Apothecary Weights

I get questions about these fairly often, so I thought I'd put up a short page about these tokens. Here are some examples:

In the book "Tokens and Medals" by Alpert & Elman, is the information that these tokens were used in the United States and in England from about the 1840's to 1940's. It is difficult to date individual tokens, as the same designs were in use for long periods of time. These tokens are relics of times in the past when coins were used as weights. These weight tokens were used to weigh items in small double-pan balances. Druggests were one of the largest users of these tokens, so they are often called "apothecary weights" or "pharmacists weights." They were useful for weighing when high accuracy was not required, but dirt would accumulate in the crevices, reducing accuracy over time. When electronic scales were developed in the mid-20th century, these token weights quickly became obsolete.

Weights were commonly issued in sets of six: 1/2 scruple, 1 scruple, 2 scruples, 1/2 drachm (dram), 1 drachm (dram), and 2 drachms (drams). Some weights in "grams" are also known. For reference:

20 grains = 1 scruple = 1.296 grams
3 scruples = 1 drachm (dram) = 3.888 grams
8 drachms = 1 troy ounce = 31.1 grams

The most common makers of weights in the USA were Henry Troemner (H.T.) of Philadelphia, John Maris ('M' in diamond), and Newark Scale Works. Alpert & Elman value the common weights at about $0.50-$1.50 and the scarcer ones at about $2-$5. I would guess that the current (2004) values are a bit higher, perhaps $1 for the common generic ones, and a few dollars for the common named ones. I haven't seen many of the scarcer ones sell, so I'm not sure what they might be worth.

For more information about these weights, see "Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Apothecary and Bullion Weights Signed by the Maker", by L. B. Fauver, in "TAMS Journal," Vol. 43, No. 5 (Oct., 2003), p. 116-130. (gives relative rarities but not values; does not include "generic" weights)

Also seen David Coates' web page about apothecary weights.

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