The History Of Retail In 100 Objects – Balance Scales



It’s Tuesday so it’s The History Of Retail In 100 Objects post – This weeks object is The Balance Scale

Balance scales were in use in Mesopotamia as early as around the year 4000 BC . They were probably derived from the principles of a yoke, whereby two equal weights would balance if suspended either side of a central beam. Early balance scales measure relative weight (as opposed to actual weight). Measures were calculated by putting the object measured on one plate, and stones (the counterweight) on the other, until equilibrium was reached. In the late 18th century, a way to measure absolute weight was developed by Richard Salter when he invented the spring scale. This calculated the weight of an item by measuring the pressure it registered when hung by a hook attached to the spring. Around the same period (in 1897), one of the first commercial price-indicating scales was being developed in America. A weighed cursor, graduated vertically into prices per pound, was slid along a steelyard, which is a device with a short arm taking the item to be weighed, and a long graduated arm along which a weight is moved until it balances. The price of the goods could be read off the chart at the point where balance was achieved. Slow to actually provide a reading, it failed to catch on. From the 1940s, scales were incorporating electronic devices to make them more accurate. Today, the traditional balance scales so associated with grocers, butchers, confectioners and a myriad of other retailers, have been replaced almost entirely by digital scales. These scales not only weigh to a tenth of a gram, but by communicating with the retailer’s pricing system also print labels, instantly giving the weight and associated price of each weighed purchase. Scales are also integrated into supermarket checkouts, greatly streamlining the process.

Contribution to Retail History

Scales are one of civilisations most important developments. For centuries, traders have bought and sold goods according to weight and today all trade depends on having a fair system of weights and measures controlled by law. The food we eat and many of the products we use will have been weighed and measured – probably many times – in their journey through the supply chain. Without the ability to measure weight and ascribe a value to it, commerce would not have progressed beyond the basic bartering system. Thus, the scales became the principle way of determining the cost of an item, and a cornerstone of retailing as we know it.

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