Today’s artifact is an early 20th century baby scale, by the Pelouze Manufacturing Company of Chicago. It is a spring scale; the dial is marked “Pelouze Family Scale Deluxe,” and it measures up to 24 pounds. The wicker basket affixed to the top is original, as is the pinkish-tan paint.

This piece came to the donor, Eleanor M. V. Cook, from the family of her husband, Fraise Anderson Cook. Unfortunately (for us) she couldn’t be sure if it was given to her by Mr. Cook’s mother, or by his father’s parents. Mr. Cook was the son of Raymond F. Cook (1893-1923) of Ohio and Norma Amelia Anderson Cook (1896-1988) of Kensington. As far as I can tell the Pelouze Mfg. Co. began making scales in 1894 (Pelouze scales are still being made today), so this example may be old enough to have belonged to either of Mr. Cook’s parents. Since the company name appears to be one that was used a little later, in the early 20th century, I suspect it was used when Mr. Cook himself was a baby; he was born in 1915, and grew up in Kensington.

A variety of “household” and “family” scales can be seen in early 20th century mail-order catalogs. Most of them have a flat metal top, with an additional metal “scoop” that could be placed on top, and were intended for general household use; the wicker (or, in some cases, enameled metal) basket is what makes this a baby scale. Judging by the number of vintage/antique pieces to be found on internet auction sites, the plain-topped spring scale was a common kitchen implement. Not being any kind of cook myself I can safely say I have never used a scale in my kitchen, so the idea of needing one at hand is a little foreign to me. A survey of the old advertisements proves how wrong I am, however. For example, the 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog declares, “Every family in the land ought to have one of these scales [shown below], and at the prices we quote [$1.12, including the “heavy tin scoop”] you cannot afford to do without one. Saves ‘guesswork’ in making cakes, mincemeats, preserving fruits, etc. With one of these scales you do not have to take anybody’s word, but can verify the weight of every package you buy.”

As for the benefits of weighing your baby or child at home, Dr. Richard M. Smith, author of The Baby’s First Two Years (1915), includes scales in his list of essential nursery furniture, to keep track of Baby’s health and progress. (However, he does caution, “Do not buy spring scales; they are often inaccurate and are not satisfactory after the baby grows older.” He recommends “ordinary, standard balance scales,” or “standard platform or scoop scales,” as the scoop holds the baby quite nicely.)