Today, scales appear in a wide range of applications, from everyday use in the kitchen to industrial and scientific applications.
With significant technological advancements over the centuries, scales have become highly accurate tools that serve critical roles in many of our most important ventures.
For example, ultra-high precision scales are a common feature in manufacturing industries such as pharmaceuticals, where the products being created are highly sensitive and precise measurement is a must.
Our most precise scales—which can reach accuracy levels more precise than 0.01 percent—are also a key feature in civil engineering, transportation engineering, and environmental and geotechnical testing of ores, soil, asphalt, and aggregates.
However, while scales have always been a valuable tool in civilized societies, they haven’t always been this technically advanced.
The history of scales dates back to ancient civilizations when people used simple balance scales to measure the weight of objects. The earliest known balance scales were used by the ancient Egyptians, who used them to measure the weight of gold and other precious metals.
Over time, different types of scales were developed, including spring scales and electronic scales. These newer scales were more accurate and easier to use than the balance scales of the past, and today, these scales appear in a wide range of applications
However, the best specimens from the era of older scales have continued to increase in value as all good antiques do. These select items meet all the cultural, structural, and aesthetic criteria that make antique items valuable.
Antiques are often considered valuable for a number of reasons. One reason is that they are rare and no longer made, which makes them unique and sought after by collectors. Additionally, antiques may have historical or sentimental value, which can make them valuable to certain individuals or families. Another reason that antiques are often considered valuable is that they are often well-made, aesthetically pleasing, and made with high-quality materials, which adds to their durability and longevity.
So, how valuable are antique scales?
Placing an exact value on rare antiques—which can often be one-of-ones—is often an impossible feat. Prices for these items depend heavily on how the auction goes on a particular day and can vary in ranges that span thousands of dollars. This trope is especially true in valuing antique scales.
With the broad term “antique scales” covering a wide range of scale times items scattered across different periods in time (with some coming from demised ancient civilizations,) the price range for these items is unsurprisingly enormous.
Finalized prices for antique scales span a range that moves from simple balance beam pieces that can sell for $10 or even less to prized, culturally significant, one-of-one specimens that will auction for north of $10,000.
However, most antique scales that show decent craftsmanship and still retain a high physical condition will typically retail in the $200 – $2000 price range.
On average, older pieces typically attract a progressively increasing price premium.
Short History of Antique Scales
The history of scales spans several millennia and has been marked by innovations and developments that have made these devices more accurate and reliable. From the earliest known scales used by the ancient Egyptians to the sophisticated digital scales of today, the evolution of scales has been closely tied to the development of human civilization.
These close ties scales have with the evolution of human societies are unsurprising when you consider that the expansion of trade was critical to the development of functional larger societies and economies.
Without reasonably accurate measures, you can’t engage in mass trading efficiently for any sustained period. Scales provide elements of exactness and truth that make these systems work. This instrumental role is also why scales as a symbol are associated with truth and justice.
Consequently, (more) efficient weighing scales quickly became a core part of commerce everywhere and even became critical religious symbols in some civilizations.
In Ancient Egypt, scales were particularly significant in their religious practice, mythologies, and postulations on the afterlife, mirroring how essential these measuring tools must have been in their everyday lives.
A carryover from this tradition appears in both the Greek and Roman tradition, where a female figure holding scales were part of the symbol for justice. All Western cultures today represent justice in a similar manner, continuing the age-old symbolism.
The history of scales can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where they were used for a variety of purposes, including measuring weights and other quantities. The earliest known scales were probably invented by the Egyptians around 2500 BC and were used primarily for weighing goods in trade and commerce.
These early scales were typically made of wood or bronze and consisted of two plates or bowls attached to a central beam or fulcrum. The items to be weighed were placed on one of the plates, while weights were added to the other plate to balance the scale. The weights used on these scales were often made of stones or metals and were carefully calibrated to ensure accuracy.
As civilizations developed and trade expanded, the need for more precise and reliable scales grew. In ancient Greece, for example, the renowned philosopher Aristotle is credited with developing the first system of standard weights and measures. This system, known as the “Aristotelian system,” was based on the concept of a “common measure,” which was used to compare the weights of different objects.
Over time, the design and construction of scales became increasingly sophisticated.
In the Middle Ages, for example, scales were often made of iron or steel and featured more complex mechanisms for balancing and measuring weights. In some cases, these scales were fitted with wheels and handles, allowing them to be easily transported from one location to another.
