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 A Weighty Dilemma

Roberval ScaleWhen Ben S. won his handsome box scale from a California auction house three years ago, he was faced with the expense of getting his new purchase home. "I hadn't given a thought to the shipping cost when I bid on it," he recalled, and was shocked at the estimate: $900 to transport an item that cost him only $200. "I liked the scale a lot, but I didn't like it $1,100 worth!"

It's a dilemma familiar to most scale collectors, and one Ben solved through a series of friends-of-friends who were able to haul his new scale cross-country. It went first from California to a scale trade show in Chicago where it was delivered to another ISASC member. That member then hooked up with still another member, Jim, who drove it back to Ben's home in Michigan. As soon as Jim saw the scale he knew he better deliver it, rather than have Ben pick it up, because Ben was definitely going to need some help unloading it. The two of them got it inside, set it down on the coffee table and it hasn't moved since.

Roberval ScaleSo this way the journey of the scale to its new home took a bit longer, but rather than putting it back up for sale with the same auction house – as was Ben's original idea – in the end shipping cost him just $200. That he could live with!

Like many Roberval balances, this one is enclosed inside a decorative case. Made of white marble from top to bottom, this case is in a different weight class altogether than similar scale cases made of wood with just a marble top – as evidenced by the hefty delivery price tag. Even the plates are made of the dense stone.

The scale is about 27 inches long by a foot wide and a foot tall. "I don't know how much it weighs," he laughed, noting the irony, "but it takes two people to lift it!" Such scales were once commonly found throughout Europe, used by butchers, bakers and confectioners, though Ben says the auction house from which he bought it knew nothing of its provenance.

While functionally similar to scales made by the Troemner company, this one bears no manufacturer's name. Rather than the window commonly found on the side indicating when balance is achieved, this scale features two decorative seahorses on top whose snouts meet when the two plates are in equilibrium. And although one of the creatures has a broken snout, it doesn't distract in the least from its overall grand presence. Ben estimates the scale was manufactured in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and while it may not be an enigma wrapped in a mystery, it's certainly an enigma wrapped in a marble case.

The scale is prominently displayed in his living room and is a true eye-catcher often generating many admiring comments from scale and non-scale folks alike. Ben observed, "You can't help but see it as soon as you walk into the room." Once the initial impact of the scale wears off you see that the "coffee table" it sits on is actually another scale. Although technically known as a rolling truck scale, when describing it to others, Ben will often call it a "dolly scale," so folks can visualize it better. This one was made by the American Harrow Company of Detroit. These types of scales were used in old-time farm feed stores and grain elevators to weigh and transport large sacks of grain.

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Ben worked in the natural gas industry before retiring and had no particular interest in scales. Like so many others before him, he stumbled upon scale collecting quite by accident. "My wife always liked John Deere stuff," he explained. So when Ben saw a feed-store scale at an auction he had the idea to paint it yellow and green in the farm equipment company's iconic livery and present it to his wife for use as a bathroom scale.

It was his first scale purchase and after that one thing led to another. He admits he was a complete neophyte with that first scale and "even painted the weights as well – which of course changed the balance a bit."

While that yellow and green feed-store scale is long since gone, the scale-collecting passion it ignited stayed with him. Ben elaborated, "I joined ISASC [in 1990] when I started seeing the whole world of scales out there."

At the peak of his collection, he estimates he had some 600 scales, although his collection has shrunk somewhat in recent years. Why the downsizing? "I'm 91 years old," he remarked, "and my kids don't want the scales, so I got rid of a lot of them."

But his weighty marble scale? "That one's not going anywhere!"

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