An inexpensive hobby
A set of scales like these can be picked up at antiques dealers and fairs for around £25. Individual weights, and sets of weights can often be bought from online auctions such as Ebay (but see the IMPORTANT Caveat below).

Look out for a nice 'mahogany' box, with an interesting label glued to the lid. The label shown here reads:
Manufacturers of all kinds of
Scales, Scale Beams, Steelyards, Patent Weighing Machines
Brass & Iron Weights &c.,&c.,

There should also be some marks on the beam itself (this one is marked TO WEIGH 3.OZ and AVERY LTD).

With some luck, you might get some weights with it - grains, scruples etc. would be appropriate for a balance this size. Some of the symbols on old weights are similar to signs of the Zodiac. Some relate to the coins the scales were made to check - even the famous 'pieces of eight'!

A Word to the Wise - Caveat Emptor!

A message from the Chair of ISASC(E)

In all areas of antique collecting, the buyer must beware of counterfeits and reproductions. We are fortunate that counterfeit scales and weights are fairly rare, but they do exist, and most of us have made mistakes from time to time.

Experience is the best guide, and in our Society we have a lot of experience. But, as a Society, it is simply not possible for us to give a definite opinion on any specific item. ISASC(E) is a registered charity, and our constitution does not permit the Society to offer opinions as to the authenticity of items, or their value. The traditional caveat emptor (buyer beware) must be the rule.

However, one of the Societys objectives is the dissemination of information, and in cases where many of our members have expressed doubts about certain types of items, this fact can brought to the attention of anyone who contemplates buying or selling them. The following comments are written from that viewpoint.

In the late 1990s some unusual weights began to appear on the market. There were two categories:
  • (A) brass weights shaped like numerals, and
  • (B) bank weights used for checking batches of sovereigns.

Weights of both categories had long been familiar to collectors and, as general types, firm historical evidence of authenticity is available for them. On that basis, several members of ISASC(E) purchased the newly available items, assuming that they had been produced in the early 1900s, when similar items were known to have been made. This was a reasonable assumption with regard to both categories, for several reasons, such as: many Category A weights have verification marks of the type used in the reign of Edward VII (1901-1910), and the Category B weights fell out of use at the beginning of the Great War, when gold coins ceased to circulate.

In due course it became clear that there were some unusual features about these new-to- the-market items. Objects that had been thought to be very rare now seemed to be relatively common, and a number of strange denominations were turning up. These facts prompted several collectors to examine the new items carefully, and led them to conclude that some of these weights were very recent productions. In some cases verification marks had been engraved, not stamped with a punch, and some of the weights showed traces of modern methods of production such as laser-cutting.

A member of our Society referred the matter to the Trading Standards Department of the North Yorkshire County Council. They carried out an investigation, but the legal situation was complicated and they decided that they would take no action. With the passage of time it is inevitable that some of these items will re-appear on the market. For example, the collections of former members of the Society may pass into the hands of people who have no information about them. In such cases members can help by informing potential vendors of the situation, and referring to this statement if necessary. In any event, it should be stressed that only a very small proportion of weights that are offered for sale are of dubious origin.

Norman Biggs November 2010

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Last updated 11th June 2011