By the 16th and 17th centuries, advances in technology and engineering led to the development of more accurate and precise scales. This included the invention of the spring scale, which used a spring to measure weight, as well as the development of the beam balance, which used a lever and counterweights to measure weight.
Eventually, most older scales were replaced by this newer spring system, as the Industrial Revolution allowed the cheap and efficient mass reproduction of these fairly more accurate tools.
By the mid-20th century, it was the era of everything going digital, and scales became a part of this movement too. The first digital scales appeared on the scene, and by the end of the century, they had all but replaced mechanical scales everywhere, relegating them to the role of antique items.
Today, these relatively high-precision scales are used in a wide range of applications, from weighing parcels and packages in the shipping industry to measure the weight of food and other goods in supermarkets. They are also commonly used in scientific and medical settings, where accurate measurements are crucial.
Antique Scale Types
Antique scales are a type of weighing instrument that has been around for centuries. These scales have been used for various purposes, including weighing goods in a marketplace and determining the mass of objects in scientific experiments.
There are several different types of antique scales, each with its own unique features and characteristics. Some of the most common types of antique scales include beam scales, balance scales, and platform scales.
Beam scales are one of the oldest types of scales and are still commonly used today because the idea works as effectively as any when refined with modern tools.
These scales consist of a long beam with a fulcrum in the middle and two pans attached to each end. The object to be weighed is placed on one of the pans, while weights are placed on the other pan to balance the scale.
In ancient times, this type of scale was the go-to for small precise measurements. However, their unique properties, that they were not practical for more casual everyday use—a role that was taken up by the similar two-pan scales.
Beam scales are known for their precision and modern versions of these tools are often used in scientific and industrial settings (over digital scales) where extreme precision is required.
Equal-arm Beam Balance
The equal-arm beam balance, balance scale, or two-pan scales uses the same technology as regular beam scales but incorporates them in a pattern that is more practical for everyday use.
Balance scales do not have a fulcrum and instead use a lever system—connected to the two pans—to balance the scale. These scales are often more compact and portable than beam scales, which made them popular for use in the home and in marketplaces.
The spring balance scale is a type of weighing device that uses a spring to measure the weight of an object.
In the early days of the spring balance scale, the spring was made of a flexible material such as animal sinew or plant fibers. The object to be weighed was attached to the spring, and the weight was determined by measuring the amount of stretch in the spring. Over time, the design of the spring balance scale evolved, and the spring was made of more durable materials such as metal.
In the 17th century, the English scientist Robert Hooke developed the law of elasticity, which mathematically describes the relationship between the amount of force applied to a spring and the resulting stretch of the spring. This allowed for more precise measurements with the spring balance scale and catapulted the spring balance to the premier position as the favored scale type for accurate measurements.
Today, the spring balance scale is still in use, although it has been largely replaced by digital scales in many applications.
The spring balance scales most commonly used today are considerably more advanced than most of the initial prototypes that were readily available in the 17th century.
These scales, also known as platform scales, are a relatively more modern type of antique spring balance.
These scales consist of a large, flat platform on which the object to be weighed is placed. The platform is connected to an internal system of levers and springs that measure the object’s weight.
This type of scale still appears in some settings, such as in the measurement of weight in sports or in the testing of specific materials in laboratories. Spring balances are also a common feature in personal kitchens and in many developing countries, where they provide a considerably cheaper alternative to digital variants.
Factors Affecting the Price of an Antique Scale
Overall, antique scales are a fascinating and important part of our history. These tools have been used for centuries to measure the weight of objects and have played a crucial role in the development of science and commerce. Today, antique scales can be found in museums and collections, where they serve as a reminder of our past and the ingenuity of those who came before us.
Consequently, antique scales are now considered collectible items due to their historical value and unique designs.
Many antique scales were beautifully crafted and feature intricate details, making them attractive to collectors. In addition, the widespread use of digital scales has made antique scales increasingly rare, adding to their value as collectible items.
Antique balance scales are some of the most striking antiques you can collect and are hugely popular with collectors and interior designers alike.
However, depending on the antique scale specimen you pick, these relics can cost anywhere from a few bucks to a hefty collector’s ransom. As with any antique, the value of an antique scale can vary depending on a number of factors. Some of these factors include;
- Age and Rarity: One of the most important factors that affect the value of an antique scale is its age and rarity. Older scales that are no longer in production and are difficult to find are likely to be more valuable than more recent or common scales. Additionally, scales that are part of a limited edition or were made by a particularly skilled craftsman can also be more valuable.
