opium scale

Made of two carved bamboo parts that pivot open at the rounded end, which close together with a leather strap. Inside this violin-shaped instrument are the original items – a metal scale tray, counterweight and a measuring rod made of a long single piece of wood.

Our collection has four main types of scales: sales, postal, kitchen and apothecary.

Scales for sales purposes had to be accurate on the one hand and small enough to be easily transported from place to place. This meant that most had their own carriers – fitted wooden boxes that contained all of the equipment necessary. Most money scales were equal arm balances.

Postal Scales became common in the mid-1800s, when adding postage to letters and packages became commonplace. The amount of payment due was based on the weight of the letter, much like it still is today. Nearly all types of scales were used as postal scales, and have become popular amongst collectors today. Scales with pans hanging bellow the central beam, scales with pans placed above the central beam, spring scales and more.

Kitchen Scales were mainly used for measuring quantities of ingredients. Typically, they were table spring scales: the range they could weigh was usually small. Attention was given to the design, as they were often on display in the home.

The Chinese Opium Scale in our collection would be classified under an apothecary scale. These scales were very precise, equal arm scales, used by doctors, pharmacists, and chemists that made their own medicines and concoctions. Often, these recipes would do more harm than good, especially by modern medical practices.

Our donor, Louis Krause, told us that he had used these scales while placer mining along the Fraser River from 1929 to 1939.  While not meant for that purpose, these scales would have served as a small, easily portable and self-contained means for weighing small amounts of gold.