The first penny scales of the late 1880s offered a service rather than a product, setting them apart from the new and fast-growing vending machine market. Penny scales gave the public their first opportunity to weigh themselves without going to a doctor. These were known as silent salesman. Insert a penny, guess your weight by turning silver knob, if you’re correct, you get your penny back. Over 10 billion pennies ($100 million) annually were dropped into the coin-slots of penny scales in their heyday. A 1937 U.S. Department of Commerce report stated, “Penny scales were the principle means of over 130,000,000 people keeping in touch with their weight and health.” During the period of nuisance war taxes, the scales and vending machines reaped a harvest richer than ever before." In 1930, one company collected five tons of pennies daily out of scales and various other penny vending machines in the New York subway system. Penny-vending machines were the principle way the government kept pennies in circulation.
C.R. Kirk & Co. released 9 different machines starting in 1931, some included the Horoscope Scale, Blow Ball, Sweet Music, Guess-er, Model K-25 1940 Guess-er, and Air Defense. Inventors outdid each other coming up with gimmicks to entice people to drop in a penny – some scales told your fortune, some gave you pictures of movie stars, others gave your penny back if you guessed your weight or hit a mark. Beautiful designs also attracted people to these mechanical wonders. The scales of top designers John Gordon Rideout, Harold Van Doren and Joseph Sinel mirrored silhouettes of modern skyscrapers, and discreetly delivered the weight. Less modern scales relied heavily on large round dials that could easily seen by prying eyes from across a street.
When penny scales first came onto the scene the cost for a loaf of bread was near a penny. While the cost of bread continued to rise, the cost to get weighed did not. Currently there are new machines on the sidewalks of Dublin, Ireland that offer weight, height, body-mass-index and blood pressure readings all for 2 Euros. That’s nearly 300 times what a weigh cost 100 years ago.
We definitely appreciated all the history that this Penny Scale brought to the shop and so glad the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain in Pasadena chose us to restore it for them!