Gilfillan Postal Scales

Essington Newell Gilfillan was born in Pennsylvania in 1852 and was the second oldest of seven Children. The Gilfillans were a family of farmers and farmed in Pennsylvania, Iowa and Kansas. By 1870 the Gilfillans had moved to Iowa where  Essington Gilfillan was listed as a ‘farm laborer’. By 1880 the family had moved to Kansas where at age 28 he was listed as being a ‘clerk in dry goods’ and was married to Emma (Lockwood).  At sometime during the 1880s Essington and Emma moved to Chicago and in the 1900 census, at the age of 47, he is listed as a ‘manufacturer of specialties’ I assumed that would include scales.


Through a search of the US Patent records I have identified over thirty patents that were issued to him between 1885 and 1913. Eleven of them were for scales or scale related items, the remaining patents cover a wide range of ‘Specialties’ including, among others, items such as; a reclining chair, thread cabinet, pen holder, car seat, labeling machine, coin counter, egg carrier, sash pulley, hand truck, bottle stopper, pencil sharpener and cigar wrapper. The earliest patent I found was applied for in 1884 while he was living in Fort Scott, Kansas.  The balance were applied for while Gilfillan was living in Chicago except those applied for after August 14, 1909 which were filed in Syracuse New York indicating that he and his wife Emma had moved from Chicago to Syracuse some time during 1909.


 There is no record of him in the 1910 census indicating that he had died before the census was taken.  Patent No. 970037 for a ‘Closure for Receptacle’ was issued to him September 13th, 1910; I assume he died between then and January of 1911. A later patent for an ‘Egg Carrier’ which was applied for by him in July of 1898 was issued to ‘E (Emma) Gilfillan, Executrix’ June 18th 1912, and a later patent for a cigar wrapper was issued October 14, 1913 to ‘Edith G. Hanson, ‘Administratrix of said Gilfillan Deceased’.  I further assume, by the appointment of an Administratrix, that Emma Gilfillan by this time was also deceased.


However, we do know from examples of his work that Essington Newell Gilfillan was a prolific inventor and manufacturer. It is assumed that he established his business in Chicago some time during the 1880s. The earliest record I could find is for ‘The Chicago Spring Balance Co., 234 Clark Street, Chicago’.  This is the name of the business that exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. By early 1894 either a new separate company was established or the name was changed to ‘Gilfillan’s Scale and Hardware Co.’ situated at 133-139 S. Clinton Street, Chicago. The business was also referred to as ‘G. S. & H. Co.’ and ‘Gilfillan Scale & Hdw. Co.’.  In a report issued by the ‘Factory Inspectors of Illinois’ dated December 15, 1897 Gilfillan Scale & H’dware Co. at the Clinton street address, dealing in ’Hardware Specialties’ had in its employ ten men over the age of sixteen. There are references to this company right through to 1899.

Gilfillan had invented quite a number of scales and had registered many patents the most prominent being the patent for what is generally called today the ‘Bow Front Scale’.  Ultimately it has been employed by many scale makers all over the globe and is still being used today more than one hundred years after he had registered his patent.  This patent, No. 561309, was applied for Apr 17, 1984 and was issued June 2, 1896. The patent diagram of this scale is shown here. In the patent Gilfillan describes the scale as follows ‘In carrying out my invention I employ an upright curved or bowed scale-plate, and I mount the index or pointer on one of a pair of parallel spring-actuated pivot arms whose free or swinging ends are connected to and supported by the stem of the scale-pan and which in turn hold such stem in an upright vertical position, the graduated scale-plate being bowed on an arc concentric with the arc described by the said pivoted arm to which the index is secured’. The bow front frame and the unique spring mechanism has become a standard for small desk top scales.


At sometime late in the nineteenth century some sort of business arrangement was made with the Pelouze Scale Manufacturing Co. and patent protection information of the Gilfillan patents began to appear on Pelouze scales.  While there is an abundance of scales incorporating the patents and designs of Essington Newell Gilfillan, many having been produced by the Pelouze Scale Company, their predecessors, those manufactured by Gilfillan, are quite scarce.

This is an early Gilfillan’s spring postal scale with a cast iron frame with a circular dial and a celluloid face. On the face it is referred to as ‘Gilfillan’s U. S. Postal Scale’ .The pointer is activated as the load is placed on the letter plate by a small rack and pinion mechanism. It weighs mail up to 4 pounds and indicates the postal rates of the period for Merchandise, Letters, Books and Papers as shown in the four successive rings of rates on the face.  It is painted black with red and gold pin stripe and floral decoration. The face plate is held in place by a nicely machined brass ring and the curved brass letter tray is attached by a screw.  On the base is ‘Chicago Spring Balance Co. Pat Appld For’ and on the back is ‘Gilfillan’s U. S. Postal Scale Pat Apld For’.  Patent number D25327, for the cast iron scale frame was applied for on Apr 5, 1894 and issued on March 31, 1896. 


