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Map measure of the month: a Fritz Chatelain measure

This map measure from Fritz Chatelain of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, was sold by Lawrence & Mayo in the late 19th/early 20th century. The instrument is a predecessor to the HC and FC Universal Map Measure’.

Fritz Chatelain map measure in the hand

Much of the history of Fritz Gustave Chatelain (FC) is a mystery. We do know that the Swiss FC company was intimately linked to the French Henri Chatelain (HC) company that also manufactured quality map measures. However the precise relationship between Henri Chatelain and Fritz Chatelain is not yet established. While the surname is fairly common, many advertisements survive that strongly establish links between their respective manufacturing addresses and products. Almost identical products can be found that carry either of their company logos. It may be that HC products were advertised and sold from France whereas FC products were advertised and sold from Switzerland and the two were not sold in their opposite numbers country. Perhaps the two men were related, cousins perhaps? A mystery to be determined.

FC measure is well-sized for practical use
FC measure is well-sized for practical use

Henri Chatelain was born 2 July 1848 and French made measures bearing his HC brand were manufactured from the 1870s until the mid-twentieth century. Three Points of the Compass looked at an HC Self Registering Rotameter here. Swiss owner Fritz Gustave Chatelain was born 18 July 1859 and aged 21 he registered his company name in Neuchâtel, Switzerland on 14 March 1881. Measures bearing the FC trade mark were manufactured from 1881 and HC appears to be, by far, the prevalent manufacturer trade mark found on earlier surviving examples of map measures. The FC mark as seen on the measure looked at here is very different to the HC brand. It is comprised of the letters F and C each side of two towers with flags flying to the left. 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. The FC trade mark has altered over the years and a future post will look more closely at the variations. The FC logo on this measure has an atypical addition, below it is the word Depose. This simply means that the manufacturer has registered the design.

Trade Mark index
Trade Mark index indicates the FC mark was first registered in 1881
FC brand on measure
FC trade mark on measure
‘Der Curvimeter’- 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 dial face of this measure differs from the Universal Map Measure models sold subsequently. Those measures carry an additional annotation on their paper dial- Registered No. 44851, not seen here. Two concentric scales are shown on the dial of our measure. The outer dial translates inches to miles, or verstes. A Verste is an obsolete Russian unit of measurement. One rotation of the needle around the dial will measure up to 39 inches, or 39 miles, in inch primary increments and half-inch secondary increments.

The inner dial is metric, measuring centimetres to kilometres, to a maximum of 99, in one centimetre increments. Unfortunately, accuracy is lacking. Tracking 12 inches records 11.5 inches on the dial. This may simply reflect that wear has occurred on the finely toothed tracking wheel over the years.

Google translate of 1878 newspaper report
Google translate of 1878 Swiss newspaper report

The map measure has a steel case and handle. Later examples of the Universal Map Measure could have different handle types where targeted at a particular price point or niche part of the market. Handles could be steel, bone or ivory. The measure looked at here measures 114mm x 34.5mm, the extreme thickness of the case across the dished glass face is just 7.25mm. It weighs 47g and is comfortable in the finger tips when in use. The small wheel at the base has minute serrations which aid in gripping a map surface as it is tracked along a line to be measured. Fine internal gearing transfer through the case to rotate the single needle around the dial.

Front face of FC measure
Front face of FC measure
Front face of FC measure
Rear of FC measure has no markings

This FC measure is quite well made. The case is robust and the glass face is pinned with three fine screws so could be replaced if damaged. The glass on this measure has been knocked and a tiny chip is missing around the ‘two o’clock’ edge. That said, the paper dial is not centred and appears to have rotated slightly. Unsurprisingly, the dial has also yellowed with age. The scales on this measure are largely obsolete with maps today. However if the measure was used to track any route, line or path on a map and rotated back against the scale usually present at the bottom of a map, this instrument would still perform the task for which it was created. This despite any recording inaccuracy that has crept in with the scales shown on the face of the measure.

Measure with 31g leather covered wooden case
Measure with 31g leather covered wooden case. This has brass hinges and brass snap closure.
Felt and silk lined case supplied by Lawrence & Mayo. This shows their 67-69 Chancery Lane London address.
Felt and silk lined case supplied by Lawrence & Mayo. This shows their 67-69 Chancery Lane London address.

The printed silk lining of the case holding the Fritz Chatelain measure indicates that it was sold by London based Ophthalmic Optics and Scientific Instrument makers, Lawrence & Mayo. This company was formed by two London based Jewish families. Optician Sydney Solomon Lawrence and another optician called Mayo. They set up operations from Lawrence’s 67-69 Chancery Lane address in London and subsequently all over the world including Burma (Myanmar), Cairo, Sri Lanka, Egypt, India, Portugal, Singapore and Spain. Not much information is available on the early history of the company but their reputation as a chain of High grade Opticians, supplier and maker of high quality Survey, Scientific and Meteorological Instruments is well known. Lawrence & Mayo opened their first Indian office and showroom in Calcutta, now Kolkata, in the year 1877, followed by offices throughout India and worldwide. By 1897 the business was in the hands of Sydney Lawrence alone who was operating from the Chancery Lane premises until at least 1907, by 1925 the headquarters were situated in 19 New Oxford Street, London. This dates our measure to a period prior to the First World War, likely around the turn of the century. On 2 July 1938, Lawrence & Mayo was incorporated under the Indian Companies Act (1913) as a Private Limited Company. Following this most Lawrence & Mayo outlets worldwide were rebranded, with the exception of Lawrence & Mayo India which was acquired by an employee, Isidore C. Mendonsa in 1943, who retained the brand and the company became wholly Indian in 1967. London based Lawrence and Mayo put their name to many optical and scientific instruments they sold however many of these were actually were sourced from other manufacturers, as with this FC measure. It is possible that this measure was actually catalogued and advertised by Lawrence & Mayo as the Universal Map Measure when they sold it but there is nothing on the case or measure to indicate this.

So what happened to Fritz Chatelain? Only whispers survive through the gossip columns of the time. He married, he had children, he advertised for servants, maids and manufacturing employees, he gained a reputation for producing fine instruments and stood on committees and judged competitions, his products gathered plaudits and awards. But not everything was rosy. He divorced, later, an announcement was made in the local paper Feuille d’Avis de Neuchâtel of bankruptcy proceedings against Fritz Chatelain- ‘manufacturer of watches and precision instruments‘, on 24 January 1900. However the business survived as products, including map measures, bearing the FC brand, continued to be produced. I will look at an FC branded Universal Map Measure model in a future post.

FC map measure

Henri and Fritz Chatelain died within weeks of each other. Fritz on 1 May 1921 and Henri on 1 June 1921. The successor to the HC/FC name was F. Baudet who, after Henri’s death, took over the company from 1921/2, retaining the Chatelain name. The Chatelain/Baudet company was subsequently taken over by Henri Burnat, with HB logo, c1940.

The Fritz Chatelain measure movement continues to operate perfectly fine over a hundred years following manufacture. If you are looking to purchase a similar example there is no need to pay the inflated figures some vendors ask as similar measures frequently appear on the second-hand market, though seldom with the high-quality case shown here.

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

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