Archaeology in Review: Brass Scale Weights

Weight found in the central cellar.

Among the unusual finds from the 2022 Michilimackinac archaeological field season were two brass scale weights. They were found in the cellars of the trader’s house.

Nested cups found in the vicinity of the church/blacksmith shop in 1959

 The weight from the central cellar was a cup from a set of nesting weights. Of the fourteen brass scale weights ever found at Michilimackinac, all but two are from nesting weights. These are a series of nested cups plus a small solid trapezoidal disc which nests in the smallest cup. The best example of this is three nested cups found in the vicinity of the church/blacksmith shop in 1959. They were fused together in a fire. Over the years four other cup weights have been found. Based on differences in the angle of the sides at least two sets of weights are represented. The recovery of four of the small disc weights indicates a minimum of four sets. The weights are scattered around the fort, with an additional weight from the church, three from the barracks, three from the south southwest rowhouse, one from the southwest rowhouse and one from the Rue de la Babillarde in the southeast quarter of the fort.

 The cup found in 2022 weighs approximately half of an apothecary dram. It fits into a larger cup weight found in the nearby Rue de la Babillarde. Discs from the barracks, southwest rowhouse and south southwest rowhouse fit into it. We initially interpreted the symbol stamped in the cup as a fleur-de-lis, but further investigation reveals that it is more likely the crossed arrow and key of Nuremberg. Nuremberg was a center of scale making in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

 The weight from the southeast cellar is unique so far. It is trapezoidal, but much larger and heavier. It weighs an ounce and is stamped “GR” surmounted by a crown. This is almost certainly a reference to King George and indicates British use.

 The other unique brass scale weight found at Michilimackinac is a small square stamped ½ dram. It was found near the barracks wall in 1959 and is on display in the “Treasures from the Sand” exhibit at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 What were brass scale weights used for? The small weights are commonly referred to as apothecary weights. It is possible that the weights found in 2022, and the one found in the Rue de la Babillarde were used by Surgeon’s Mate David Mitchell who lived in House D of the Southeast Rowhouse. That would not explain the other scale weights found throughout the fort. It is possible that some of the others were used by merchants to weigh coins or other small but valuable items.

 In his December 31, 1778 inventory of his personal possessions, John Askin listed:

a Weighing Beam

a smaller Ditto

a Comn Weighing Beam old at ye Bakers

a Sett of Cast Weights

Baking at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 The first two weighing beams may have been small balances that would use small weights like this. The last one would have been larger in keeping with the larger measures used by bakers.

 You can see a large weighing beam in action during the special Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac weekend August 5-6, 2023. The two scale weights recovered in 2022 will be on display in the “Current Archaeology at Michilimackinac” case in the Visitor’s Center when Colonial Michilimackinac opens May 10, 2023.

Queen Charlotte’s Birthday: January 18

Queen Charlotte’s Birthday: January 18

On January 18, 1780, a barrage of artillery fire rolled across the frozen Straits of Mackinac. The guns of Michilimackinac boomed as artillerymen loaded and fired 12 pounds of gunpowder. Why were they shooting in the dead of winter, when not much ever happened at the isolated outpost? To celebrate Queen Charlotte’s birthday! (more…)