The Practical Motorist map measurer was cheaply made, produced in the tens of thousands and was perfectly functional for motorists in the sixties and seventies. Beside sitting in the glovebox of many a car, they undoubtedly saw considerable use by hikers and cyclists too. For such a cheaply made map measure, they have lasted well and many continue to give service to this day.
Practical Motorist magazine was part of a stable of consumer magazines published by George Newnes Ltd. A publishing company founded by Sir George Newnes, Ist Baronet (1851-1910). After his death the company continued as a major leading magazine publisher. A sister magazine to Practical Motorist was Practical Mechanics.
Many magazines have offered, and continue to offer, free gifts or specially priced items to their readership. The Practical Motorist Map Measurer was one such product. It was a cheaper alternative to the more expensive metal bodied measurers made by mostly French, Swiss or German companies.
Three Points of the Compass has been unable to ascertain whether the map measurer offered by Practical Motorist was available to the public prior to their offer however it was in the June 1959 edition of Practical Motorist that an advertisement first appeared offering the ‘latest dial reading map measurer with magnifying glass‘ for the princely sum of two shillings and threepence, which included postage. The measurer was proclaimed- ‘a fraction of its real value‘. It was delivered in a small cardboard box with accompanying printed instructions on how to use.
“handsomely finished in a smooth durable material”
The measure is quite cheaply made though it is unclear who the actual manufacturer was. It has a plastic body, with plastic wheel and dial. Even the internal workings, few that they are, and the incorporated magnifying glass, are made of plastic. The measure works best with the old ‘one inch to the mile’ maps, also showing quarter mile gradations, and reading up to 20 miles or 20 inches. The other side of the scale is metric- measuring one kilometre to the centimetre up to 50 km, or 50 cm. Practical Motorist informs us that this scale is included so that- ‘the measurer can be taken with you to the Continent and used without modification‘.
The 1959 map measurers offered by the magazine had the words PRACTICAL MOTORIST MAP MEASURER moulded onto the body however others, including later ones, did not, stating instead ‘Made in England’ and Registered design number- 893037. A conversion table is included on the rear of the measure, showing kilometre to mile to kilometre.
Such was the popularity of the map measurer that Practical Motorist repeated the offer in 1964. This time as part of a wider offer. The May 1964 issue of the magazine included a free Road Map of Great Britain plus the offer to purchase a ‘special’ map case. The August issue included a free Holiday and Touring Map of Great Britain. Both maps were specially prepared by George Philip & Son Ltd.
The vinyl map case when delivered contained two clear slip cases for the two maps, plus three pockets holding a notebook, a pencil and a Practical Motorist Map Measurer. The 1964 measure was coloured a rather horrid khaki, or pale olive green, that matched the internal colour of the map case. This measure does not include the ‘Practical Motorist Map Measurer’ wording on its case.
This is very likely because the measure was now more widely available to the public. While the khaki colour was likely bespoke for the Practical Motorist map case, the measure could also be purchased as a stand-alone item from other retail outlets. Three Points of the Compass has seen the measure available in various colours- White (cream), black, bright blue, red, pale olive green and purple. It is also often found in a bespoke leather slip case with a variety of embossed words on the front
Other than colour, there are three varieties of wording on the plastic bodies. The first includes the words ‘PRACTICAL MOTORIST MAP MEASURER’ and ‘SCALE 1″=1 MILE’ on one side with ‘SCALE 1cm=1km’ on the other. Another generation is the same but excludes the magazine title but includes ‘Made in England’ and registration design number. The final version has the scale wording altered to ”SCALE READS IN KILOMETRES’ on one side with the other reading ‘SCALE READS IN INCHES’ along with country of manufacture and registration design number.
The Practical Motorist Map Measure was a cheaply made measure that provided basic function. It is unsurprising that it later became a stand alone purchase more widely available.
For a map measure that is now up to fifty to sixty years old, it is perhaps a little surprising on how well the plastic construction is holding up on many of these. My red bodied example was purchased some time after 1999 so they remained on sale for at least 40 years. They are fairly easy to find on the second hand market and are invariably still working almost as well as when they were first purchased.