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Cumbria County Council sells collection of old weights and measures estimated at £20,000 to £30,000
Megan Wheeler at Bonhams. Photo: Bonhams.

CHESTER.- Bonhams will sell one of the largest collections of weights and measures to come to the market in recent years, at its Chester saleroom on October 18. Bonhams estimates that the collection, which dates back to the 1824 Weights and Measures Act, could tempt UK and American collectors to part with as much as £30,000.

Antony Bennett, Bonhams UK Regional Director, comments: “The importance of weights and measures cannot be underestimated. The arrival of these measuring tools ended trade confusion and trickery dating back to the Magna Carta, and continue to help public services in the 21st century.”

The Act standardised units of weight and capacity, which was more than England’s ‘Great Charter of Personal and Political Liberty ‘ and a succession of well meaning Monarchs could achieve.

The weights, measures, scales and balances, rendered obsolete by time, technology and metrication, were inherited by Cumbria from several councils as a result of Local Government reorganisation.

Last used by weights and measures inspectors, in the first half of the last century, the collection which weighs in at several tons of bronze and brass alloy, had been stored in the attic of a council building in Carlisle.

Cumbria has retained some items of its metrological heritage for posterity and education purposes and donated others to three local museums.

Trading Standards Manager and Chief Weights and Measures Inspector, Angela Jones, comments:“ Weights and Measures are an important part of our culture and heritage and it was important that some examples should remain in the area.” Proceeds from the bulk of the collection will go back to the county council.

“It is probably the largest collection of post 1824 weights and measures to reach the market for some considerable time with a fascinating story to tell” said Bonhams’ metalwork specialist Megan Wheeler, who spent weeks cataloguing the collection.
“Introduction of the Imperial Standards for the pound, yard, gallon and bushel, helped traders and manufacturers at every level by introducing order to the confusion and frustration that had existed before. Whilst the country shared the same units of capacity and weight, like the pound, frequently that pound varied in its weight equivalent in grains of wheat, according to the area and commodity being sold. ”

Buyers, she feels, could vary from enthusiastic collectors of metrology to museums or those simply attracted by the decorative and display potential of items included in many of the sixty lots on offer. “Bushels would provide the perfect vessel for plant and flower displays and some of the larger brass weights, ideal door stops.”

Star lot is a set of George 1V Imperial Standard bronze alloy measures and matching yardstick for the County of Westmorland, bearing a 1824 verification cipher and the name of London maker Benjamin Payne.

It is believed that the set – estimated between £2-3000- is one of the first batch of around two thousand sent out by the Exchequer after Imperial Standards had been created for the yard, gallon and bushel.

A fire at the House of Commons Standard Yard in 1834 destroyed Government’s originals and meant that new Imperial Standards had to be created which lends added value for a collector to the measures coming under the hammer.

A set of eleven early Victorian brass alloy Imperial measures ranging from a bushel (8 gallons) to a quarter gill, County of Cumberland, is estimated at £1,500 to £2,000; and an 1876 bushel, half bushel and peck, manufactured for Kendal Borough, at £1,200-£1,800.

At the other end of the time-scale, there are several sets of copper and brass petrol measures for the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, Boroughs of Kendal and Barrow and Furness and City of Carlisle, all dated around 1930, at 300-£500.
One Carlisle bushel will be missing from the sale. It was sold in 1868 by a local Weights and Measures Inspector to raise cash to pay the rent. He was immediately sacked by the Mayor.

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