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home : columnists : white glove March 29, 2017

2/1/2017 5:09:00 PM
Mid-1800s travel scale designed with gold rush in mind
by Tonya Michalec
Staff writer

The sound of that word had one quarter of the country's men and women traveling over 2,000 miles, by horse, in the dead of winter.

Because with gold, you can afford all your dreams of good health, food, shelter, a better lifestyle and happiness, as many chose to believe.

Even though the telephone was still a good 30 years off, word about James W. Marshall's discovery spread like frenzied wildfire across the nation. Either by telegraph or word of mouth, when people heard the news, they seemed to interpret it as: Free gold in California for the taking.

The result was that more than 300,000 Americans packed up their belongings to head west in search of gold. And many of those rookie prospectors very likely carried with them a traveling scale, much like one The White Glove came across found last week while venturing a little west.

The mid-1800s Henry Troemner boxed assay balance was discovered in Seneca, at a relic emporium named "What's New? Nothing!" at 304 N. Main St. The store was opened seven years ago by antique buff Mike Kent.

California wasn't the only state to experience a gold rush.

Right after Marshall made his discover out West, so did a Russian geologist named Petr Doroshin who was exploring Alaska's Kenai Peninsula for minerals. Doroshin reported that he found gold in streams emptying into Kenai Bay, and in return, another 100,000 Americans joined the rush to the west.

According to the store owner, the scale shown above is said to have been used to measure Alaskan gold.

"I bought that off of a man while I was up in Alaska," Kent recalled.

"He lived in a camper on one of the old gold sites where he worked. The site had been reopened for digging and he had come across the scale while he was there. According to him, it really was used for measuring gold in Alaska during the gold rush."

Trinity Knot

Standing roughly 7 inches tall and 17 inches wide, the solid oak box has a hinged glass lid on top and a single brass knob and label on the front side. The label reads: "Henry Troemner Philadelphia, PA/CAP. 1 / 2 oz. 100 B/Made in U.S.A."

Visible through the glass top, is a mounted assay balance that includes: brass pans, adjustable legs and level bubble.

When the lid is lifted, the front knob can be turned to the right to raise the two balance pans into working position. They can be returned back to storing position for safe keeping during transit.

How it works is best described in the Encyclopedia of Britannica. According to the section titled: "Balance Measuring Instrument", assay balances are extremely sensitive and accurate scales that use balance for direct weighing of exceedingly small quantities of materials.

This is done by placing the substance to be weighed in one pan and enough pre-determined weights in the other to render the beam between them into equilibrium. If equal direct weighing does not initially occur, the difference between the zero reading and that of the pans loaded tells the difference between the weight of the two pans in scale divisions.

The invention of the equal-arm balance dates back to ancient Egyptians, approximately 5000 B.C. Troemner, a German immigrant, is the first person to bring the craft of superimposed scales to America, according to John and Geraldine Shannon who wrote a book for the Humboldt State University's Department of Chemistry, titled: "The Henry Troemner Company."

In it, they describe how along with precision weighing and calibration, that the young locksmith also brought the art of sausage making and coffee milling to America when he came to New York in 1832.

After working as a blacksmith, scale manufacturer, sausage manufacturer and coffee mill owner, Troemner made his way to Philadelphia and became friends with a man only referred to as F. Meyer.

The two went into business with each other in April 1840. They named their company F. Meyer and Company, and opened offices on what is now named Marshall Street. According to Pennsylvania records, the company produced "prescription, jewelers' and grocers' scales and weights."

They stayed in business together a few years before Troemner set out on his own. In 1844, Troemner's name appears in the Philadelphia Business Directory. He is defined for the first time in writing as a scale manufacturer.

Henry Troemner Company operations began in a small factory located at 196 High St. In the first year, Troemner and the three men he employed produced about $5,000 worth of goods. That mixed with other drawbacks caused him to worry about whether he had done the right thing, stepping out on his own like he had.

But, Troemner's bad luck with his new business did not last long. Shortly after the beginning of the second year, he was contracted to make balances for the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia. This led to the continuation of his company making bullion balances, sensitive beam balances heavily constructed to measure gold or silver in bulk, for the Treasury Department.

By 1857, all of the balances, weights and so on required for the U.S. Mint, Custom Houses and Repositories, as well as many for the Mexican Mint, were being made by Troemner's company.

As his enterprise grew, so did his family. Together, he and his German immigrant wife Catherine had 13 children who all grew up working for the family business.

By the time Troemner died in 1873, the company was still going strong. It was producing $165,000 worth of scales and weights each year and employed around 65 workers.

After his death his wife inherited the business. His three sons later purchased the company and ever since has been inherited down the family line to today.

According to troemner.com, the company relocated to Thorofare, NJ in 1999 and is still thriving as the world's leading supplier of precision weights and mass calibration standards.

For what they're worth, many different styles of vintage Henry Troemner Company scales can bring a pretty penny when sold. According to on-line auction sites, they currently range in price between $15 and $700.

The closest found to the one shown above, priced by Kent at $150, is a 1920s Troemner travel balance. Although they are nearly mirror images of each other, the one on-line labels it as being an apothecary balance and has an inlaid band of marble around the exterior of the box. It is not nearly as old as Kent's and is priced $30 less, at $120.

One can assume that apothecary was added to the description by the company for marketing purposes. Since the gold rush ended seven short years after it began, in 1855, Troemner would not have been advertising his scales for gold afterwards. Instead, he would need to market them for the next profession that used them most, pharmacists.

Contact writer Tonya Michalec at tmichalec@fpnusa.com.





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