Exploring the Value and History of Antique Scales

Scales have been an essential tool for thousands of years, allowing people to precisely measure the weight of goods for trade and commerce. The earliest scales, dating back to ancient Egypt around 2500 BC, were simple balance scales made of wood or bronze. Over the centuries, scale design and technology steadily advanced, resulting in the wide variety of scales used today for everything from portion control in home kitchens to ultra-precise scientific and industrial applications.

Many people find antique scales to be fascinating collectibles due to their important role in human history, not to mention their often ornate designs and fine craftsmanship. But what makes certain antique scales more valuable than others? Let‘s take a deep dive into the world of antique scales and the key factors that influence their value in today‘s market.

A Brief History of Scales

The ancient Egyptians are credited with inventing the first balance scales around 2500 BC. These early devices had two plates or bowls attached to a central beam. The item to be weighed was placed in one bowl, and stone or metal weights were added to the other bowl until the two sides balanced out, indicating their equivalent weights.

Other ancient civilizations adopted and improved upon the Egyptian design. The Greeks and Romans used balance scales extensively for trade and commerce. By the Middle Ages, scale design had advanced, with some made of iron or steel and fitted with wheels and handles for easy transport.

The 17th century saw the invention of the spring scale by Richard Salter in Britain. Spring scales relied on Hooke‘s law, which mathematically defines the relationship between force and displacement in springs. These scales allowed weight to be read directly rather than through the use of counterweights.

Into the 18th and 19th centuries, scale manufacturing increased thanks to the Industrial Revolution. By the 20th century, electronic and digital scales began to emerge and eventually became the norm. However, many antique scales from the 19th century and earlier are still cherished by collectors today.

Common Types of Antique Scales

Antique scales come in a few main varieties, each with its own distinctive characteristics:

Beam Scales

Beam scales are one of the oldest types, consisting of a balanced beam with a weighing pan on one end and a pointer on the other end. Weights are slid along the beam until it balances, and the position of the weight indicates the measurement. Even today, beam scales are used when high precision is required.

Balance Scales

Balance scales, also called equal arm scales, have two weighing pans supported by a beam that‘s balanced on a central fulcrum. The unknown quantity is placed in one pan, and known weights are added to the other pan until the beam balances. Balance scales were widely used in homes, shops, and apothecaries before modern spring scales.

Spring Scales

Patented by Richard Salter in 1770, spring scales measure weight using Hooke‘s law principle. The item to be weighed is hung from a spring, and the distance the spring is displaced indicates the weight measurement on a dial. Compared to balance scales, spring scales allow faster direct measurement without the need for counterweights. Many 19th century spring scales featured ornate cast iron, brass, or wood casings.

Key Factors Affecting Antique Scale Value

The value of any given antique scale depends on a combination of factors. Generally, scales dating from the early 19th century and before command the highest prices due to their age and rarity. However, more recent antique scales can also be quite valuable under the right conditions. The main value factors include:


As with any antique, condition plays a huge role in determining value. Scales with all their original parts intact and in good working order will be worth far more than those that are missing components or in need of repair. Some signs of age like worn paint are expected, but scales shouldn‘t have any major damage like cracks or broken parts. Having the original box or paperwork is a big plus.


Certain types and models of antique scales are more common than others. For example, simple balance scales are easier to find than early coin scales. Scales produced by prolific manufacturers will be less rare than those from short-lived or regional makers. Limited edition anniversary models or special material variants (like solid silver) made in small quantities will be among the rarest and most valuable.


As with other types of antiques, the reputation and prestige of the manufacturer has an impact on value. Scales marked with the name of a well-known maker like Henry Troemner or Gurley tend to be worth more than unmarked examples or those from lesser-known companies. Some collectors focus on acquiring scales from specific makers.

Materials & Design

Antique scales were made from a variety of materials, most commonly brass, cast iron, steel, and wood. Scales featuring high-end materials like silver or gold are rare and valuable. Many 19th century scales have very ornate, decorative designs with embellishments and details hand-painted or etched into the metal. In general, scales with more elaborate, artistic designs command higher prices than those with simple, utilitarian designs.


The size of the scale sometimes plays a role in value, with larger scales usually but not always being worth more than smaller models. Miniature scales under a few inches tall were made as salesman‘s samples and are highly collectible. Very large scales in excellent condition can also bring high prices due to their impressive size.

Highly Valuable Antique Scales

To give you an idea of the upper end of the market, here are a few examples of rare antique scales that have sold for impressive prices at auction in recent years:

  • A circa 1860s English coin scale in sterling silver by Bianca: $4,375 (Christie‘s, 2016)
  • An early 19th century French apothecary scale with ebony and ivory beam: €6,250 (Sotheby‘s, 2014)
  • A Troemner No. 5 analytical balance scale from the 1910s: $6,500 (Skinner, 2012)
  • An ornate Victorian cast iron scale by English maker Avery: $3,200 (Garth‘s Auctions, 2020)

While these are exceptionally rare pieces, more "typical" 19th century scales in very good condition regularly sell in the range of $300 – $2,000 depending on the specific type, maker, and materials. Even simple unsigned balance scales can be worth $100 or more if they‘re in good shape.

Tips for Collecting Antique Scales

If you‘re interested in starting an antique scale collection, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the different types of antique scales, the major manufacturers, and the key value factors. Reference books like James Tuff‘s "Antique Scales: A Collector‘s Guide" are an excellent starting point.

  2. Carefully inspect any scale before buying to assess its condition. Look for maker‘s marks and be wary of marriages (parts from different scales combined into one) or reproductions masquerading as antiques.

  3. Decide on the focus of your collection, whether that‘s scales from a certain time period, region, or maker. Specializing will make it easier to track down pieces for your collection.

  4. Get to know reputable antique dealers in your area and let them know you‘re on the lookout for scales. Auction houses and online marketplaces are also good places to find scales, but beware of fakes.

  5. If you‘re unsure about a scale‘s identity, age, or value, consider reaching out to an expert for an appraisal. The International Society of Antique Scale Collectors offers an identification and research service for a small fee.

The Bottom Line

Antique scales are a fascinating collecting area with a rich history and wide variety of types and styles to suit different interests and budgets. While the most valuable scales are rare 18th-19th century precision balances and those by prestigious makers, even more ordinary 100-year-old counter scales can be quite collectible if they‘re in good condition. As you explore the world of antique scales, take the time to appreciate the craftsmanship and history behind these important artifacts of commerce and scientific discovery. With some targeted research and careful shopping, you‘re sure to find the perfect pieces to start or expand your collection.

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