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As a child I learned that what distinguishes humans from animals is our use of tools… This was wrong, of course – many species use tools, although we are in a smaller group that modifies objects to make tools rather than simply finding objects to use as tools. A crow may find a pebble to break open a snail, but you won’t find it napping flints! Beyond even the find v. make distinction, I contend that it is our ability to measure, and to make tools based on the measurement…s that we take, that is unique.
This may explain my abiding interest in measurement, and tools that facilitate measurement – and may further explain why I love this particular measuring instrument. First, a little history…
Most people today are only familiar with either the metric (SI) system or the imperial/American standard system, but as little as 150 years ago there were many competing/conflicting measurement systems in common use in Europe. In Germany, each city set the units to be used within its boundaries.
Meanwhile, post-revolutionary France took an English idea for a decimal system based on the length of the arc of a pendulum with a period of one second, and adopted it as their standard. Being French, they were convinced of its superiority, and commenced campaigning for its introduction everywhere. Germany was amongst the first to fall, mandating the use of the SI system in 1872 – this being perhaps the only occasion when the French beat Germany in modern history!
This wonderful boxwood folding rule is one meter long, and one side is denominated in centimeters… The other side uses the Reichsfuß (or foot) used in Baden. Each Reichsfuß comprises 10 zoll (a zoll is 1.181 inches). I estimate the date as between 1850 and 1875, coinciding with the rise and ultimate adoption of the metric system. It is made from thin boxwood strips with brass pivots and brass end caps. The lines and numbers are manually incised.