copper Scales Antique Collectable VintageAncient Bronze Scale WeightAntique Apothecary Scale With Front Glass Thompson Balance Co Jacobs Bros Inc. Candy Fruit Scale Cast Iron Detecto Scales New York Usa N399 BwVintage American Family Scale Country Store , Kitchen Or Old Mercantile ItemRoman Bronze Armour Fragment, Lorica Squamata, 2 Linked ScalesVtg Antique 8 Piece Set Brass Apothecary Scale Balance Weight Wood Box 5 20 DgmSimple Primitive Tin Royal 23 Oz Egg Scale GraderColumbia Family Scale 24 Pound Pat'd April 16. 07 By Lander, Frary & Clark Expertly Built 1/1200 Scale Ss Troilus In Wood And Plexiglass Display CaseVintage Antique Penn Scale Mfg Co. Hanging Produce Scale 20 Pounds Series 820 All Brass 8 3/4" Long..antique Champion Usa Egg Scale..parts Or Fix It..nice OneAntique Imperial Russian Nest Weight Set W.eagle Mark 1884.San Felipe 48" Large Scaled Wood Model Ship Tall Spanish BoatBuffalo Horn Scales For Crafts X5Vintage Autowate Kitchen Scale Capacity 25 PoundsAntique 1790 Mahogany Cased Folding Coin Scale By WlkinsonRare Antique French Pocket Coin Scales & Box With Weights, 18th CenturyLarge Set Avery Hanging Balance Beam Gold Scales & Weights 1900 ScienceOld Vintage Jiffy Chicken Egg Scale ~ Rustic Farm Tool Barn Primitive DecorAmerican Family ScaleVtg./antique "jiffy Way" Egg Scales-farm Master-sears,roebuck & Co.-working-no RBronze Salter's Letter Balance Scale #11Vintage Balance Scale With Brass Pan By American Family Scale Co.2 Old Metal Oakes Egg Scales..never Cleaned..1 Missing Weight..1 Works Good..usaVintage Autowate 25 Lb Kitchen Food Scale. Made In ChicagoExpertly Built 1/1200 Scale Uss Hornet In Wood And Plexiglass Display CaseVintage Post Office Letter Brass Scales Wood Base With Weights Antique Toledo Scale 409 Dh 3lb Mail/postal ScaleVintage Chatillon Hanging Scale 20lb With Galvanized Produce Pan Type 027 / C114Antique German Hanging Spring Scale Hunter Trapper Industrial Iron And Brass.