This is a copy of the patent diagram submitted by Gilfillan. The patent does not state that this scale body was to be used exclusively for postal scales and was used for other larger scales as well.  In the Berning collection there are two family scales using the larger cast iron scale frame




This little trade card depicting this scale which was used at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and was probably handed out to visitors to the Chicago Spring Balance Co. booth located at ‘Sec. Q., Block 1, Manufacturers Bldg., World’s Fair Exposition.’  Note the price, $3.00, quite expensive I would think for that era.  On the back is an image of a hand held spring scale patent No. 498711 which was issued May 30 1893.


There is also an image of a scale using this patented frame on this envelope from ‘The Chicago Spring Balance Co.’. It appears to be a larger scale and has a round plate typical of those used on family scales. The envelope was mailed from Chicago March 15th, 1893.  We can conclude from the date of these two items that Gilfillan was dealing in this scale frame well in advance to applying for a patent (Apr 5, 1894).  I am not sure one could get away with that today. 

An advertisement for this scale was found in ‘The Stenographer’, Volume V, Number 2, December 1893. As can be seen the printers cut is very similar to the actual scale.  Note that the face has ‘U. S. Postal Scale Warranted Accurate’ and the reference to ‘Gilfillan Scale & H. Co.’ is on the base.  This scale could be ordered from Gilfillan Scale and Hardware Co., 725 Old Colony Building, Chicago, Ill.  I assume that this may be the address of a retail outlet. This same image was also found on an advertisement in the august 1895 issue of ‘Travel, An Illustrated Monthly Magazine’.  Included in this second advertisement is an image of a Gilfillan bow front called ‘The National’.  It is interesting to note that the image of the scale used here is almost identical to the one shown in the Pelouze patent No. 601273. This patent references an earlier Gilfillan patent. The ‘National’, ‘Columbian’, and ‘Union’ postal scales, all bow fronts, became a standard for Pelouze and many variations were produced for 50 years into the twentieth century. Additionally, this ad references a second retail outlet at 88 Chamber Street, New York.


Both the patents, No. 561309 for the scale frame and No. 601273 for the hand held spring scale were, at some time acquired by The Pelouze Scale Company and reference to these patents began to be applied to similar Pelouze scales.


In fact Pelouze sued The American Cutlery Co for alleged infringement of patent No. D25327.  In  the case, ‘Pelouze Scale & MFG. Co. versus American Cutlery Co.’, brought before the Circuit Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit May 31, 1900 No.644.,  Pelouze requested the court to ‘Refrain infringement of Letters of Patent Design No. 25327 dated March 31, 1896 and issued to Essington N. Gilfillan for design of a scale frame.’ The court ruled in favor of American Cutlery and ruled that there was no infringement.




This ‘Gilfillan U. S. Postal Scale’ with a very sturdy frame was also developed and patented by Gilfillan, some were made from a thick wire and others from flat steel.  Other than the wire frame, the spring mechanism, round display, celluloid face and the letter tray are virtually identical to the scale with the cast iron frame. On the back is a declaration as follows ‘Manufactured by Chicago Spring Balance Co. Pat. Pending’.  Patent D30114 was applied for November 30, 1884 and was issued Jan 31, 1899 described as a ‘Frame for a Spring Balance’, a copy of the diagram submitted by Gilfillan with the patent filing is shown here. Note that the patent diagram shows the wire frame with a bow front application. This same frame was used with the scale shown here with the round face and a rack and pinion mechanism.

Just as Gilfillan was manufacturing the cast iron framed postal scale well before he applied for the patent in 1884 I feel the same is true of the wire framed scale.  The style of the face and the declaration that it was ‘Manufactured by the Chicago Spring Balance Co.’ and the fact that both are identified as ‘Gilfillan U. S. Postal Scale’ would indicate that it was marketed about the same time (1892/1893) as the cast iron model.

 I know of several of these wire framed scales with the round face but the bow front version appears to be far rarer. There is a very nice example of the bow front version in the James Reeve collection. It is a nicely decorated postal scale which references ‘E. N. Gilfillan Co. Pat Pend Chicago’.  The face advertises ‘Marble Head Fine Cut Tobacco’

