How to cheat with a scale


Fernarnd Lee Allart will face felony charges for cheating livestock customers when weighing cattle by putting magnets on scales, which is similar to a butcher pushing down with his thumb on a scale to increase the weight of meat. (Dayton Daily News story>>)

Cheating with a scale is not a new practice. Here's an excerpt, edited into new paragraphs, from a magazine warning about salespeople cheating consumers (or tradespeople cheating housewives), from 1911:
At the recent budget exhibit in New York, Commissioner Clement J. Driscoll, of the Bureau of Weights and Measures, displayed among instruments that he had seized practically every kind of scale, weight, and measure used in the United States, and every piece was crooked.

There were bushel baskets with inner linings that reduced the capacity one third;

wooden measures with false bottoms that reduced the capacity two thirds;

and large oil-cans with smaller ones soldered inside of them that reduced the capacity forty to eighty per cent.

Wooden measures had been reduced in capacity after being officially sealed and marked;

others had been driven full of nails so they could not be packed tight.

Strawberry boxes were 25 percent short, and cranberry measures contained 18 instead of 67 cubic inches.

Even a tiny porcelain pitcher, used to measure a pennyworth of bird-seed, was partly filled with paraffin.

There were scale scoops with their seams filled with lead, and weights sawed off or drilled full of holes. Some of the latter were stuffed with cork and painted over.

Yardsticks had had their ends nibbled off, or several inches skillfully amputated from the center.

There were spring scales, with sliding fronts, such as are used by junk dealers, on which several pounds had to be hooked before an ounce was registered, and others that would register only twenty pounds, no matter how much weight they held.

Then there were scales with their pointers set ahead; computing scales with false computing tables; and scales that balanced without the scale pan.

Pans themselves were shown with putty, tea lead, fat, and other adhesive substances stuck to their bottoms.

Other scales had their internal mechanism so fixed that they were "fast," and still others were abnormally sensitive, so as to jump up and down at the slightest touch.

Most of these scales had been tampered with by the merchants who owned them, but many were made false by the manufacturers. Commissioner Driscoll discovered that one New York firm, with an output of one hundred thousand scales a year, made false scales and advertised that fact by assuring merchants that the scales would soon pay for themselves. These scales were costly. So, too, were the bushel baskets with the inner linings. They cost $18. Similar ones of honest capacity cost $2.

Butcher’s Tricks

FALSE weights and measures, however, are by no means essential in cheating.

Grocers use liquid measures for dry.

Hucksters wedge rows of vegetables tightly into their measures, thereby forming false bottoms of the vegetables themselves.

Butchers throw meat heavily on sensitive scales, read the weight when the pointer touches the lowest figure, and jerk the meat quickly from the scale pan.

This practice, it was discovered by Deputy Chief Francis McCoy, of the New York Bureau of Weights and Measures, is used in those shops where salesmen have to earn their pay by cheating. They are credited with the difference between the real weight and the weight for which the customer pays.

Again, a butcher will steady a projecting piece of meat with his hand. Every time he does that the customer is being cheated, for instead of steadying the meat the butcher is bearing down on the scale pan. He covers up his fraud by cutting off some trimmings, which he throws under the counter. In case of complaint he lays the shortage to these trimmings.

Other merchants hang hooks or weights on their scales. One Boston firm with a big chain of stores has repeatedly been found guilty of hanging bundles of paper bags on the scales.

Some dealers put weights in their scale pans and cover them with paper.

A New York poultry dealer had a two-pound cleaver blade thus concealed in his pan.

Another dealer hung an electric light bulb on his scales, ostensibly the better to show the customer the weight.

Hidden weights have been found attached to an innocent-looking string that hung from a scale beam.

One Chicago butcher had a string running through a series of pulleys underneath the floor, so that by pulling the string at his chopping block he attached a five-pound weight to the under side of his scale platform.

A druggist focused an electric fan on his balances so as to depress one pan, and a butcher in an outdoor market had his scales so hung that a draft depressed the pan fully a pound. When there was anything in the pan, the deception amounted to as much as two and a half pounds.

And other balances have been found with the scoop set over a powerful magnet, which the dealer could electrify by pressing a hidden button and cause to pull heavily on the scoop.
Source: How Tradesman Cheat the Household by Lewis Edwin Theiss, in Volume 25 of Pearson's Magazine, January 1911 at Google Books.

See also this article from Popular Science on Gyps Can’t Cheat You… If You Know the These Tricks (Jun, 1933) from the blog Modern Mechanix.

Gyps Can’t Cheat You… If You Know These Tricks
DISHONEST storekeepers are encouraged to use light weights and short measures by the indifference of their customers, according to Commissioner Joseph P. McKay, of New York City’s Bureau of Weights and Measures. Doctored scales give short weight. Crimped-in berry baskets deceive the eye as to their contents. Gasoline pumps can be manipulated dishonestly. Easy prey to these practices is the careless buyer. Tricks of the gyps are exposed in the photographs on these pages, made especially for Popular Science Monthly with the cooperation of Commissioner McKay. All illustrate cases of fraud discovered by his staff - many crude, a few subtle enough to fool any but the Bureau’s trained experts. One gyp, for example, installed a foot-pedal system worthy of a crooked gambling hall to control the weight registered on his scale. No one can estimate how many hundreds of housewives he cheated.

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