Menu
header photo

The Penny Arcade

 The Coin Operated Machine Information Site 

        The Penny weight Scale

       

               

..No coin op information site would be complete without a section on coin operated weight scales. Pretty much all of the big slot machine maker also made scales,in fact for some the scales were the main business which might sound surprising to us today but in their hay day the revenue from public scales far out weighted that of  amusement machines. In the USA alone there were over 750,000 scales in operation in the the 1920's and 30's taking in $100,000,000 per year ( thats a staggering 10 billion pennies) if fact the US government relied on weight scales to keep the penny in circulation.

Prior to the 1950's short of visiting a doctor just about the only way to check your weight  was to use a public coin op scale.Even during the great depression revenue from penny scales didn't drop significantly 

The first known coin operated scale patent seems to have been registered in England 1884 by Percival Everitt and led to the founding of the "Weighing Machine Co". Everitt also invented a devise for shutting down the coin entry on vending machines if the machine was empty and made improvements to lung testers and grip testers before  dying young with only £70 to his name in 1895.

The first scale to reach the USA came from Germany  in 1885 and by 1890 the National Scale Company was making scales in the US and the boom times would build from there.

                                                                     

The appeal to the makers was manifold. any machine that worked 24/7 ,had a captive customer base that kept returning and using heavy machines that needed little servicing was a gold mine and the big makers didn't so much sell machines as much as site them ,Peerless alone had thousands of rounds men emptying machines and checking their performance,a machine in a good spot could earn $1,000 per year and with a scale costing an average of $50 and rounds man and service  costs of no more than $40 per machine per year  the profits are obvious, In 1930 the Peerless scale company was worth $50 million (equal $532,000,000 in 2019)

             

Leading penny scale collector Christopher Steele describes penny scales as "side walk art" the the makers certainly would have agreed ,eye catching design was soon important with so many companies competing for the street corner pennies. As sky scrapers started to appear in the USA so weight scales took on the same shape to catch the public's imagination,art deco art work and  mirrors were commonplace. 

                                                 

 Soon just good looks were not enough and gimmicks started to appear, machines that printed your weight,told your fortune,answered questions  or even spoke your weight started to appear .

       

  This Watling could be set to give your horoscope   and this one answered 200 general knowledge questions 

 

                           

                           On this Peerless children went free                        This Watling made extra revenue through advertising 

The Peerless  "Hollywood stars" scale printed your weight on the reverse of a film star photo card ,so popular was this that stars paid the scale company to include their photos in the machine as publicity . 

                    

                                                    The Peerless Hollywood Stars and the type of card it issued

By the 1950's the boom days were over,the introduction of cheaper household bathroom scales knocked the bottom out of the penny scale business and it quickly started to fade away, by the mid 60's most of the 750,000 US machines had been scraped although the market in poorer emerging countries held up well and is still strong in places today. Those machines surviving today and finding their way into collections are,for the most part, in good order.They were strongly made to stand outdoor use and internally tended to use state of the art technology to avoid maintenance due to heavy use. Springs would weaken and give poor readings so most companies soon switched to a balance system avoiding springs and were quick to advertise the fact (although some did use springs but said they didn't)  The afore mentioned "Hollywood stars" machine used the energy of stepping the plate to power the machine for that coins print out avoiding the need for electricity.

                                            

               The Watling spring-less mech                                  With other companies falsely claiming "no springs" Watling 

                                                                                                    were keen to display their spring-less system for all to see

Because they were at one time so common and so heavy  scales were ignored by collectors for decades ,which is why so few have survived,but in recent years thanks to the collections of Christopher Steele and people like him interest has grown among collectors and scales are being discovered, restored and finding new homes and some (see below) can even still be found ,out doors,on site ,still doing there intended job 80+ years on, and long may they continue to do so.

