When I was a kid every carpenter had one of these on his belt or in his pocket. Measuring tapes were mostly cloth, and either short like a tailor would use, or long and cumbersome -- I remember one that had a reel on it like the reel on a fishing pole!
But these brass and wood folding rulers are also fragile! For every "perfect" one I saw, there must have been half a dozen kicking around that were partial or broken fragments. They are fun to mess with if you're a kid who likes to fiddle; the folding and unfolding has a tactile satisfaction to it as the joints snap into position. But no elder who possessed an unbroken folding measure was ever willing to have a child monkeying with it! I can't imagine why...
Anyway, today you can imagine my surprise and delight upon realizing that this one -- just sitting there on a garage sale table with a $1.50 tag on it -- was complete, unbroken, and in perfect unblemished working order. It's a Wards Master Quality #4065, which I am presuming was originally a mail order item via the Montgomery Wards catalog. "Monkey Wards" quality for the win!
OMG I just figured out that the thin brass inset graduated rail visible in the top photo slides out (the raised bead at right is for operating it with your thumb) for up-close measuring of fine work. Nifty!
We had one of those when I was a kid. I wonder what ever happened to it. My Mom's relatives probably chucked it in the trash along with a lot of other useful things when they helped clean out their house before she moved.
Gail Gardner @GrowMap
Small Business Marketing Strategist, lived on an organic farm in SE Oklahoma, but moved where I can plant more trees.
It is weird where stuff turns up. This was at a garage sale that was a worse-than-usual wasteland of plastic dollar store holiday decorations and still-in-box As-Seen-On-TV single-purpose plastic kitchen gadgets. I spent fifty cents on a fake Mason jar drinking glass with a handle that was heavier-made than usual, but it had an OMG-I-shit-you-not $8.99 price tag from Hobby Lobby on it. Also bought two medium-weight 11-gallon steel garbage cans (two bucks apiece) that were $20 each from Ikea -- only one lid between them and that one useless because not tight-fitting enough to keep a breeze or animal from knocking it off, so I'll probably drill them and use them for planters. They have dog food residue in them, and the lady clearly found them as unfit for that purpose as they manifestly are.
There was an entire forest of plastic-fabric wreathes, plastic-wicker baskets full of postmodern decorative I-dunno because I cannot even bear to look at it, and random art frames that stand out from the wall with some random bit of textured stuff where the art would usually be. All made of plastic, plexiglass, and the cheapest of painted/stapled chipboard.
How my solid vintage folding rule made of genuine boxwood and brass turned up among that amazing collection of highly textured nothingness, I can barely begin to imagine. But it confirms a lesson I've come to believe quite firmly, which is that you can't judge a garage sale from the street. Sometimes the best treasures are to be found among the "goods" of people whose life path is so divergent that they don't value them or don't even comprehend that the items are valuable. How do they come by them? It's fun to speculate, but, ultimately, we usually just can't know.
thomas rubino wrote:You got me curious Joel; 1829 ! first patented spring tape! 1868 it was improved to modern standards! Way older than I would have guessed!
Real interesting to learn, Tom. So why were the wooden ones still popular for so long? I'm thinking it could be that the early steel tapes (even into the 20th century) might have been made with some type of steel that wasn't as durable as later ones, and that the thin tapes could kink and be prone to metal fatigue and breakage. What's desirable is a tape that has a certain stiffness for extension, but can recover from the inevitable flexing that happens occasionally in actual work situations. As we know, the development of various forms of steel for varied purposes has continued to the present time.
My online educational sites:
So; My guess, is that cost of the steel rollup tapes was higher. Also at the turn of the last century wood workers were craftsmen. Precision measuring was a must. I can envision the old master craftsmen teaching their apprentices to use a tried and true measure system... not that new fangled steel rollup thingamajig.
For all your Rocket Mass heater parts.
Visit me at
brevity is the soul of wit - shakespeare. Tiny ad:
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while