Nested Cup Weights

Nested cups were primarily used by merchants to measure coins. Four examples of nested cup weights are found within the Squibb Apothecary Collection, all of which were manufactured during the (c.) seventeenth century in the Bavarian City of Nuremberg. At this time, as an imperial-free city, Nuremberg maintained a strong economy supported by a sizable middle class. Prospering within this class was a strong contingent of artisans who were considered to be the elite of Europe. Included amongst these craftsmen was a skilled and exacting guild of cooper-masters who held a monopoly over the world's production of nested-cup weights.
The nested cup weights were designed to make the transport of weights, essential items in most commercial transactions, more convenient. The idea of nesting weights, which dates back to Roman times, was to increase the portability of weight sets by compacting an entire group of weights into a container. In the nested cup form, a series of weights shaped into cups are set one into the other, forming a stack which is stored within a house vessel. Each of the cups fit precisely into the next, larger sized cup, which each larger example weighing exactly twice that of the one previous. Furthermore the weight of the house was made to equal the total weight of the cup stack. In this manner, systems of weights were created that allowed for precise and flexible measurements, and could be contained within organized conveyable units.
During the 16th century, the appearance of the nested cup weights became increasingly elaborate, as the Nuremberg copper-masters adorned the with houses in styles inspired by the German Renaissance. House lids were embellished by such fantastical ornaments as mermaids, dolphins, sea-horses or soldiers, and geometric designs, or scenes like hunting excursions were often stamped upon the sets in circular patterns around the house body.
The copper-masters or "rotschmiedmeisters," who made nested weights began to stamp a unique "makers mark" upon their wares. Weight adjustments from various cities, whose jobs were to verify and adjust weights to local standards, also left distinctive marks upon the sets they examined. It is thought the use of these impressions identify both the manufacturer, and the place of use where a given set might be found.
Interestingly testing with an X-Ray Flrorescence Spectrometer showed the metal content of the outer container and lid to 75% copper, 13% lead and 7% zinc with trace metals of antimony, iron and Niobium. All measurements are approximate.
Currently not on view
Object Name
nested cup weights
date made
Schirmer, J. P.
Schirmer, Chr
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
overall: 11.5 cm x 11.8 cm x 10.1 cm; 4 1/2 in x 4 5/8 in x 4 in
overall: 4 3/8 in x 5 1/8 in x 4 in; 11.1125 cm x 13.0175 cm x 10.16 cm
place made
Deutschland: Bayern, Nuremberg
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
collector/donor number
SAP 408
catalog number
Health & Medicine
European Apothecary
European Apothecary
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
European Apothecary
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
Related Publication
Houben, Gerard M.M.. 200 Years of Nested Cup Weights
Urdang, George and Ferdinand William Nitardy. The Squibb Ancient Pharmacy: A Catalogue of the Collection
Additional Media

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