From the Library of Scale Tales
  Forbidden Fruit

The Phanzeder scale is a counter machine, with the load pans mounted above the beam. Like the Beranger the pans are stabilised by subsidiary levers thus avoiding the need for horizontal stays as used in the Roberval scale.

In this pattern the subsidiary levers are of the first order and act to transfer part of the weight from each pan to the other side of the scale in an equal but opposite sense.


The Phanzeder machine is unique in scale design in that it transmits forces in compression rather than tension. The compression link was regarded with suspicion in some quarters.

When I started to learn about scales they were still mechanical and many of the types encountered were designs and patterns devised in the 19th century or even earlier.

To become familiar with the workings of various mechanical scales, it was necessary to understand the physics of levers, moments, friction etc. and how these principles applied to theory of the beam, the enigma of Roberval and the compound lever systems of Wyatt, Fairbanks and Beranger.

It was during this early stage of studying about how scales work that I learned about another compound lever machine. Knowing that I would never actually come across one in the United Kingdom only served to increase my interest in this particular type of scale.

This was the Phanzeder or Phitzer machine, a pattern of scale that historically had never been used in Britain and which was not considered acceptable for trade use, despite the fact that it was commonly employed in other parts of Europe.

The pattern had been devised in the town of Oschatz in Saxony, Germany, in the 19th century. By the 1960s it resided largely in those mid European states that stood behind the Iron Curtain. These countries were seen as dark and dangerous and definitely not the sort of places that mild-mannered middle class English folk would visit. Thus the scale existed to me only as a rudimentary line diagram in a set of study notes.

Later on when foreign travel to these countries became more commonplace, I headed off to Czechoslovakia, as it was then known, which in 1988 was still a communist state. Although Prague was under authoritarian rule one could see that the writing was on the wall, and it was, indeed the collapse of a wall in Berlin the following year that changed things forever.

Whilst in Prague, when others headed off to the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, I wandered around the open markets. Here I saw, along with the more familiar Roberval and Beranger machines, my very first for real Phanzeder scale. I saw for myself the first order subsidiary levers and the connecting compression link that was deemed to be an unreliable way of transmitting forces.

This Austrian machine was found at a UK antique fair.

The Austrian scale is a rather more complex machine than the basic East European pattern. The end connection has been re-jigged so that the link operates in tension.

Line diagram of the Phanzeder scale showing the arrangement of the beam and levers.

On later trips to mid-European states, I saw the same type of scale, but of course, soon such traditional machines rapidly disappeared as rather wobbly electronic devices appeared on even the meanest market stall. Obviously, an unstoppable and necessary progression of modern technology, but I still missed seeing the older scales in action in everyday life in the street markets.

Ironically, those very scales, when removed from use, found their way into the antique trade and soon travelled westward across the continent. I then began to see continental Phanzeders at antique fairs in the UK. This, of course, had the effect of removing the air of mystery from these once exotic devices, but for me there is still the memory of having once seen them in actual use in their natural habitat.

This Scale Tale was written by John Knights, Editor of Fulcrum, ISASC Euro Chapter Newsletter

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Phanzeder scale in use on a Prague market stall in 1988