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Brass Nuremberg nested cup weights, mid-1500s

© 2021 Royal Pharmaceutical Society


This beautiful set of brass Nuremberg nested cup weights was probably made by Dietrich Hagen who worked in Nuremburg, Germany in the mid-1500s.
The six weights are respectively: 16 marcs, 8 marcs, 4 marcs, 2 marcs, 1 marc and 4 once.
The lid of the 16 marcs house vessel, which encloses all the other weights, is particularly ornate and decorated with human figures and hybrid creatures from Greek mythology. The catch on the lid is decorated with a hippocampus; a Greek mythological creature, typically depicted as a horse in its forepart with a coiling, scaly, fish-like hindquarter. While the lid hinge is decorated with a Cerberus; a Greek mythological dog that guarded the gates of the underworld, almost always portrayed with three heads and a serpents mane and tail. The supports of the lid handle are human figures.


Accurate dispensing required the use of standardized weights. Nested cup weights provided a scaled set of weights for accurate weighing. They were designed so that each cup weight fitted precisely into, and weighed exactly half that of, the previous larger weight. In addition the house vessel, for storing the weights, weighed exactly the same as all the cup weights enclosed within.