Pif gadget was a French magazine for children that included a different free gift each week. On 15 September 1975, issue number 342 offered Le curvimètre. This little plastic instrument introduced hundreds of thousands of children to the mysteries of measuring maps.
During the German occupation of France in World War II, the French Communists published a republican youth magazine called Le Jeune Patriote. Illegal when it first appeared in January 1942, it became legal from 1944 and the following year was renamed Vaillant, Le Jeune Patriote, shortened to Vaillant in 1946.
Pif et son gadget surprise – ‘Pif and his surprise gadget’- issue number 1 was released 24 February 1969. The series ran until 1993, and again between 2004 and 2009. The magazine was born from the previous publication- Vaillant and retained the numbering system from that publication. But who was Pif?
Pif was a popular dog character created by Spanish comic artist José Cabrero Arnal for the French Communist Party newspaper L’Humanité in March 1948. Pif went on to appear in the magazine that eventually took his name, first appearing the day after the final issue of Vaillant.
In its heyday Pif Gadget was a remarkably successful magazine, it sold an average 500 000 copies each week and reaching a record one million copies in April and September 1971. Having left-wing roots, it was one of the few western publications permitted to be sold behind the Iron Curtain. From the mid-1970s the publication went into decline as the stories in its pages became increasingly mundane. Many were simple adaptations of TV series. Revamping attempts got nowhere. Renamed Le Nouveau Pif in 1982, it disappeared completely in 1993. The magazine resurfaced in 2004 as Pif editions, selling an average of 100 000 copies, however the magazine could not survive. The publisher went into receivership 15 January 2009. Heavily in debt, the company folded. Lambiek refers to it as “one of the most important French comics magazines of the last half of the 20th century.“
An advertisement for the map measurer appeared in issue 341 of Pif Gadget and the instrument itself was included with issue No. 342 the following week, on sale 15 September 1975.
The 76 page magazine and Le curvimètre cost four French francs but was also available for purchase in many other countries.
Pages two and three were a cartoon story featuring Le Curvimètre. The two page cartoon is included below.
The curvimètre was simple and very cheaply made- a two part plastic case, with simple internal toothed gear driven by the exposed plastic tracking wheel, with a paper dial stuck to the face around which a large plastic needle rotated. There is no cover and both needle and dial are exposed. The dial has concentric measuring scales: 0-49 (increments of 1), and 0-98 (increments of two). It is possible to easily measure to a scale of 1:200 000 with the measure (or scale up or down) and hundreds of thousands of curious children must have pestered their parents for a touring road map that week to try out their new device, learning of the intricacies of studying maps, roads and routes. Which can only be a good thing.
This is a pretty bulky map measurer. Hardly surprising as it was cheaply made and had to survive quite unsympathetic battering, just as any childrens toy might have to endure. Yet it still had to function. The 8mm thick plastic case can not be opened as it is welded closed.
There are no parts to come adrift other than the paper dial and that is firmly pasted down. The measure fills the palm of my large hand. The squarish case measuring 72mm x 68mm from which a 10mm thick squared handle some 67mm long extends at a forty-five degree angle. It is not a heavy instrument, weighing just 20g.
While records are scant, it is possible that the curvimètre was manufactured by a Finnish plastics factory- Karhumuovioy Oy in Pori, Finland- karhumuovi. This factory certainly constructed many, if not all, of the plastic ‘gadgets’ included with the magazine. Some other gadgets, or toys, included each week with Pif Gadget gain the thorough approval of Three Points of the Compass. Issue No. 106 for example, on 1 March 1971, included Le bracelet-boussole, a small wrist-worn compass.
Three Points of the Compass has looked at a few more Map Measurers in detail. Links to these can be found here.