Letter scale
Pic LETTER 108

Candle stick letter scale for the French market as graduated in Gram / up to 60 Grammes




The "candlestick" was one of the most interesting of the early type of postal scales. lt was introduced almost immediately after the inauguration of the penny post prior to which mali had been charged by distance,rather than by weight. lt was during this period that the inventiveness that provided the inspiration for the industrial revolution merged so spectacularly with the genius for artistry and design that typified the early Victorian society. The first examples date from early l84O and the design, in England, is thought to have lasted about twenty-five years. Production over such an extended period provides some indication of their popularity, and is also partly responsible for a reasonable supply being still available. Curiously, despite their abundance, there are only three known makers. The vast majority of candlestick postal scales were manufactured by Robert Walter Winfield and the brothers Joseph and Edmund Ratcliff. Winfield worked in the Birmingham area from 1829 to 1860 and had a factory on the Baskerville Estate. He manufactured all types of scales, induding sovereign "rockers". The Ratcliffs also had a factory in Birmingham, at St.Paul's Square, and featured in trade directories from 1834 to 1864. They, too, manufactured all types of letter scales. Joseph died in 1862 and Edmund continued on his own until 1881. With one or two exceptions, these two firms made not only items which bore their own names, but also are thought to have manufactured a vast number of unlabelled scales for sale by wholesalers and retailers of spedalist office suppiles. One or other almost certainly made the items which appeared in the American Fairbanks' catalogues In the 1850's with that company's label firmly embossed. The third known maker was the American firm of Chatillon. Their individualistic design appears in the catalogue of that firm dated 1894 - some thirty years after production in England had declined. The possibility of a further manufacturer of candlesticks has recently arisen. The name T.Wharton & Sons, Birmingham is on a desk set (see Cover Picture EQM 1 1982) consisting of a candlestick letter scale, two inkwells, a pen holder and a nib deaner, all on a papier mache base. The decorative style of Wharton's candlestick is very similar to many other un-named examples,which suggests that they all may have been made by this firm. Alternatively, the desk set may merely have been ,assembled' by Wharton, the scale itself having been made elsewhere, under contract. (Other, more famous manufacturers are known to have adopted this practice) . The former idea seems more likely because Thomas Wharton & Sons were listed in trade directories of 1862 and 1876 as makers of letter scales ( and stationerīs sundries ), at 4 Great Charles Street, Birmingham. Also, their name was formed integrally with the tube. As the desk set is the only reported example of a scale bearing Wharton's name, the final conclusion must await further evidence. In construction, candlestick balances were all based on a spring compressed within the confines of a slender tube. (Certain extremely rare varieties used a spring in tension) . The spring was attached to a rod housed in the centre of the tube, and the rod carried the letter plate above. Some candlesticks bear a date, but this is not, as may be thought, the day of manufacture, but the date on which the design was first registered. An early Winfield bore the inscription No.170 JANUARY 13, 1840. The issue of the London Gazette dated 28th December 1839 carried the announcement that the Penny Post would begin on lOth January 1840, from which lt can be seen how keen Mr.Winfield was to profit from this new field of endeavour. What makes candlestick scales so delightful to collect is the fact that each specimen seems to differ slightly from the next. The materials from which these scales were constructed, also varied, and examples have been noted in glass, bronze, ivory , silver and brass. The brass was treated in different ways to give an attractive appearance. Some were simply polished and lacquered, some had a finish which simulated matt gilding and others were given a brown-black patina with gold coloured bands. This dark finish was chemically produced and should not be mistaken for ordinary oxidation. Candlestick scales were mostly free-standing, but a few were set onto elaborate bases, such as wood and marble, or onto a pen and ink stand. One example seen had a thermometer attached to the stem (one wonders what purpose was served by combining these two measuring devices?), and another had a hand- beil set into the base. These letter scales usually weigh up to 4oz. They also varied considerably in height. They were as small as 3,5" and one example og this height was made of solid silver by an unknown American firm. Others were as tall as 15" in the form used for weighing parcels up to 16oz. The most common size was about 6".
EQM 1 1982 Editor Brian Brass


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