Anon., Epitaphium oder deß guten Geldes Grabschrift. Augsburg, c. 1620. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
Scales and Balances

This image from a German broadsheet shows techniques for the physical manipulation of value in the early seventeenth century. The time of the ‘Kipper und Wipper’ (ca.1618-23), or ‘the rising of the moneys’ as the English were wont to call it, describes an extraordinary crisis of hyperinflation that afflicted the cities and principalities of the Holy Roman Empire in the early years of the Thirty Years’ War. Kippen referred to ‘clipping’ coins and tilting scales; wippen to a see-saw motion; and the phrase itself to the money-handlers who were blamed for the crisis, deceiving clients with sleights-of-hand at the scales to take good money for bad. Although dishonesty at the exchanges hastened the effects of Gresham’s Law (‘bad money drives out good’), the chief underlying cause of the economic and social catastrophe that followed was probably the attempt by German princes to make war preparations: hoarding and minting money competitively. For example, Brunswick had seventeen mints in 1620. By 1623, it had forty. The consequences are shown as a sketch on the curtain which flaps over the window to the world beyond: Discordia.

Click on the scales to find out more.


Scales and balances were a practical way for separate parties to agree on a shared understanding of value. They evoke notions of change, exchange and balance - as well as their manipulability - that were intimately tied up with trade. They also acquired an important symbolic value, representing the scales of justice. Look out for the significance of images of scales in the next two items in this section.

Click here to see a symbolic use of scales in the Law Court section.