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Map measure of the month: the Vistascreen Pathfinder

The Vistascreen Pathfinder
The Vistascreen Pathfinder

The Vistascreen Pathfinder is a simple plastic map measure with little in the way of features beyond scales for inch to the mile and centimetres to the kilometre. The tracking wheel has very fine knurling to provide a better grip when being tracked along a line on a map. The tracking wheel is cogged and directly engages with a similarly cogged and rotating measuring indicator dial. Due to it’s modest size and plastic construction the measure weighs just 4.5g. Dimensions are 65mm x 22mm x 7mm.

Front face of Vistascreen Pathfinder has 1" to 1 mile scale
Front face of Vistascreen Pathfinder has 1″ to 1 mile scale
Vistascreen Pathfinder
Rear face of Vistascreen Pathfinder has 1cm to 1 kilometre scale
Rear face of Vistascreen Pathfinder has 1cm to 1 km scale

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. No doubt due to the simple cheap construction, accurate measurement is not a feature- when 25cm is indicated on the dial, 26cm has actually been measured.

Vistascreen Pathfinder

The measure is constructed of a two plastic halves stuck together. Scale and direction of use arrows are etched into the plastic and infilled with black paint. The words Pathfinder and Map Measure are simply painted onto the body of the measure

Separating the two halves of the measure reveals the simplicity of construction. There are four parts- two halves of the case, a cogged tracking wheel and a cogged rotating scale
Vistascreen Pathfinder

I don’t know how many colours the Vistascreen map measure was available in. I have white and burgundy versions. The two variants are exactly the same other than the black lettering on the white version is replaced with white lettering on the burgundy. While the Vistascreen Pathfinder was likely available in a wide range of colours, the simple plastic construction has resulted in few survivors.

Vistascreen Pathfinder

It is an intriguing exercise working out the origins of these measuring instruments. I can only manage educated guesses, but lets work through some here…

One of this month’s map measures was accompanied by a set of instructions. These instructions, cropped at the base, confirm the name of our measure- the ‘Pathfinder’, this name is also found at the top of the map measurer. The printed instructions are identical to a set of instructions provided with another map measure that was looked at in more detail here. That was the ‘Pathfinder’ measure manufactured for George Newnes Ltd. This company published a number of consumer magazines including Practical Motorist, who offered their readership the opportunity to purchase their Practical Motorist Pathfinder map measure in 1959 and again in 1964. That plastic measure went on to become available as a stand alone retail item, available from a number of outlets unassociated with the Newnes group. The same printed instructions point at a common origin for the measures. But we can further determine a date range from these.

Vistascreen Pathfinder with 'Practical Motorist' Pathfinder
Vistascreen Pathfinder with ‘Practical Motorist’ Pathfinder

Instructions that accompanied the 1959/1964 Practical Motorist Map Measure also had Practical Motorist branding. Instructions provided with later retail examples of the Pathfinder did not have this branding, dating those instructions to post 1964. It is this (cropped) set of printed instructions that accompanied this month’s measure. There is a part missing from the bottom. Looking at the full set of instructions we can see that the missing part relates to a magnifying glass and conversion table. Neither of these features are found on our intriguing little Vistascreen map measure, only on the post ’64 ‘Practical Motorist’ style measure. This infers that as a cost reducing exercise the instructions for the larger and better equipped Pathfinder were simply trimmed to suit the smaller and simpler measure.

Left- instructions that came with the Vistascreen Pathfinder map measure. Right- instructions that accompanied the Practical Motorist type Pathfinder post-1964
Left- instructions that came with the Vistascreen Pathfinder map measure. Right- instructions that accompanied the ‘Practical Motorist’ type Pathfinder post-1964
Vistascreen Pathfinder with Vistascreen BP Super measure
Vistascreen Pathfinder with Vistascreen BP Super measure

The Vistascreen measure has an interesting shape. Fortunately we are able to ascertain it’s origin. This month’s measure is identical in shape to another measure previously looked at by Three Points of the Compass, that was the Vistascreen BP Super measure. The shape of that map measure was based on a style of petrol pump, with square globe atop, used in the 1960s and 70s. That measure promoted ‘BP Super’ fuel. Mile and Kilometre scale markings are the same on both measures.

Our measure looked at here retains the petrol pump shape but with no branding, strongly suggesting that either a great many plain blanks survived after the advertising promotion and were used, or the existing injection casting remained in use after. This dates our measure to after that 1960s/70s promotion.

Vistascreen Co. Ltd. appears on one side of the tracking wheel
VISTASCREEN CO. LTD. on tracking wheel
Vistascreen Co. Ltd. appears on one side of the tracking wheel

Other than the name Pathfinder at the top, the only other identifier as to origin is a name on one side of the plastic tracking wheel- “VISTASCREEN CO. LTD.” VistaScreen was launched in the 1950s as a rival to the US manufactured ViewMaster. Vistascreen viewers were plastic fold-flat 3D stereographic photograph viewers 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 manufactured, under contract, the Vistascreen BP Super map measure, the Practical Motorist Pathfinder map measure and the Pathfinder map measure looked at here. It is likely that the plastic optics expertise of this company was responsible for the plastic magnifying glass found on the Practical Motorist measure. There are a very small number of unrelated plastic artefacts surviving that also bear the Vistascreen brand. Did the stereographic viewer company diversify and create or commission other plastic products such as these measures? The name Vistascreen does not appear on the similarly constructed but slightly more robust Practical Motorist measure.

If the above conjecture is correct, this suggests that the Vistascreen map measure utilised blanks from an earlier promotion for BP Super fuel and bears a name that was previously used on a similarly constructed plasic measure produced for a Motoring Magazine, but dating from when that style of measure became more generally available. Dating our map measure to post-1964, possibly the 1970s. The full uncropped set of instructions strongly suggest that the Vistascreen Pathfinder was also ‘Made in England’ and possibly manufactured by Combined Optical Industries. As to who actually advertised it, sold it and how much it cost, that remains a mystery, for now.

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

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