- Condition: Another important factor that can affect the value of an antique scale is its condition. Like any other collectible, an antique scale that is in good condition is likely to be more valuable than one that is damaged or in poor condition. Scales that are complete with all of their original parts, including any weights or other accessories, are also likely to be more valuable.
- Provenance: The provenance of an antique scale, or its history and provenance, can also affect its value. Scales that were owned by notable individuals or were used in significant events can be more valuable to collectors.
- Material Constitution: The type of scale and the materials it is made of can also affect its value. Scales made of precious metals like gold or silver are likely to be more valuable than those made of other materials. Additionally, scales with unique or intricate designs may be more valuable to collectors.
- Collector’s Demand: Finally, the demand for a particular type of antique scale among collectors can also affect its value. Scales that are popular among collectors are likely to be more valuable than those that are less sought after.
The value of an antique scale can vary depending on a number of factors, including its age and rarity, condition, provenance, materials, and demand among collectors. Collectors and those interested in purchasing antique scales should consider these factors when determining the value of a particular scale and consequently how much they should pay for it.
Antique Scale Market Value
Similar to what you get with other forms of antiques produced over vast stretches of history, it is difficult to determine the market value of antique scales. The value of these specimens can vary widely depending on the specific factors discussed above.
The best way to determine the market value of an antique scale is to consult a reputable antique dealer or expert in the field. They will be able to provide a more accurate assessment based on their knowledge and experience. Additionally, researching similar scales that have been sold at auction or through other channels can also provide insight into the market value of an antique scale.
Antique scales can range in value from a few dollars to several thousand dollars or more, depending on their age, condition, rarity, and other factors. For example, a simple kitchen scale from the early 1900s may be worth a few hundred dollars, while a rare and well-preserved gold or silver scale from the same period could be worth several thousand dollars or more.
The best way to determine the value of a specific antique scale is often to consult a reputable antique dealer or expert in the field. They will be able to provide a more accurate assessment based on their knowledge and experience. Additionally, researching similar scales that have been sold at auction or through other channels can also provide insight into the market value of an antique scale.
Finding a local expert that specializes in antique scales might be a tough ask in most places around the country.
One of the best, easily accessible resources we found for getting information on valuing specific antique scales is the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors (ISASC,) a body dedicated to the unique interest in the collection, study and preservation of antique scales, weights, and measures.
ISASC offers a “research and reply” service to research and provide information on particular antique scales, such as their type, weighing principle, manufacturer’s name, period of origin, condition, and estimated value.
To utilize this service, all you have to do is pay their research fee, which ranges between $10 and $40, online, and then send in details of the scale in question, including its photograph(s,) and details on its size (width, depth, height) and any markings on the scale (name, patent date, and number.)
Collectors and those interested in purchasing antique scales should also be aware of the potential for fraud or misrepresentation. It is essential to thoroughly research any scale before making a purchase and to only buy from reputable dealers or sources.
In conclusion, the market value of antique scales can vary widely, and while a consideration of the factors we listed can give you an idea of the rough value of an item, actual prices can swing considerably, even amongst things from the same time period.
Samples of Antique Scales and their Sold Prices
To give you a feel for how much antique scales can cost on the open market, here is a selection of random antique scale pieces and their finalized prices.
- This black-painted metal cast measuring scale from the late 19th century, with manufacturer’s mark HMA43, together with another scale and a glass display dome that sold for $120 at a 2003 Christie’s auction.
- This genuine mid-19th century antique folding coin scale. It is made of brass and steel in a mahogany case with a velvet lining. It is clearly stamped twice with the maker T.S. The piece sold on eBay for Approximately $609.91 in 2022.
- This apothecary chemist set of Powder & Bullet scales from the early 1900s is still in excellent, functional condition. They have a heavy cast metal base with the original black & gold paint finish and a chrome balance marked in Drachms and grains. This specimen sold for Approximately $35.95.
- This brass steel coin scale from the late 18th/early 19th century period in a wooden case with miscellaneous weights and marked “Thomas beach.”
Thomas Beach of no 11 Digbeth Birmingham was the business that morphed into the W&T Avery company, which stayed in business for almost two centuries (later under the name GEC-Avery) until it when defunct in 2000.
- This 43cm tall vintage equal-arm balance scale makes for an eye-catching decorative piece. The unit sold for a measly $8 dollars.