Mancur / Moon
Of all the pieces of old weighing equipment which turn up, from time to time, the so-called Mancur balance is the one most frequently "discovered", and the one to which most attention is usually given in any display of old weights and measures. Considering the comparatively recent period to which it has been assigned, it is surprising that so little is known about its origins, makers and peculiar name. Commentators on the history of the spring balance have said that large numbers of Mancur were made in America and Europe during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and that they were used by farmers. Some elderly British farmers can also testify to their use within living memory, and one, who originally farmed in the West Country, told the author that he knew the balance under the name of "stilliard". Also, in England, country people called lt a "gipsy scale" until recently. In France and Germany it was called a "crescent-moon scale" (demi-lune; mondwaage) . Could it be that a French expression was also the origin of the name mancur ? Perhaps it was a corruption of a compound word or phrase derived from "main", signifying that lt was hand-held or easily portable. The use of spring metal for balances was recorded in the late l7th century and the sector, or Vee-spring type, is known to have been In production around 1750. The helical type was being manufactured by Richard Salter in West Bromwich, England, c1770, and, by the turn of the century, steel strip was bent into various other shapes, as weighing resistant. Mancurs which can be dated show that they were developed much earlier than had hitherto been supposed. A well-made Mancur was in the collection of instruments accumulated by George III, reputedly as scientific ,toys' for the education of his children. It was catalogued as ,Wiedemann's stilllard' and was added to the collection in the late 18th or early l9th century. Ernst Schneider described a German Mancur balance of high quality, contained in a fitted box bearing the coat-of-arms and initials of the Elector, Johann Friedrich Karl von Ostein, 1743 - 1763, lt had removable suspension and load hooks stored in the bottom of the box, which was covered with elaborately tooled red leather. This Mancur weighed up to 6 center and was used on hunting expeditions. Another Mancur hunting balance, described by J.S.T. Sehlars, had a capacity of 550 pfund and was signed by Georg Sessler of Mainz, who was recorded as working in 1752, and died in 1769. From this evidence the Mancur must have been invented before 1763. The principle of the Mancur was simple but ingenious. When the oval spring was pulled open by the load, the indicator was moved upwards by the interaction of the two ends of the spring. The indicator moved over a crescent-shaped brass plate marked with either one or two sets of graduations. These varied according to the capacity and units of weight, many being in kilograms. In English examples known to the author, graduations ranged from 0 to 35lb to 0 to 60lb on the ,light' side ( i.e for use with the smaller hook and ring), to 0 to 180lb and 0 to 350lb on the heavy side for use with the large hook and ring. Sub divisions on the light side were marked by a line at each 5lb and by diagonally spaced dots between the lines, at each 1 lb. On the reverse, line divisions were marked at 10lb or 20lb intervals, with intermediate dots marking each 2lb. A French catalogue of the 20th century lists Mancurs with capacities of 50,100, 15O,200,300,or 400kg. They appear to have been used in other countries, too. A Polish example is in the Warsaw Museum, and a Russian one had graduations of 10 to l2Opud. As for the construction of the balance, although most examples appear very similar, at first sight, differences are detectable on closer examination. There are differences in spring shapes and sizes, different indicators, some of which are nicely cast, others are simply twisted from strips of metal, and so on. This is not surprising in a hand-forged product where differences in the strength of springs, and difficulties in setting the indicator with the correct leverage, must have been considerable.
The most common Mancur balance had an oval spring about l00 mm high (4 ins), and had two suspension rings and two load hooks. However, some examples had only one ring and hook, like the small one only 83mm high (3 1/4 ins) or the giant example 280mm high (11 ins) by P. Dumaine. This balance had an overall length of 550mm (21 1/2 ins) Several did not have an oval spring, but had elegantly angled ends, one by M. Böelle of France, being dated 1787. George Salter & Co., of West Bromwich, made Mancur balances of a different construction. The spring, instead of being made from a flat strip of metal, was round in section and had loops formed into it for the ring and hooks. This design was unusual in having only one suspension ring which was used with both hooks. It was illustrated in the Salter & Co catalogue of 1893, and an example can be seen in the Avery Historical Museum. surprisingly, Mancur balances were still being made in the mid 2Oth century; new ones were being offered for sale in Austria as late as 1970. They were also shown in the catalogue of the famous French manufacturer, Testut of Paris, around 1965, where they were listed for use as tension testers. Mancurs were listed for kitchen use in the Crowden & Garrod catalogue, London 1895. Presumably, they were intended for large country houses and restaurants, where large carcasses of meat were handled. They were said to be used in England by farmers for weighing pigs, sheep and bales of hay; in America for weighing animal skins, which led to the name "hide-scales"; and in Europe for hunting and for farm use.
EQM 2 1982 thanks to M. Stevenson & M. Crawforth
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