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Map measure of the month: the Carl Zeiss Jena/Freiberger Präszisionsmechanik Kurvimeter 78

The Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik company is based in Saxony, Germany and has a long and convoluted history that has seen many name and structural changes. From 1965 to 1990, they were part of the Kombinat VEB Carl Zeiss Jena optics parent company. The Kurvimeter model 78 map measure looked at here dates from that period of Soviet control.

Freiberger Kurvimeter 78 with 1986 Carl Zeiss conference case
Freiberger Kurvimeter 78 with Carl Zeiss Jena branded case from 1986

Freiberger Kurvimeter 78

Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik (‘Freiberger Precision Mechanics’) manufactured a small range of kurvimeters, or map measures, over the decades. Two similar looking plastic map measures were made by Freiberger. Models 62 and 78 differed only in the scales they included.

Freiberger Kurvimeter 78- front face
Freiberger Kurvimeter 78- front

This is a fairly cheaply made measure primarily constructed of plastic, including the use of clear plastic faces on each side. A finely toothed tracking wheel is run along a line to be measured on a map. This transmits the revolutions through brass internal gearing to rotate the two needles around their respective dials. The faces of the two measurement dials are made of paper with concentric scales printed on these.

Brass tracking wheel and internal mechanism
Brass tracking wheel and internal mechanism
Freiberger Kurvimeter 78- back face
Freiberger Kurvimeter 78- back

The Freiberger Kurvimeter model 78 has three scales in three concentric circles on each dial face. A close up on each dial face is shown below. Six scales in total. These are for measuring:

  • 1:30 000
  • 1:50 000
  • 1:100 000
  • 1:120 000
  • 1:200 000
  • 1:600 000

“with 6 of the most common scales for city maps, touring and road maps on a double-sided scale. Versatile use for hiking and motor tourism”

Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik GmbH

Earlier Kurvimeter 78 models were mostly of robust metal construction but production switched to a cheaper to manufacture plastic bodied measure in 1978. It was a plastic Kurvimeter 78 from the period of Carl Zeiss control of the Freiberger company that was sent to the 1986 FIG Congress in Canada.

Freiberger advertisement for the Kurvimeter 78- "for sports and tourism"
Freiberger advertisement for the Kurvimeter 78- “for sports and tourism“. This shows that a blue concentric circle was later added to the dial design
Front (DDR) face of Freiberger Kurvimeter 78. This has scales for 1:30 000, 1:120 000 and 1:600 000
Front (DDR) face of Freiberger Kurvimeter 78. This has scales for 1:30 000, 1:120 000 and 1:600 000
Back face of Freiberger Kurvimeter 78. This has scales for 1:50 000, 1:100 000 and 1:200 000
Back face of Freiberger Kurvimeter 78. This has scales for 1:50 000, 1:100 000 and 1:200 000

There is a reset button in the end of the handle however the mechanism on this months measure has grown a little ineffectual over the years since manufactured and it takes many clicks to return the needle to the start position.

The measure is held in a well made and smart looking leather case with the Carl Zeiss Jena identifier and detail on the conference itself. The deep brown, almost black, leather case is lined and stitched with a faded gold embossed printing on the flap. This shows the ‘CARL ZEISS JENA‘ name within the outline of an achromatic doublet lens design. Below this is ‘FIG ’86 CONGRESS Toronto‘. The flap tucks behind a loop that has a small metal button riveted on. This has what appear to be the initials ‘CV‘.

Carl Zeiss embossed case
Carl Zeiss embossed case
Pressing reset button

The lightweight measure weighs just 20g and measures 118mm x 37mm x 12mm extreme measurement across the dished plastic faces. The tapering handle is 61mm in length excluding the 8mm long reset button.

The Kurvimeter 78 was produced in very large numbers for general retail, however those did not come in a leather case. Early Freiberger measures were sold in card boxes but these were replaced by plastic slip pouches. These could be in various shades of (usually) black, grey, blue or green. Other colours and opaque slip cases were also produced, but in much smaller quantities.

Freiberger Kurvimeter 78 with a standard plastic wallet, in this case green but many other colours were produced
Freiberger Kurvimeter 78 with a standard plastic wallet. This is green, but many other colours were produced

Despite a plastic construction and even though almost half a century old, the Carl Zeiss Jena/Freiberger Präszisionsmechanik Kurvimeter 78 looked at here is still accurately recording a distance measured on a map. This is testament to the continued use of metal parts where it matters, combined with cheaper components where not critical and also care in assembly. The only mechanism that is showing it’s age is the lazy reset button.

The 1986 FIG Congress

FIG stands for Fédération Internationale des Géomètres (International Federation of Surveyors). FIG was founded on 18 July 18, 1878 in Paris by delegates from seven national professional organisations- Belgium, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland and Spain. This became the first FIG Congress (18-20 July 1878). Canada joined FIG in 1961 and the 18th International Congress of Surveyors took place in Toronto, Canada 1-11th June 1986. This was only the second time that a FIG Congress had been held in North America. In 1986 there were 50 member countries and 53 associations, representing almost 200 000 surveyors, appraisers and valuers worldwide. It is very likely that Carl Zeiss were a sponsor for the 1986 Congress, they certainly were for the Congress held in Australia in 1994, along with Leica, Schonstedt Instrument Co. of USA, and Geotronics. This points us at a possible reason for the production of this Zeiss ‘branded’ item, either sold or presented to Congress delegates.

