Tumbrels are two-part balances which were used to check the weights of specific coins.  They were used to identify rogue, underweight coins which would neither tip nor balance the beam/balance-arm (MacGregor 1985, 440).

Though they are known from the Byzantine empire in our early early-medieval period (MacGregor 1985, 440-442; fig. 1), we would expect to only record medieval examples, though the late post-medieval period saw a resurgence in the use of such balances.

PAS object type to be used

Use TUMBREL for such coin balances

Medieval tumbrels

Terms to use in the description

Tumbrels are sometimes called trebuchet-type coin balances and it can be useful to include this phrase in the Description field to aid searching. Tumbrels are comprises of an arm and a beam (Algar and Egan in Saunders (ed.) 2001), the latter sometimes called the ‘balance-arm’ (Rogers 1993).  The arm is variously termed the ‘stirrup’ or ‘pivot’ arm, while the beam has an integral weight and ‘pan’ or ‘tray’ (Egan 1998).

Sometimes the ‘stirrup’ arm terminates in an acorn (Rogers 1993, 2; fig. 1) or an animal head (Rogers 1993, 3; fig. 3/LANCUM-54BC04).


Dating evidence for tumbrels comes from excavated evidence, the earliest British dating being pre 1175, though this for a bone example from Castle Acre Castle (Margeson in Coad and Streeten 1982, 244-245).  Stylistic evidence, namely some of the ‘typically Romanesque animal-head terminals’, may allow for a 12th-century date for some examples (Ashley 2016, 286).  However, a most copper-alloy examples have been found in 13th-century contexts (Rogers 1993, 1), with some going into the 14th century (Margeson in Coad and Streeten 1982, 244).

In addition we have the evidence of the objects themselves.  Functioning examples seem often to have operated to a standard of 22 grains, comparable to silver pennies issued between 1279 and 1526 (Rogers 1993, 1).  With penny masses reducing through time, experiments have suggested that some tumbrels would have weighed coins circulating in the later 14th and early 15th centuries (MacGregor 1985, 442).

Overall, a date range of c. 1200 – c. 1450 would seem reasonable for medieval copper-alloy tumbrels.


Medieval tumbrel (DOR-E7C843)
Medieval tumbrel (DOR-E7C843) Copyright: Somerset County Council; CC-BY licence)

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Post-medieval tumbrels

These are conventionally not recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme as many related to 19th-century coins, such as gold sovereigns and half-sovereigns as reintroduced in 1817 (MacGregor 1985, 443).


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Key references

Egan 1998

Algar and Egan in Saunders (ed.) 2001

Rogers 1993