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Map measurer of the month- The Self-Registering Rotameter

This interesting little map measure has a stained and warped paper dial, scratched and worn metal case, a torn cardboard box missing its lid, yet the measure works faultlessly while also revealing intriguing aspects of its origins and use.

Self-Registering Rotameter made by Henri Chatelain. The number of revolutions of the dial are shown on the counter seen through the little window above the needle

Self-Registering Rotameter made by Henri Chatelain. The number of revolutions of the dial are shown on the registering counter seen through the little window above the needle

Self-Registing Rotameter is 4 5/8 inches long (117mm)

Self-Registing Rotameter is 4 5/8 inches long (117mm)

The Self-Registering Rotameter is just one of a wide variety of Henri Chatelain map measurers manufactured from the 1870s until the mid-twentieth century. Other models did not include the numerical register, some had two faces- one at the front and the other on the rear. Some measurers included a small compass, others had a smaller indicator dial in addition to the main face.

The Self-Registering Rotameter has a finely toothed steel wheel at the base that can be run along a line on a map, from right to left, with the dial facing the user. When doing so, the cogs within the case rotate the blued needle around the paper dial registering the inches travelled in graduations of sixteenths of an inch. One rotation of the face measures four inches, on each complete rotation the small number seen through the window in the front of the dial flicks on one figure with an audible click- from 0 to 9. So the measure is capable of measuring three feet and four inches (forty inches) when resetting to 0.

Front of the box containing the Self-Registering Rotameter has a description of the instrument

Front of the box containing the Self-Registering Rotameter has a description of the instrument

Rear of the box provides instructions on how to use the rotameter

Rear of the box provides instructions on how to use the instrument

HC logo, self registering Rotameter

H C logo on Self-Registering Rotameter. ‘Déposé’ signifies that the manufacturer has registered a monopoly on the design

The company logo found on their instruments is a map measure between the letters H C. Cleverly, the middle of the logo on this example is centred on one of the small rivits holding the case together. The initials stand for ‘Henri Chatelain’, which is almost certainly a fictitious name devised as a homage to the great French cartographer Henri Abraham Chatelain (1684-1743). Despite having left a legacy of beautifully constructed instruments, it is difficult to tie down much information about Henri Chatelain beyond the manufacturer being founded in the late 1870s (variously 1876 or 1878) and based at 10 Rue de Belzunce, Paris, France.

Der Curvimeter'- the map measure is mentioned in a Swiss military newspaper in 1878

‘Der Curvimeter’- map measure is mentioned in a Swiss military newspaper in 1878

The H C company name was active until around 1898 when the name Fritz-Chatelain becomes more prevalent in relation to the manufacturer. Swiss owner Fritz Gustave Chatelain (F C) registered the company name in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on 14 March 1881. There is some cross-over of the measures produced with either logo appearing on the instruments though H C appears to be, by far, the prevalent logo found on earlier surviving examples.

The F C logo found on their instruments is different. This is comprised of the letters F and C each side of two towers. These are likely the two towers of the 12th century Collegiate Church at the entrance of the 10th century castle which houses the Council of State in Neuchâtel. An example is shown below.

In addition to the company logo, the initials of the British Post Office is stamped on the rear of my example

In addition to the company logo, the initials of the General Post Office are stamped on the rear of my example

The H C and F C product range included pedometers, calculigraphe (a calculator clock with logarithmic disc) and map measurers, also variously referred to as kurvimetres/curvimetres/rotameter. By 1896 ten models of H C map measurer were being supplied to the military throughout Europe. Map measurers were supplied until at least the 1930s and possibly for a couple of decades more. Their use has extended to the present day for some owners.

Other initials found on the back of my Self-Registering Rotameter point at a use outside the military. The letters- G.P.O. stand for ‘General Post Office’, the identity of the British state-owned telecomunications and postal service until 1969. No doubt this particular measure was an official issue and used for measuring the length of postal deliveries or routes to be taken by bicycles or other postal vehicles. These instruments were also sold in very large numbers to the general public for use while calculating distances on maps and charts when walking, cycling, motoring, flying and sailing.

The tatty box with the measure shown here has another story to tell. The front label pasted onto the box is for the Self-Registering Rotameter, the instrument it holds. However, just peeking from the top left, we can see that it is pasted over a label for the Universal Map Measure, another type of instrument also made by the company. That measure had a dial with two or more concentric dial-circles, each indicating a different scale- such as for miles or kilometres.

Self Registering Rotameter and Universal Map Measurer by Henri Chatelain, the bone handled example is a Universal Map Measurer from Fritze Chatelain

Self Registering Rotameter and Universal Map Measurer by Henri Chatelain, the fancier bone handled example at the bottom is a Universal Map Measurer with the Fritz Chatelain logo

To show a little of the progression I include it in the image above with two other measures from my collection with their respective boxes. Top, is the Henri Chatelain Self-Registering Rotameter with a label informing us it was made in France. Centre is a Universal Map Measurer made by Henri Chatelain, also made in France, while at the bottom is a Universal Map Measure with the Fritz Chatelain logo, its box label records that the instrument was manufactured in Switzerland. It is worth noting that there is a wide variety of handles found on these and other measurers and the manufacturer could include one suited to a particular market or price point.

These measures are very well made. The cases are robust and nicely pinned. The glass faces are thick and held on by three tiny screws so were replaceable if damaged. The card boxes are frequently damaged or missing their top however the measures themselves usually continue to work perfectly fine even a hundred years after manufacture. They turn up frequently on the second hand market and there is no need to pay the grossly inflated figures some vendors ask just because something is ‘old’.

A clean example of an Self-Registering Rotameter made by Henri Chatelain

A clean and good example of another Self-Registering Rotameter made by Henri Chatelain. These are often found on the second-hand market

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