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    

Quality Postal Scales Columbus Bilateral German Maul Makers 1900Uss Constellation 50" Wood Model Ship Tall Sailing Large Scaled BoatGeorgian Folding Guinea Coin Sovereign Scales H Bell Prescot Lancs Antique Vintage Penn Hanging Produce Scale Red White Metallic Blue Chattilon Style NrBeautiful Old Intricate Hand Made Scale Model Miniature Violin & Bow In Hardcase7 Pounds Antique Brass Bell WeightAntique 9 Piece Graduated Brass Gram Scale Weight SetSoleil Royal 44" Large Scaled Wood Model Ship Historic French Tall Boat Jiffy-way Egg ScaleAntique Brass Nuremberg Apothecary Nesting Troy Cup Scale Weights CompleteAntique 20 Lb Double Sided Chatillon Grocery Hanging Scale W/ Enamel Tray YqzAntique Mercantile / Bakers Scoop For Scale Copper W/metal Edge 10" X7.5"x2"deepWooden Treen Box Of Avery Victorian Brass Weights W&ta Registration Lozenge 1850Rare Model Of Mordan Inlaid Base Brass Postal Letter Scales + Weights Antique English Brass Scale Weights 8 Pieces, 4 Pounds Total, Banfield BrightonOld Kitchen Household Scales Primitive Antique Country Farm Barn ToolLarge Antique Country Store Sargent Brass Hanging Scale W/ Tray Kitchen DecorVintage Jiffy-way Egg ScaleAntique Mahogany & Brass Balance Scales Box 16" Wide Box With Draw,Antique Stimpson Candy Scale #5 CapacityA Set Of Georgian Mahogany Cased Brass Guinea / Sovereign Scales / BalanceAntique / Vintage Wooden & Brass Desk Postal Scales With 4 Weights - Oj P22Antique Jiffy Weigh Egg Grading Scale In Red Every Country Home Should Have OneVintage Large Apothecary Pharmacist Scale Wood And Glass Case Eimer And AmendVintage Hanging Scales Chatillon-20 Lbs.-new YorkAntique Vintage Detecto Hanging 20 Lb Produce Farm Feed Scalescoop BasketVintage Chatillon Type 720 Red Produce Grocery Scale 20 Lb With BasketSantisima Trinidad 53" Large Scaled Wood Model Ship Historic Spanish Tall Boat Antique Dayton Candy Scale Style No 166 Computing Scale Co General Store L@@kPrimitive Antique Country Store Scale Tray Hanger With Long Iron Chain GreenAntique Brass Iron ,copper Hanging Balance Beam Scale W/ Weight VintageAntique C1880 French Reaumur (scale) Pocket Thermometer In Hinged Wood Case~rareAntique Henry Troemner Pharmacy Drug Store Scale Glass Wood Wooden FrameAntique Postal Scale With Boy Holding Candlestick Unique Rare1911 Henry Troemner Scientific ScaleAntique Late 18th C / Early 19th C Hand Held Gold Coin Scales With Wooden CaseVtg/antique Jacobs Bros. Ny. Detecto Wate Hanging Scale W/pan-farm,store,produceVintage Egg Weigher Jiffy WayVintage Toledo Porcelain Scale "no Springs, Honest Weight" Old Rusty Chatillon Hanging Store Scale 1931Antique Chinese Hand Carved 5-toed, Scaled & Bearded Dragon Miniature FigureAntique New Born Stork Scale Weidlich Sterling Silver Souvenir Baby SpoonAntique Henry Troemner Apothecary Balance Scale Jeweler Gold Scale Brass WeightsOld Antique Early Salt Glazed Stoneware 5 Gallon Jug Turkey Droppings Dropping Vintage Blanc De Chine Double Scale Dragon Twisted Flower Vase SignedVintage Bourn Brass Sovereign Scales, Working Order, Good Condition.1895 Torsion Balance Co. Scale Style 5055 Prescription, Chemical Rare NrNo Rust..no Repairs..nice Working Unique Egg Weighing Scale..usa..Vintage Set Of Weights For Balance Scale 9 Pieces4-fairbanks Scale Antique Restoration LabelsChina Handwork Miao Silver & Turquoise & Copper Carving Fish Scale Snuff BottleAntique Vtg Fairbanks Brass Hanging Counter Balance Beam Grain Scales W/labelWay Rite Spring, Balance Scale Household Kitchen Shop 25 Lb Vintage Columbia Family Scale 24 Lbs. Landers ,frary, Clark Pat. April 16,1907 Us Assay Office San Francisco Gold Weighted ScaleVintage Industrial Salter Suspended Hanging Weigher Scales Shop Prop CommercialEastman Kodak Co Scales W All Weights And Box Rochester New YorkAntique W. & T. Avery & Co. 7 Pound Brass Dumbell Scale Weight/ Postal/ Store Fine Old Chinese Enamel & Brass Noir Fish Scale Cloisonne Scholars VaseSeederer And Kohlbusch Balance Scale Macalaster Bicknell