Monthly Archives: February 2020

Opisometer in case stamped Edward Stanford Charing Cross

Map measurer of the month- Stanford’s opisometer

 

Bone handled opisometer with finely turned finial

Bone handled opisometer with finely turned finial

An opisometer is a curious instrument. As soon as you handle one it is pretty obvious how it works. A handle, in this case made of bone, probably from a cow, with a small milled wheel that turns easily on a supported fine thread. There is also a small metal pointer to aid in locating whatever it is you are measuring.

An opisometer is easy to use with irregular lines on a map or drawing

An opisometer is easy to use with irregular lines on a map or drawing

What is essential is a scale to read off against once a line has been precisely tracked. You wind the wheel to one end of the thread, then wheel it along a line on a map, or along any distance you are measuring, then turn the wheel backwards against a known scale. With maps, the scale usually appears at the bottom. Simple to use and effective. Opisometers are still made today but seldom for use with maps, more as an aid in the medical or surveying worlds.

Stanfords Opisometer in small leather carry case

Stanfords opisometer in small leather carry case

Opisometer advertised in a 'Dictionary of British Scientific Instruments', by the British Optical Instrument Manufacturers' Association. 1921

Opisometer advertised in a ‘Dictionary of British Scientific Instruments’, by the British Optical Instrument Manufacturers’ Association. 1921

Having first stated as an employee of Trelawney Saunders at 26-27 Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, London in 1848, Edward Stanford became a partner in 1852. This business relationship never lasted the year however and Stanford became sole proprietor in 1853, expanding his shop, that sold maps and charts, to 7-8 Charing Cross. The business further expanded and a printing works in nearby Trinity Place was purchased. Stanfords became the map maker and seller in London. They still enjoy an enviable reputation to this day supplying maps for countless expeditions across the globe.

As well as maps and charts, Stanfords sold many accessories including map measurers. The opisometer shown here is unlikely to have actually been made by Stanfords. It was likely supplied to them by a manufacturer of fine mathematical or surveying instruments. It is difficult to date, certainly they were being sold in the 1870s and the example shown probably dates from around then, but examples were still available for purchase for much of the first half of the twentieth century. Though an all metal construction became more in favour at the turn of the century.

The opisometer is pretty generic in design. Other sellers of surveying and mathematical equipment would also have stocked these, each seller having their own address stamped onto the bespoke leather case that held these quite delicate instruments. The Stanford example is quite small when compared against others that were available. It measures just 97mm (3 13/16″) in length. The turned and pointed finial on the end of the bone handle shows that this is an English made instrument as each country had their own particular design. It will measure a line 958mm (37 3/4″), so over a yard/almost a metre, which is quite remarkable for such a small instrument.

Small Stanfords opisometer (top) with larger opisometer supplied by Elliott Brothers who were making these instruments in the late nineteenth century

Small Stanford’s opisometer (top) with larger similar opisometer supplied by Elliott Brothers who were making these instruments in the late nineteenth century. The bottom example dates between 1853-1873

 

74mm Ambassador shown against the handy little 58mm Classic SD carried on my work keys

Victorinox Classic too small- how about the Ambassador?

The Victorinox Classic is well named, it is exactly that- a classic. Reputed to be the most purchased knife in history, it combines the trinity of most useful tools. Blade, scissors and nail file. If you have the SD version of the Classic, then you also enjoy the handy little 2.5mm flat ScrewDriver tip to the nailfile instead of the nail cleaner. Away from the lovely thin Alox scaled versions, the more usual Cellidor scaled Classics also come with tweezers and toothpick.

Just 58mm in length and around 21g, the Classic is small, light and ideal for hiking. So useful is it that I EDC a little white scaled Classic SD, given to me as a present, on my work keys. This will handle most day-to-day tasks. However, Three Points of the Compass feels that there are other 58mm Victorinox knives that offer greater functionality with very little weight penalty.

Victorinox's 74mm Ambassador with the 'holy trinity' of tools shown- scissors, blade and nailfile

Victorinox’s 74mm Ambassador with the ‘holy trinity’ of tools shown- scissors, blade and nailfile

Looking beyond the little 58mm knives, some might feel that it would be even handier to have just a little larger blade, and just a little larger pair of scissors. If that is you, then Victorinox have you covered with the Ambassador. Shown above, this knife is from the, very limited in range, single layer 74mm models that Victorinox have released.

Blades of 58mm Classic and 74mm Ambassador compared. For just a little longer knife you get a lot more capable blade

Blades of 58mm Classic and 74mm Ambassador compared. For just a little longer knife you get a lot more capable blade

Surprisingly, the nailfile on the Ambassador is smaller than that on the Classic, though it is still a capable tool

Surprisingly, the nailfile on the Ambassador is smaller than that on the Classic, though it is still a capable tool

Found with or without a keyring, the Ambassador doesn’t have the wide range of variants that the Classic has offered. I don’t really know why there aren’t just a few similar alternatives. Is a pen provided as with the Signature, or a little LED light in the scale as with the Swiss Lite? Sorry, no. There is a fairly uncommon alox scaled version called the Lady Victoria and that is about it.

The Ambassador is a little longer than the Classic when closed, 74mm instead of 58mm, and a little heavier- mine weighs 34.6g. For that you get a knife that is more comfortable in the hand, particularly for those with larger hands. It is also quite a thin knife, just 9mm. More importantly, the drop point blade now provides 46mm of cutting length over the Classic’s 33mm. The scissors are noticeably beefier than those found on it’s baby cousin too, though still small. The scissors on the Ambassador have cutting blades around fifty per cent longer. Scale tweezers and toothpick are the same in both knives and are interchangeable. Perhaps surprisingly the nailfile on the Ambassador is actually smaller than that on the Classic. It only comes with a nail cleaner tip, there is no SD version. But the nail cleaner tip will handle many little Phillips screws.

74mm Ambassador from the first collector's series. Toothpick and handy tweezers removed from scales

74mm Ambassador from the first collector’s series. Toothpick and handy tweezers removed from scales

Victorinox have released limited edition sets of the Ambassador with special scales, though nowhere near as many as the Classic has come with. My example shown here, with yellow and purple abstract pattern on one of the white scales, comes from the first Ambassador collection released. Beside the coloured scales of the various collections, the scarce RocKnife series released from 1988 are heavier on trail (having actual stone scales) and deliver no additional functionality, they don’t even have the scale tools, though they are pretty.

74mm Victorinox Ambassador

74mm Victorinox Ambassador

The Ambassador features:

  • Pen blade
  • Nail file with nail cleaner tip
  • Scissors
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Some models also feature a keyring

The Victorinox Ambassador doesn’t get a lot of attention, but if you feel a Classic isn’t quite large enough for your backpacking adventures, or even your EDC, but you still like the simple toolset, then why not have a glance at this very slightly larger offering. It may be just what you are looking for.

74mm Ambassador

The scissors on the Ambassador are beefier and a vast improvement on the useful but much smaller scissors on the Classic