The Edward C. Streeter Collection of Weights and Measures

Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

Gift of Dr. Edward Clark Streeter, 1941-1947, and others, 1955-1973, including John W. Streeter.

Edward Clark Streeter was born in Chicago, Illinois on November 10, 1874.  He received degrees from Yale University (A.B., 1898) and Northwestern University (M.D., 1901). Dr. Streeter studied in Europe and then practiced medicine in Chicago and Boston.  He served in France during World War I and joined the faculty of the Harvard Medical School (1921-1933).  He also served as visiting professor of the history of medicine at Yale University (1929-1933). Dr. Streeter was a physician, medical historian, and colleague of Drs. Harvey W. Cushing, John F. Fulton, and Arnold C. Klebs.  

Dr. Streeter, who began collecting weights and measures in 1923, donated the collection to the Historical Library, Yale Medical Library (now the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library) in conjunction with the library’s opening in 1941. He based his collecting on the belief that metrology is the foundation of all science. He also served as first curator of the collection and continued to donate materials until his death in July 17, 1947 in Stonington, Connecticut. 

The Edward C. Streeter Collection is one of the most comprehensive study collections of weights and measures in the world in terms of time period and geography. The weights and scales form the most valuable part: Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Islamic, Greek, and Roman; weights issued by different cities, especially those in southern France; gold (money) scales; weights and scales used by apothecaries; Nuremberg nested weights, and over 1,000 European individual money weights. The measures, both linear and bulk, range from an Elizabethan corn-bushel dated 1601 to American yardsticks of the nineteenth century and include calipers, squares, bevels, levels, rules, dividers, and measuring gauges. There are around 3000 artifacts in the collection, of which only a small selection is shown here.

Dr. Bruno Z. Kisch, professor of physiology and numismatist, who served as Curator of the collection from 1954 to 1966, prepared in-house catalogue sheets. Dr. Kisch’s classic book, Scales and Weights: A Historical Outline (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965) includes much information about the collection, to which he also donated material. Dr. Kisch’s book was the first overview of worldwide weighing instruments and practices, from ancient to metric times, that most North American members of the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors (ISASC) had ever seen, and inspired many to participate in international conferences and publications.

The nested weights have been extensively described by Ellen Zak Danforth in Nesting Weights, Einsatzgewichte and Piles a Godet: A Catalog of Nested Cup Weights in the Edward Clark Streeter Collection of Weights and Measures, Transactions of the Connecticut Society of Arts and Sciences, Volume 50 (March, 1988). Copies are still obtainable from the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, (203) 432-3113.

During the 1970s, Edward C. Streeter’s son, John W. Streeter, served as Honorary Curator, and he commissioned French metrologist Francois Lavagne to add to the notes made by Dr. Kisch. Recently, the family of John W. Streeter enlisted the help of ISASC to create this web site in memory of Edward C. Streeter.