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During the 1920s and 1930s there was a coin operated scale on almost every corner. The company controlling most of the scale market, with thousands of routemen, was the Peerless Scale Company. In 1929, Peerless was worth over $50 million. Since people always had a penny, even in the middle of the depression, they could always afford to weigh themselves. As a result, Peerless scales were profitable.

In a good location, a scale collecting one penny at a time could earn $50 - $100 a month, or a $1,000 a year. Even in a poor location, a scale could bring in $5 a month. Since a scale cost only $50, scales contributed to many people getting rich quickly.

The first coin operated scale was brought to this country from Germany in 1885. A few years later, in 1889, the National Scale Company manufactured the first coin operated scale in the United States.

The popularity of scales reached its pinnacle in the mid-1930's, when there were over 750,000 scales all across the country. As the novelty of the scale diminished, new gimmicks were designed to revitalize interest.

Some scales were designed to give a small ticket with a person's weight printed on it (so that people could hide their weight from viewers and husbands). Then, fortunes were added to the tickets and before long pictures of movie stars were used to encourage patrons to collect tickets and complete a set. Back then, the movie stars paid the scale companies to feature their pictures in order to promote their names.

The interest in scales decreased rapidly in the 1940s. By 1946, there were only 200,000 scales in existence. The advent of the inexpensive bathroom scale was probably the major cause of the demise of the coin operated scale, however, vandalism and the increased costs of repairing vandalized scales also contributed to their decline.

From the 1950s on, old scales were considered junk. They were heavy (200 - 300 pounds), bulky, and quickly discarded. When collecting coin operated machines became popular in the 1970s and 1980s, few collectors thought that a scale was worth collecting.

Times, however, are changing. Slowly, but surely, the coin operated scale is finding its place as a sought after collector's item. Unfortunately, very few of the 750,000 scales are in existence. The best estimate is that there are only about 5,000 collectible scales left.

Additional information on coin operated scales can be found in the following books by Dick Bueschel: Lollipop Scales. These books are available from the GameRoomAntiques Bookstore.

Copyright: 1996 Ken Durham.





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Ken Durham
Email: durham@GameRoomAntiques.com
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