This is a ‘middle-of-the-road’ map measure masquerading as a quality scientific instrument from an old and venerable company.
The box that came with the map measure, or opisometer, is almost of equal interest as the measure itself, so let’s look at that first. It is a card clamshell box with a yellow paper covering. Directions on how to use the measure are printed on the paper and appear inside the lid. The top of the box informs us that the supplier of this opisometer, model number 102, was N&B – “Enbeeco” Scientific Instruments.
N&B stands for Newbold and Bulford. They were established c1796 however the partnership of Harry Newbold and Harry James Bulford, operating as opticians out of 46-48 Goswell Road, London, dissolved in 1928. The business continued and the 1951 Directory for the British Glass Industry tells us that the Limited Company was based at Enbeeco House, Roger Street, Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1. They were by then manufacturers of, and sole agents for, binoculars, barometers, barographs, compasses, linen provers, magnifiers, microscopes, microtomes, opthalmic instruments, prisms, surveying levels, spectacles, sunglasses, telescopes and in addition, we now know- map measurers.
The company adopted the trade name Enbeeco following the Second World War, the name simply being how the initials of the company are pronounced- N B Co[mpany].
Directions for Use
Place the pointer at zero marked “O”, by turning the small wheel, then holding the Opisometer vertically, trace the distance to be measured with the wheel. The hand will then indicate on the dial the exact distance in proportion to the scale of the map
“A Map Measure for ascertaining distances on geographical maps of all scales, as indicated on dial”
The measure weighs 30g and is 105mm long (tall) and 34mm across it’s body. The measure has two faces, each having concentric measuring scales. One face is for measuring and converting inches to miles or verstes, and centimetres to kilometres. The other dial has an outer scale for one inch to one mile, then within that, scales for statute miles, kilometres and nautical miles. Beneath the domed glass faces, the dials themselves are simple printed paper discs, 30mm in diameter, now buckling slightly with the passage of time. There is a single blued needle on each dial, this rotates by means of the internal gearing, the tiny internal brass cogs within the sealed case being turned by means of the user running the small finely toothed steel tracking wheel along a line on a map. One complete rotation of the dial measures 39 inches, or 39 miles at a scale of one inch to one mile, or 78 miles at a scale of half an inch to the mile.
A previous owner, possibly W. Ross, who’s name is written inside the box, has no doubt become frustrated by running the tracking wheel in the wrong direction and has scratched direction of travel arrows on to each side of the measure. Different handles were possibly supplied for this measure, the one fitted to this example is a fairly poor quality ridged 57mm long metal tube of indeterminate alloy.
This is a perfectly functional measure but it can be seen how basic manufacture is. Much of the style and build quality exhibited in similarly designed ‘handled’ measures once manufactured in France, Switzerland and even the UK is missing. There is another marking on one of the paper dials. The word ‘Foreign’. This is repeated on the front of the box.
Japanese manufacturers and suppliers began an export drive in the 1960s and Enbeeco were at the forefront of traditional British companies importing cheaper ‘foreign’ made instruments to market and distributing them under their own name. It cannot be coincidental that this measure is almost identical to one version of another measure- the Pathfinder, looked at previously by Three Points of the Compass.
A price for our opisometer is pencilled onto the top of the box. It cost 13 shillings and sixpence. This is a pre-decimal value. Decimalisation occured in the UK on 15 February 1971 so this measure must date prior to then. Due to the import of products commencing in the 1960’s we can probably narrow the manufacture of this measure to that decade. N&B once enjoyed an enviable reputation as makers of high quality scientific instruments and optics. Having taken the decision to import poorer quality instruments and subsequently market these under their Enbeeco brand, that reputation began to tarnish, along with many of their cheaply made instruments. That said, this measure is still operational and, more importantly, accurate. Fulfilling its purpose over sixty years after it was first sold. And what of Newbold and Bulford? That company was eventually subsumed into the Pyser Optics group in 1991.
Three Points of the Compass has looked at a few more Map Measurers in detail. Links to these can be found here.