,,Designs

Clearly the nature of the job they do limits the shape of a coin op scale, it needs to be strong, at least fairly tall,house the required mech ,and display the result clearly. This forces almost all public scale design in their pre electric era into three basic shapes. The tower,the lollipop and the upright long case. All the major makers seem to have made all three of these types although most favoured their own particular version of one of the three basic shapes.It would seem the long case suited the indoor market ,cinema & hotel foyers were very popular and profitable sites and often preferred the more elegant  designs offered by the long case style . The Tower was used both indoor and out door but its often flat top didn't suit wet weather and these were mostly found indoors in shops,rest rooms and waiting rooms. The lollipop was the world wide king of the outdoor market with its more weather proof design. 

                 

                       The tower                                            The Lollipop                                          The long case                     

The Makers

As already mentioned almost all the slot machine makers at least dabbled in weight scales, for some like Watling is was the largest part of there business, others like Rock-Ola started with scales and moved on to slots and others again like Mills and Callie simply added them to their large catalogue of coin operated machines.

                           

       RockOla "Loboy"                       Early Mills long case                                Callie "George Washington"

    But some makers never ventured past scale manufacture, The market leaders Peerless stuck to scales only until forced to diversify into food processing equipment but never fully gave up on scales. firms like Avery and Toledo stayed with scales and increased there range way beyond coin op versions. In Europe, German company Seca  continue to this day as world leaders in medical scales and WSG's "the Classic" giant lollipop scale is ,perhaps, the most iconic penny scale of the post war years and the company still functions today. 

 

                                  

                        memories of my childhood spent on seaside piers,the WSG "Classic" what more can you say

                                                         

          These two Seca print your weight machines can be found in Normandy,France still standing in the open air just  10 miles apart and still doing the job they were made to do over 90 years later , Pity they are not "speak your weight" what a story they could tell from the streets of war time Normandy . Even the factory didnt know they still existed,they believed only one still remained and that is in their museum in Hamburg.

In Australia the "Australian Automatic Weighing Machine Co" appear to have been a subsidiary of the British "Automatic weighing machine Co" and were large suppliers and held royal letters of patent for their machines  but the big slot producers in that part of the world  Aristocrat and Nutt and Muddle did not get involved ,coming as they did  to late on the scene to cash in on the boom times.

 

                                  

                                                               Australian Weighing Machine Co "Victoria"

                 

                      Peerless                                                Toledo                                                                    Berkel

In the Uk Avery and Berkel had been making scales for close to 200 years  and could trace there beginnings to James Watt and the Soho foundry . Both names were common in the UK on coin op scales although coin op scales were never their main line and they were a little late into the game.

 

The British Automatic Co were lucky enough to have the concession to place coin operated machines on the platforms of the Great western railway and weight scales played a big part in this. A lot of their scales printed your weight on collectable  picture cards and they produced several sets from sportsmen to dogs.

          

Below are a small selection of some of the nicest looking scales which help to underline the coin op scales rightful place the coin op collectors world.Who wouldn't want a fully restored rock-Ola "Loboy" in their bathroom...... if only there was room and you could carry it !!

 

                  

                              Royal                                                              Rock-ola                                         Watling

 

                                                      

                                              Toledo                                                         

                                            

                                    Mills 1930 Porcelain                                        Full Watling scale & horoscope with hand rails

 

                                                                  

                                     English (make unknown)                                                    The Moore talking scale

 

                                                     

                                                                                                                           Early Watling wooden Long case scale

                          

                                     Mills                                               Rock-Ola                                   Automatic weighing Machine Co

                                            

                               Two very stylish scales in very different ways, The Mills "Trylo"  & the Columbia long case 

                                    

                            Watling flyer                                              Columbia Scale Co                                    Watling Logo

             

                            Ideal Scale Co                                                       Top Plate from a Watling Q & A Scale

                           

         Another of Columbia's high class designs  and  the Autoway "Barometer of health",a rare Scottish made scale

                                                           

                                     Adams Scale Co New York                                        National Novelty Co

                               

                                                                                               Watling Patent

                                                              

                                              Watling                                   Hamalton                                           Watling