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Map measure of the month: the Vistascreen ‘BP Super’

BP Super map measure

This measure is a promotional item advertising BP Super. This was a 99 octane petrol, alongside which was BP Regular and BP Super Plus (101 octane). Back in the late 1970s I recall my Dad running us children around different garages looking for which of them was still stocking the Super Plus ‘five-star’ fuel for his Rover. The measure was likely commissioned by the petroleum company and offered to those filling up with the fuel from their outlets, either as a ‘freebie’, or for an insignificant price. While the fuel may have been promoted as a premium product, the map measure is most definitely not.

1950's advertisement for BP Super
1950’s advertisement for BP Super

In 1901 the grand vizier of Persia granted William Knox D’Arcy the right to trade and sell natural gas, petroleum, asphalt and ozokerite for 60 years throughout most of Persia. Seven years later oil was discovered and in 1909, D’Arcy and the Burma Oil Company formed the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Ltd. which acquired the British Petroleum Company in 1917. Shell and British Petroleum merged their UK operations to form Shell-Mex in 1932 subsequently also acquiring the Power Petroleum Co. In 1935 Persia became Iran and the Anglo-Persian company name was changed to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. Ltd. In 1954 their company name changed again- to the British Petroleum Co. Ltd. They found natural gas in the British North Sea in 1965 and oil in 1970. In 1998 British Petroleum acquired Amoco forming Amoco BP. Amoco was dropped from the name in 2000 and the company was then simply called- BP, a name that had already been used for its products for the past half-century.

BP Super
BP Super measure
BP Super measure is cheaply made from two sides of plastic welded together, encapsulating simple gearing and scale dial, then painted.
BP Super measure

BP Super fuel came to market in 1953 and was then heavily promoted for at least a couple of years. BP itself underwent various brand changes and the advertising format for BP Super was infrequently refreshed and altered to reflect this. In common with other petrol companies, BP utilised illuminated glass ‘globes’ atop each petrol pump. Globes were created for the BP Super mix fuel in various designs and colour schemes over the decades. A BP ‘shield’ shaped globe was first specified on the release of the new fuel as seen in various contemporary advertisements.

November 1953 advert in Punch, for BP Super fuel
November 1953 advert in Punch, for BP Super fuel, around the time that the company name changed to the British Petroleum Co Ltd

In the 1960s the illuminated globes changed to a square shape. The square globes were made by the Webb’s Crystal Glass Co. Ltd. The top of the tiny map measure closely resembles this later design of globe so this points toward the 1960s rather than 1950s for it’s manufacture. The square globe was also the last globe ever produced by BP.

BP Super sign, possibly 1960s
Square BP Super pump ‘globe’, 1960s

The BP Super measure is in the shape of a tiny petrol pump and is simply two halves of moulded plastic welded together. The tracking wheel has very fine knurling to provide a better grip when being tracked along a line on a map. This wheel is cogged and directly engages with a similarly cogged and rotating measuring dial. Due to it’s modest size and plastic construction the measure weighs just 4.5g. Dimensions are 65mm x 22mm x 7mm.

Scale for Miles
Scale for Miles

The measure is constructed of a white coloured plastic. Scale and direction of use arrows are etched into the plastic and painted red. The remaining green and yellow colouring is simply painted on to the body.

A complete turn of the measuring dial, read through small curved windows on the body, measures ten inches. At a scale of one inch to the mile, that will be ten miles. There is a metric scale on the reverse measuring up to 25cm. At a scale of one centimetre to the kilometre, this will be 25 kilometres. Sadly, accuracy isn’t great with this little measure- when 25cm is indicated on the dial, 26cm has actually been measured.

Scale for Kilometres
Scale for Kilometres
Bells Garage, Kensington, London, 1970s
BP Super on sale at Bells Garage, Kensington, London in the 1970s

This is a very cheaply made plastic measure that has similarities to the Practical Motorist map measure. That measure was originally made available for purchase to readers of the magazine in 1959 and 1964. The cheaply made plastic map measure subsequently became generally available for a further forty years.

advert snip

An intriguing clue as to a possible manufacturer can be found on the measure. One side of the tracking wheel has the words ‘VISTASCREEN CO. LTD.’

VistaScreen was launched in the 1950s as a rival to the US manufactured ViewMaster. These were 3D stereographic photograph viewers. The VistaScreen viewers were made from white plastic and designed to fold flat. Later, red plastic versions were made to promote the Weetabix breakfast cereal.

The words 'VISTASCREEN CO. LTD.' can be seen on the tracking wheel
The words ‘VISTASCREEN CO. LTD.’ can be seen on the tracking wheel

VistaScreen viewers were made by Combined Optical Industries in Slough, Berkshire. This company pioneered techniques in the precision moulding of plastic optics using injection and compression moulding and may have also produced this map measure. There is a very small number of unrelated plastic artefacts surviving that also bear the Vistascreen brand. Did the stereographic viewer company diversify and create other plastic products such as this measure?

So how good a measure is this little instrument? Considering a quality, metal-cased, measure coming from France or Switzerland would have been an expensive alternative, there would definitely have been a place on the market for these inexpensively produced measures, any slight inaccuracy in measuring capability would have been acceptible. Despite its cheap construction, my example is still working some sixty years after it was made.

Three Points of the Compass has looked at a few more Map Measurers in detail. Links to these can be found here.

BP Super measure with BP Road Map number 7, covering Northern Scotland. Mapmaker- George Philip & Son Ltd. 1968
BP Super measure with BP Road Map number 7, covering Northern Scotland. Mapmaker was George Philip & Son Ltd. 1968

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