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]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Bold Detecto Hanging Produce Scale ~basin Pan~awesome !!!Superb Quality Ornate Antique Brass Postal Scales + Weights Warranted AccurateClassic Antique Brass Postal Scales 1900s John Cooke& Sons LondonVintage Antique Blue Chatillon Hanging Produce Scale 1931Vintage Green American Family Metal Scale Scales For The Worlds PeopleAntique Micrometer Scale Dodge Manufacturing CompanyAntique Set Brass Analytical Scale Weights 50g-1/2g In 3" Treen Ware Box C1800s Antique Victorian Set Of Brass Sovereign Scales By HarrisonMetal Hanging Tray Scoop With Chain's For ScaleBoxed Set Of Gold Dust Scales Marked Original Box Original Label W. & T. AveryBrass Balance Hanging Scale W/ Weights Marbled Top & Wood Drawer AntiqueAntique Georgian Guinea Sovereign Coin Apothecary Scales Weights CasedFrench Coin Scale 1775 Era Wood Case Brass Nesting Weight N Sheet Money MerchantAntique Vintage Brass Scale Weight's In Wood Receptacle Eight Weight'sAntique Vintage Egg Scale Old Farm Poultry Chicken Grader Tool Poltriquip L.a.Italy Wood Box Old Coin Scale 1775 Gramm Brass Money 8 Weights Punch Sealer MarkHanging General Store Produce Dial Scale American Family 60 Pound CapacityVery Nice English Salter Egg Scale / Scales / GraderAustralian Poultry’s Egg Scale / Scales / GraderAntique Brass Top Piece Computing Scale Co., Dayton O.,vintage Tool, Barrel TypeVintage Scale Model 724 Household Family Kitchen ToolFive Bronze Roman Armour Scales Lorica PlumataVintage Metal Kitchen American Family Scale, Glass Face 24lb. Folk Art By JmdAntique Jewelrs Brass Balance Scale Nesting Weights Troy Ounces 6 Pieces L@@k Force Cast Iron Balance Scale 2 Kilo With Brass Bowls-3 WeightsVintage Sears Roebuck & Co Green Scale Weighs Up To 25 LbsVintage Farm Country Antique Style Chicken Hen Rooster Egg ScaleAntique Henry Troemner Scale With Wood Base W/ Drawer Brass TowerBeautiful Old Cast Iron Scale & Weights Estate Find!!Iron Omori / Scale Weight / Japanese / Antique1912 Vintage Scale 24 Lbs American Cutlery Co. Chicago IllVintage Brass Small Merchants Scale Weights In Wooden Case West Germany2 Antique Brass Pocket Balance Scales - Hughes & GermanAntique Brass Traveling Gold Scale With Weights, Made In Germany Vintage Measuring Scale Tray PartAntique Columbia Family Scale 24 Pound By Oz Landers, Ferry & Clark~old~ Original 1800's Buffalo Hide / Fur Trade Scales (germany) (no Reserve)Antique Vintage Pat Oct. 29 1912 Pat. June , 1913 25 Lb ScaleVintage Antique Egg ScaleAntique Hanging Chatillon Scale & PanVintage German Egg Scale, Egg Weigher, Egg Grader, Pèse-oeufs, Eierwaage2 Antique Chatillon Brass Scales...vintage Brass Scale~nice~ 1800's Brass R.w. Winfield Birmingham Candlestick Postage Scale (nr)Measuring/weighing Spoon/scales/balances Artifact-detecting FindVintage Oaks No 555 Egg Scale With Original BoxRare German Egg Scale, Egg Weigher, Egg Grader, Pèse-oeufs, EierwaagePelouze R-47 Metric Precision Laboratory Balance Scale With WeightsVintage/antique John Chatillon & Sons 0-20 Pounds Hanging Scale Face Is 8.5" DiaAntique Brass Winchester Bushel Scale Antique Egg ScaleOld Black American Cutlery Co 25 Pound Family ScaleVintage Libra 1000 Laboratory & Gold Balance Scale With BoxLot 6 Assorted Hanging Small Round Scale Weight Vintage Metal Industrial Age AVintage Antique National Family Scale American Cutlery Pat 1912 Works OriginalVintage Brass Scale Weight Partial Set Wood Box With TweezersAntique/ Vintage Chatillon's Iron Clad 200# Hanging ScaleVintage Old Scale Weight 2 Pound Computing Read Red Figures Neat Farm Find LookVery Old Set Of Chatillon ScalesGold Rush Miners Pocket Gold Scale With Many Weights & ExtrasHenry Troemner 4oz. Apohecary Balance Scale Ser# 277