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]

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]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Handel Fish Scale Diamond Desk Lamp, No Reserve Arts And Crafts Mission Georgian Folding Guinea Coin Scales Balance Unusual Rule To Lid Daniel Robinson Antique 1800s Iron & Brass Buffalo Hide Scale / C Balance ~ Old Vtg Rustic ToolVintage Antique Detecto Glass Face Hanging Produce ScaleAntique Chatillon Hanging Parcel Scale, Enamel Pan. Vintage 1920 - Nr Antique / Vintage Ornate Brass Postal ScalesAntique French Postal Scale Letter Scales France Pese Lettre BriefwaageAntique 19thc Gold Guinea / Sovereign Brass Balance Pan Scales & Weights W CaseSee Other Items I.e. Rare Postal Scale /// Antique Candlestick Postal Scale Vintage Antique Dbl Faced Detecto-matic Hanging Produce Store Scale Class 3000Vintage American Family Produce Hanging Scale Scoop Bin Collectible DecorativeAntique Coin Scale Coin Balance With Coin Weight Weights Trebuchet MAntique Corn Scale Grain Scale Scales Balance Vintage Brass Counter Scale Scoop Only Pan Dish General Hardware Store CandySee Other Items I.e. Rare Antique Postal Scale Letter Scales Pese Lettre Vintage American Family Hanging Scale 60 Pound Capacity With Scoop Basket19thc Antique W&t Avery Brass Hand Held Gold Coin Apothecary Scale Weights & BoxA Good Little Set Of Antique Brass Pocket Sovereign Coin ScalesVintage American Family Hanging ScaleUnusual Early Antique Miniature Brass Cup Nesting Weights Marked Per.co 1800sVintage Dual Sided Detecto Red & White Hanging Produce ScaleVintage Hanging ScaleVintage 60 Pound American Family Scale Pat 1912 Hanging With Basket ExcellentBeautiful Antique Apothecary Brass Gold Balance Beam Scale Seederer & KohlbuschAntique Salter Domestic Balance No. 51 Scale* Antique Vintage Toledo 405 Candy Grain Weight Scale Old-fashioned Antique Cottam & Hallen 21" Brass / Iron Scale London Wood Case No. 63 PatentAmerican Family Vintage Green Scale 1906 ModelAntique Collectible Wood Egg CarrierVintage American Family 60 Pound Hanging Scale Pat. 1912 "brown"Antique Collectible Vintage 8 Eggs Grading Weights Grader Set In Wooden BoxAntique 1921 Chainomatic Balance Scale By Christian BeckerOld 19c German Antique Brass Hook Hanging Balance Scale Apothocary WeightsRare Matching Stack Victorian Sovereign Weights Vandome Titfords & PawsonToledo Bureau Of Weights And Measures Lehigh County, Pa Vintage ScaleAntique 1840's Gold Rush Miners Patriotic Boxed Scale!Vtg Weigh Right Balance Scale W/ Brass Weights 0-50 Grams Apothecary PharmacyNovelty Rare Solid Sterling Silver Postal Scales Levi & Salaman Birm' 1911Hakari With Wooden Case / Balance-beam Scale / Japanese / AntiqueMixed Lot Of 27 Vintage Brass Scale Weights With Wooden BoxVintage White Enamel 3 Pound Toledo Candy ScaleAntique Apothecary Brass Weights - Vintage Retro Scales ChemistAntique Brass 4lb Bell Weight (scales) - - Exc Cond !Antique/vintage Hanging Milk Scale Brass Purina Cow Chow Includes Produce TrayAntique Produce Kitchen Scale- Primitive Kitchen Decor In Vintage GreenVintage American Family Kitchen Scale - Metal Body-glass FaceVintage Brass Scale Of Justice With Marble Base,table Lamp 24" TallAntique Set Of Shop Scales With Avery Weights"american Family Scale" - Pat. 1912 - 60 Pounds - Vg. Cond.Vintage Portable Scales Of Justice In CaseVintage Jiffy Way Egg Weight ScalesPrimative Style Jiffy Way Tin Egg Scale Egg Sizer Egg SelectorAntique Mahogany Cased Brass Pocket Apothecary Beam Balance ScalesVintage Brass And Steel Balance Scale W/weights And Storage BoxAntique 25lb Counter Top Scale ~ Rustic Shabby Prim Farm Barn Kitchen DecorAntique Vintage Ohaus Sto-a-weigh Brass Weight Set In Bakelite Box 14 PcsVintage Cast Iron And Brass Balance ScalesJiffy-way Egg Scale, Minneapolis, MinnVintage American Family Kitchen Scale, 1920s-'40s, Rusty But Works Great!Vintage Set Of Brass Balance Scale Weights In Wood Box