Impulse Buy: The Penny Scale

For a normal person an impulse buy might be a pair of shoes or a package of weird flavored cookies. For me an impulse buy is a hulking art deco masterpiece in solid cast iron.

ScaleIt’s a penny scale made by the Mills Novelty Co. It’s the sort of thing that most people would walk up to, think “that’s cool,” and then walk away knowing they have no purpose for it. I, however, walked up and thought, “that’s cool. Must. Buy.” And without much thought into the matter, I pulled off the price tag. That glorious art deco shape behind thick, luscious porcelain enamel in cream and black—too much to resist.

Beginning around the turn of the century, these scales greeted customers at the door of nearly every drug store, dime store and soda fountain in America. This model is from 1931 and simply tells weight, but fancier models also had a fortune telling mechanism. For patrons they were cheap entertainment as well as practical tools for watching weight in a time when household scales weren’t all that common or accurate. For proprietors they were passive income. If you’ve been to a small town drug store, you’ve probably even seen one still in use. To my knowledge there is still one next to the front door of the pharmacy in my hometown. It’s hard to imagine how something like this can stay in one spot for over 80 years—until you try to move one. It’s difficult for two grown men to even pick up, much less get very far with it.


I was pleased to find out that it even still works and is perfectly accurate. Although I don’t much care for the weight suggestions on the Health Chart. Without disclosing my actual weight, I’ll just say that it isn’t on this chart. Not even close.

ChartSo far I have no buyer’s remorse for this impulse buy. There are probably much more impractical ways to waste a couple bills—at least that’s what I keep telling myself. The only problem with it is that it can’t really get any farther into the house than my garage. It’s far too heavy to make it upstairs. Perhaps I’ll have to find it a home in a high-traffic area so I can really start raking in those pennies.

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