Two other postal scales that are manufactured by Gilfillan are identified as ‘U. S. Postal Scale’. The celluloid faces are the same as on the cast iron and wire framed models except there is no reference to Gilfillan on the face. ‘Warranted Accurate’ has been added to one and ‘Warranted Accurate & Patented’ to the other. The body of these two scales is quite different. They are made from brass and have been nickel plated (although the nickel plating has almost completely gone from one and is starting to on the other). They are formed in an attractive rounded fashion.  As with the earlier two they have the same spring mechanism and the pointer is activated as the load is placed on the letter plate by a small rack and pinion mechanism. One of these scales has open sides and the other has two attractive side panels attached to hide the actual spring mechanism.  The open sided scale references patent information as follows ‘SEPT 12 92, JANY 12 93, PATENTS PEND’G’. After an extensive search no information on these patents was found.  The closed sided scale only references patent on the celluloid face with a very small ‘Patented’.  Both have a nicely stylized Maker’s Mark as follows ‘Gilfillan Scale & HDW Co., Chicago’ stamped into the body of the frame.  The closed sided scale has a straight post supporting the letter plate which is held in place by a rivet like device. It is my assumption that this is an improved later model. As with the bow front scales Pelouze, over a number of years into the twentieth century,  produced several variations of this scale. 




This Gilfillan scale was most likely produced as an advertising vehicle for the Merrick Spool Cotton Company and was probably given as a gift to retailers who sold their products.  It is a postal scale with postal rates reflective of the period but because of the scoop style tray it was probably used to weigh bulk items such as buttons, spools, or other materials found in a millinery store. It weighs up to four pounds. The celluloid face is highlighted with ‘Merrick’s Spool Cotton, Philadelphia’.  The scale is made from sheet metal with a chrome or nickel plating and the base has scalloped corners.  The scoop is held by a cast iron cradle that slips over the upright stem of the weighing mechanism. On the bottom is ‘G. S. & H. Co., Chicago, Apr 17 1894, Nov 30, 1894 , American and Foreign Patents Pending’.  The first is the patent for the bow front scale which was applied for Apr 17, 1894 and issued June 2, 1896 in the patent it is described as a ‘Spring Balance Weighing Scale’.  The other patent is the one applied for is for a scale frame. 

Recently on eBay there was another example of this scale advertising ‘Invincible Merchandise, Blankes Coffees And Spices, They Are The Best’. The scale appeared to be identical in every way including the patent declaration.


Here we have a nice example of an early ‘Columbian Postal Scale’.  Columbian postal scales are quite common and since the late nineteenth century they have been manufactured by the Pelouze Scale Company of Chicago.  This little fellow however was made by Gilfillan.  It is a typical bow front spring scale that incorporates the principles of the Gilfillan patent 561309 of June 2, 1896. However, Patent No. 601273 applied for on Feb 3, 1897 and issued on Mar 29, 1898 was issued to William N. Pelouze is more reflective of this scale. The frame is made from sheet metal, and has scalloped corners on the base. As can be seen in the attached patent diagram this scale is identical except for the scalloped corners. It is nicely decorated in black with gold and red pin stripe decoration.  The celluloid face is held in place by two glide-flanges on either side of the metal bow front and has the postal rates of the period for Merchandise, Letters, Books & Newspapers.  On the bottom of the scale two paper labels have been applied. The first by the manufacturer  ‘Gilfillan Scale & HDW Co. 133-139 S. Clinton St., Chicago’ and the second by the retailer ‘J. H. Tisdall, Stationer and Book Manufac’r, 1036 Market Street, PHILA, PA.  Telephone 3416’.  The only reference to patent detail is on the paper label which states ‘PAT. June 2, 1896 . American and Foreign Patents Pending’.  I can only assume that this scale was manufactured between the Gilfillan patent date of June 1896 and Feb 3, 1897 when the Pelouze patent was applied for. 

These two patents, one issued by Gilfillan and the second by Pelouze, may help us to narrow in on a possible business arrangement reached between Gilfillan and Pelouze. In the Pelouze patent description there is a reference to the Gilfillan patent which may indicate that it belonged to Pelouze at the time of the application of his patent on Feb 3, 1897.  It is interesting that the signatures of the witnesses and the attorney are the same on both patents.  Only the signature of the inventor is different, E. N. Gilfillan on patent No. 561309 and Wm. N. Pelouze on patent No. 601273.


So there you have it. Essington Newell Gilfillan was a busy chap who over twenty five years or so was granted many patents, quite a number being for scales or scale related items.  It is my assumption that for a period of time between 1892 and 1898 his principal business was manufacturing scales first as The Chicago Spring Balance Co. and latterly as The E. N. Gilfillan Scale and Hardware Co.  It is unclear what the business arrangement between Gilfillan and Pelouze may have been.  Perhaps Pelouze purchased Gilfillan’s scale business or on the other hand he may have simply purchased a number of scale related patents. We do know that after 1898 that Gilfillan was still being granted patents for scales and they did not appear to be scales that were ever manufactured or sold by Pelouze.  In any event Gilfillan had a significant impact on the scale manufacturing industry, as is demonstrated by the millions of common bow front scales that have been produced by many manufacturers over the past one hundred and twenty years.  Finally, I would like to thank Jan Berning for providing much of the material used in writing this article.