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    

1950s Danish Modern Teak Small Scale Chest Drawers Entry Table Mid CenturyRare Antique Postal Scales Scale Pese Lettre Briefwaage Rare Antique Aeg Postal Scales Scale Pese Lettre Briefwaage Superb Set Of H Bell & Co Georgian Period Folding Equal Arm Pocket Scales.Superb Set Of Avery Georgian Period Folding Pocket Guinea Scales.Antique Candlestick Postal Scales Scale About 1850 Pese Lettre Briefwaage 18th Century Scales, Balancing Weights In Orig. Wooden Case Etui, George 111Fabulous Antique Complete Original Set Nuremburg Style Bronze Cup Weights TroySoleil Royal 44" Large Scaled Wood Model Ship Historic French Tall Boat Vintage Egg Grader Advertising Dekalb Seed Chix Antique Egg Grader With SignVintage Postal , Letter Scales Stunning Victorian Postal Balance, Ornate Candlestick Type By WinfieldVintag Detecto Hanging Scale Market Store Produce Series 26s Jacobs Bros Ny 20lbAntique Grain Scale Scales Balance Grain TesterHanson Brothers Vintage Scale Company Chicago Produce ScaleVintage Antique Jiffy Way Egg ScaleUss Constellation 50" Wood Model Ship Tall Sailing Large Scaled BoatVintage Antique Landers,frary Clark Universal Hanging ScaleStore Scale Hanging Pat 1895 Porcelain Enamel Toledo Hobart Chatillon FairbanksAntique Yarn Assorting Balance By Casartelli Complete For Cotton, Wool Or LinenLarge Size Antique Victorian Elaborate Brass Postal Scales And Weights 8.5"Antique Toledo Scale Company Model 405ar 405 Ar Toledo Scale Co. Art Deco Bilateral Columbus Egg Scale / Scales / GraderLarge Antique Cast Iron 50 Lb Hanging Scale Vintage Machine Age Industrial SteamFrench Briais Brass Hand Held Postal Letter Scales Victorian Balance DesktopVintage Hanson Hanging Balance Scale & Metal Basket 20 Lbs ~ Fruits & VegetablesAntique Toledo 3 Lb Scale - Unrestored, Blue With Brass Pan - Local Pickup Only!Unusual 19th Century Old Paris French Porcelain Scales - Matson & Co ChicagoAntique Angldile Computing Scale W/mirrorNational ScaleSuperb Vintage Portable Solid Brass Jeweller's/apothecary Balance Scales In BoxPair Antique Brass Plug Weights For Checking 1 & 1/2 Sovereign Coin Weights18 / 19 Th Century Brass Coin And Soverign Scales Balance, Good Cond.Complete Original Boxed Set Antique Diamond Weights 250 - 1 CaratVintage Metal Hanging Scale / Chatillon Type E-027 Antique J & H Berge Mahogany Apothecary Pharmacy Analytical Balance Scale..rare Antique Postal Scales (some Brass Weights) - John Heath, Birmingham - VgcAntique Victorian British Mordan & Co London Brass Postage/letter ScalesAntique Large W & T Avery Birmingham Brass Balance Scale - CompleteAntique Southwark String Gate ScaleOld Antique Or Vintage Brass Fairbanks Scale Tag 5 Inches Long Weighing ToolsAntique Fairbanks Country Store Counter Scale Manaus Portugal Double Beam Brass Balance Scale Bull Head W/weights Sterling Silver Snake Ring Set With Garnet Eyes Sapphire Head Engraved ScalesRare Hart Tru Way Egg Scale H.w. Hart Mfg. Co. Santa Monica, CaliforniaAntique F. Sartorius Gold Apothecary Analytical Scale Balance BeckerViintage Primitive Salter Family Green 28 Lb Cast Iron Scale~~made In EnglandAntique Salter's Spring Balance Scale 40lbs Brass Cast Iron Hanging EnglandRare Minty Dekalb Chix Jiffy Way Vintage Egg Scale Antique Large Size 24" Tall 'avery' Brass Balance Scales C.1900Scarcenice Civil War Era Doctor's Apothecary Scale With Horn Bowls - CompleteAntique ~ Cast Iron ' Scale ' ~ Unknown Maker ~ Awesome Piece !2 Rare Antique Postal ScalesVintage Toledo 3 Lb Candy Scale ( Honest Weight )Ohaus Vintage Balance Beam Scale With WeightsAntique Vintage American Family ScaleLot Of 3 Antique Vintage ScalesSuper Nice Salter Egg Scale / Scales / GraderJiffy-way Egg Scale Green Antique Original Vintage Owatonna Minn Vintage Antique Enamel American Family Scale 25 Lb Home Scale