From the Library of Scale Tales:  

Standard Computing Scale: The birthday present that started a journey

For active ISASC member, Greg M., the scale collecting journey began on his birthday in 2004. Greg had always possessed a passion for all things mechanical in nature, and so his wife thought that he might appreciate a Michigan-based scale she found while shopping at a local antique store in Detroit. The scale in question was very different from the one or two small items he had in his collection prior to this birthday. The first difference he noticed was that it weighed over 80 pounds and had the following label: The Standard Computing Scale Company.  Having never heard of the company he couldn’t figure out why anyone would need such a large scale, but these clues spurred him to devote a significant amount of time over the next few years researching the answers to his questions.

ISASC Scale TalesGreg’s research into his present started as soon as his birthday was over. After finding several different leads he quickly realized all the information pointed in the same direction – the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors (ISASC). This conclusion provided his thoughtful wife with another gift idea. This time, she would buy him a membership to ISASC as a Christmas present.

This membership opened a whole new network for Greg to explore. He was unable to attend the national ISASC convention that year, but managed to make it to the regional meeting in Michigan shortly thereafter. His birthday scale was too heavy to take with him, so he brought pictures hoping someone might be able to help him answer his questions. Fortunately, long-time member Utz S. and his wife Shirley were on hand, and together they uncovered the Michigan scale industry.

Utz owned several similar scales that displayed the names of different Michigan scale companies leading him to research patents for Michigan scales. He shared his information with Greg, and the two men quickly realized that there had been a whole Michigan scale industry that had been completely unreported. This realization led them to commit a great deal of time over the next few years to learn more about this newly discovered Midwestern industry.

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The results of this research inspired ISASC to host their annual convention in Dearborn, Michigan, in the spring of 2007. The entire Saturday morning program covered what Greg and Utz had learned about the Michigan scale industry. Their findings were featured in an issue of the Society’s journal Equilibrium. This edition was totally devoted to the discovery of a bustling manufacturing industry in Michigan between the late 19th and early 20th centuries that relied on scales. This was the first time a complete issue was reserved for one subject.

Greg learned that his birthday scale was used for price computing by grocery stores in the early 1900s. The manufacturer of the scale, the Standard Computing Scale Co., was a pioneer in computing scales in America and eventually around the world. The company was founded in 1899 and grew steadily throughout the early 1900s. Another Detroit price-computing scale company was founded by Walter F. Stimpson, the legendary Michigan-born patent holder, and this company became part of the foundation of IBM.

Through more research Greg discovered his birthday present was a first-generation model used for identifying the weight and price of items for local grocers. It started with brass beams, and then the industry quickly developed fan-type scales and some with rotating charts known as “barrel" scales.  These types of scales would sit on the countertops at grocery stores identifying the correct value for many of the items on sale.

These discoveries introduced an important part of American history that had, until Greg’s and Utz’s research, been studied in very little detail. This experience ignited what has now become an all-encompassing passion for Greg who through his continued research and preservation of scales contributes to the vitality of ISASC.  Boasting over 120 scales in his collection, Greg continues to dedicate his life to the discovery of antique scales and the historical secrets they can reveal.