“we make compasses and curvometers for sport and tourist use. Production volumes in recent years of these handy, much coveted implements have by far exceeded a million”

JR (Carl Zeiss Jena Review), 1986/2

Carl Zeiss and Freiberger Präzisions-Mechanik

The original Carl Zeiss AG optics company was founded in Jena in 1846. Jena was occupied by American forces on 13 April 1945 but was left to the Red Army on 1 July that year. After World War II Jena fell within the Soviet occupied zone, which later became East Germany, or officially, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In German, this was the ‘Deutsche Demokratische Republik’ (DDR); a state that existed from 1949 to 1990. Soviet and East German authorities took control of the Zeiss factory in Jena and it became the base for the Kombinat VEB Carl Zeiss Jena. On 28 October 1950 the Freiberger company was nationalised and VEB Freiberger Präzisions- Mechanik (FPM) was formed and expanded their manufacturing operations significantly. The abbreviation VEB stood for Volkseigener Betrieb (Publicly Owned Enterprise) which was the main legal form of industrial enterprise in East Germany In other words- a state-owned workplace or establishment in Cold War era East Germany. From 1 January 1965 there was a take-over of the optical companies from other districts of the GDR- VEB Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik, VEB Rathenower Optische Werke, VEB Werkzeug-und Optikmaschinen Mögelin were integrated into and became satellite factories of VEB Carl Zeiss Jena. Further optical company take-overs followed including VEB Feinmeß Suhl and VEB Feinoptisches Werk Görlitz. Freibereger today refer to this period as a ‘co-operation’, however VEB Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik were subordinate to the Carl Zeiss parent company/Kombinat VEB Zeiss Jena. This was a decision made by the National Council and a structural plan of the lead company with subordinated companies was created. Much of the Zeiss manufacturing operations had been shifted to West Germany prior to the occupation, however Eastern Zeiss built a much respected reputation for their high-quality optical equipment. Along with other instruments, VEB Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik manufactured numerous types of levels and compasses for the mining industry, police and army. They also made a range of high quality sextants, all of which were fitted with Carl Zeiss lenses. All that said, it is extremely unlikely that there are actually any Zeiss produced components in the measure looked at there and the Kurvimeter 78 was most likely manufactured by Freiberger and then simply delivered to the parent company who arranged the construction of the bespoke leather case that accompanies it.

Communist control of VEB Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik ended in 1990 and it was transformed to a limited company- Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik GmbH. The Jena Surveying Instrument factory at Göschwitz was closed by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen and the Freiberger company continued the production of instruments under their own name as a publicly owned company until privatisation followed in 1993. There will be a little more on those aspects of the Freiberger company history when Three Points of the Compass looks at another Freiberger map measure produced outside the period of Soviet control.

Problems with the Zeiss trademark

With two Zeiss companies operating, trademark issues for products sold overseas often arose and on 27 July 1970 most products made by VEB Freiberger Präzisionsmechanik were officially exempted from the labelling requirement for export products for Carl Zeiss Jena. A telex was sent by Kombinat VEB Zeiss Jena to Freiberger instructing them to simply mark lenses with “made in DDR“. This instruction appears to have been partially carried over to map measures. On 30 November 1971, further notification was sent that the identification of the origin of goods originating from Kombinat VEB Zeiss Jena and subordinate companies was required from 1 January 1973. This could be shown simply by the inclusion of the Carl Zeiss Jena name on accompanying instrument documentation. The Carl Zeiss Jena trademark only appeared on East German products sold in former communist block nations, Canada, UK and just a handful of other countries until reunification. 

Carl Zeiss Jena trademark, introduced 1904
The Carl Zeiss Jena trademark, introduced 1904. The Zeiss trademark became the subject of bitter dispute over the years and was the longest court case in the history of East Germany. It is this trademark that is shown on the leather case containing this months map measure.
Carl Zeiss branding only appears on the leather case for the measure. The measure itself, carries no manufacturer identifier, simply "DDR"- the country of origin
Carl Zeiss branding only appears on the leather case for the measure. The measure itself carries no manufacturer identifier, simply “DDR”- the East Germany state that existed 1949-1990

I have been unable to find anything in the scant available 1986 FIG Congress records online that might relate to this measure. I also contacted the modern day Zeiss and Freiberger companies to see if they had any surviving information in their company archives on this particular measure, its case and attendance at or involvement with the 1986 Congress however this seems to have been lost to the mists of time. It is not known today how many measures were manufactured and delivered to Carl Zeiss Jena or why.

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

Freiberger advert for Kurvimeter 78
Freiberger advert for Kurvimeter 78

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