Drachm? You have an Apothecary weight, probably early 20th century

Linda writes: I have a small collection of coins from lots of different countries and they are early 19th century. The one I would like to know about is a 1″ diameter, thick, gold coin that says “Two Drachms” across the top of both sides and “Troemner Phila” on the bottom with a tiny little star separating the writing on each side of the coin. Two stars on each side. In the center of the coin is what looks like “3ii” I think these are Roman symbols. It is in excellent condition although dirty looking it is extremely legible. Where it has been handled there is visible evidence that this is pure gold. Is this as old as I think it is like 320 BC. I would like to know the history and value. Thank you ~~~ Linda

You have an apothecary weight, probably early 20th century vintage. In the days before electronic scales and prepackaged medicines, pharmacists used a balance beam scale to measure the appropriate amount of medicine to a customer. One would put the appropriate weights on one side and then pour the powdered drug on the other until the balance was centered. Small drachm (a unit of weight equivalent to 60 grains or one eighth of an ounce) weights, grain weights and smaller were employed to balance the small amounts of chemicals ordered by a doctor’s recipe or prescription for each dose. Since the weights were base metal, mostly copper, the drachm weights were often gold plated to make them easier to read. The manufacturer’s name is almost always listed on the weight, in this case “Troemner Phila”. “Phila” is the abbreviation for Philadelphia. If you show this piece to a pharmacist it will be instantly recognizable. The “3ii” signifies 2 drachms, “3i” would be 1 drachm.

There are collectors for balance scale weights. They are collected with tokens, store cards and medals and are usually found under the heading of “Exonumia” in auctions. Collectors generally are looking for the kits that include the wooden box, the balance scale and all the weights, including some very tiny ones. Rarely are orphan pieces in demand unless they reference something historic or are from a rare maker.

The weights aren’t used anymore in pharmacies, at least not in the West, but portable apothecary weight kits are often found in antique shops (I found lots of kits in London).

Though individual weights don’t bring a great deal of money, complete sets including the original scale and the weights that they came with are very much in demand.