Post Office regulations:
 On and after the 10th of January a
 letter not exceeding half
 an ounce in weight may be sent
 from any part of the United
 Kingdom to any other part
 for ONE PENNY if paid when
 posted or for TWO PENCE if
 paid when delivered
page title: HISTORY
Commemorative stamp 200th birthday of Sir Rowland Hill [1795-1879], known for the Uniform Penny Postage. Great Britain 1995

Pair of scales on a Dutch stamp, 1986The very first weighing instrument, an equal-armed beam balance, dates back to a good 6000 years before Christ. In the old civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea, gold dust was used as a means of payment, and was therefore weighed out as accurately as possible. The Babylonians already used strict rules for weights and measures. They compared their weights with those used by priests.

Postal service Thurn und Taxis, stamp Germany 1952letter-boxes, on a German stamp 1974The initial postal services used a rate system based on the number of sheets of paper and on the distance to cover. In after years, and initially not in every country, the base of the rate system switched to the distance covered, and the weight of the letter. Payment was made on delivery. Under Kaiser Maximilian of Austria, Franz von Thurn und Taxis maintained an extensive mail service in large parts of Europe ever since 1504. Thurn & Taxis stayed active with the postal services until the beginning of the era of stamps.
In the eighteenth century a weighing balance (pair of scales) was used to determine the weight of the letter.
Penny Black, the first stamp 1840The introduction of the English Postal Act in 1840 (Uniform Postal Act of Sir Rowland Hill) was the starting point of an excellent mail system. The first stamp, the Penny Black, dates from May 1840. You now can mail a letter not exceeding half an ounce (±14 gram) in weight from any part of the United Kingdom to any other part for just ONE PENNY if paid when posted, or for TWO PENCE if paid when delivered. 200 years Mail Services, Dutch stamp 1999. Click to magnifyIn 1863 a postage rate based on weight, was introduced in the United States. Not until 1871 Germany gets a more uniform postage system. Previously, the country was a varied collection of smaller and larger states, each one with their own postal system.
In the Netherlands courier services also transported letters. Those letters were stamped. The oldest Dutch stamp (three stuiver-stamp) dates from 1667. In 1752 the province Holland started the States Mail Services. In 1799 the state took the monopoly, and the postal services became the National Dutch Post. In 1850 a Dutch Postal Act was introduced. The first Dutch stamp dates from 1852. The postal rate based on weight and payment before delivery, was introduced in 1871. With the foundation of the Universal Postal Union (Union Postale Universelle, Wereld Post Vereniging) in 1874, the international mail traffic got streamlined significantly.

German letter-box on stamp of Surinam 1985  French letter-box on stamp of Surinam 1985  English letter-box on stamp of Surinam 1985  Dutch letter-box on stamp of Surinam 1985

letter scale on Swiss stamp 1982Dutch letter-boxThe first specific letter scales - also called postal scales, postage scales, letter balances, postal balances -, date from 1839. The introduction of the English postal amendment act in 1840 (Uniform Postal Act of Sir Rowland Hill) could be classified as the number one catalyst of letter scales development. The availability of a good mail system, with the forward sales of stamps and the pillar-boxes at streets, make it sensible for private persons also to invest in a letter scale. The industrial production of letter scales in the United Kingdom gets well under way after 1840. In Germany and the United States of Anerica it took a little longer. The first six letter boxes were erected in London only in April 1855. This after a successful experiment in Jersey in 1852. Anthony Trollope is the designer of the first British post box in 1854. By 1900 there were 32,593 letter boxes in the United Kingdom. In the Netherlands public mail boxes arrived at the streets after 1869. The design dates from 1850. As early as 1616, a couple of mail boxes were hanging in Amsterdam to collect letter mail bound for Hoorn and for Enkhuizen.
letter scale on Icelandic stamp 1990Hundreds of different letter scale designs were made. Of some of them, only one unique specimen exists. Production series of the early designs were relatively small. Of the old names of manufacturers only a few survived until today. Such as Jakob Maul and Kern in Germany, Fairbanks in America, Salter and Avery in England. Dozens of patents of fortunately never made letter scales do exist. Often the designs are plain ugly, are unnecessary complicated, and above all, promise to be unhandy and cumbrous in daily use. Whatever had come over the inventor to apply for a -surely not for free- patent, often remains obscure. The older types of letter scales are of course predominantly mechanical. The accuracy of weighing is limited mostly. Electronic letter weighing machines exist since 1970.

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