Late 19th century measuring rodI obtained this measuring rod in 2007 through a Dutch auction site. Despite being unsigned and undated there are quite a few features that makes this measuring rod of interest to me.
The rod is made of brass and two kinds of tropical hardwood; Merbau (Intsia Bijuga) and Ebony (Diospyros Spec.). Especially the latter wood type indicates that this was not an ordinary rod, but made to be sturdy and long lasting. Ebony is relatively expensive and was used for the joints, while the main body of the rod is made of merbau. In addition to that all ends are reinforced with brass and brass springs are used to keep the joints together (see figure 4). On top of that all divisions are laid in with brass as well (see figure 3). Another indication of its quality is that the joints are numbered, something normally done by instrument makers to keep matching joints or parts together (see figure 5 and figure 6).
The rod is three metres long, consists of three one metre sections (see figure 1) and is divided in centimetres (see figure 3). The figures have been stamped in every five centimetres and the scale continues on the brass surface of the joints, including the figures (see figure 7). The rod is only divided on one side, the other sides only bear the figure to indicate the joints. Although carefully made, the maker made one small mistake: the figures of one joint are different for both parts, while the joint seems to be original (figure 5).
The previous owner - who lives in our neighbouring village - got the rod from his father, who in turn had it from his father. During their lifetimes the rod was used for agricultural purposes. The grandfather had a farm where he cultivated Winter Aconite or Wolf's Bane (Eranthis Hyemalis) and Grecian Windflower (Anemone Blanda). The rod was used to set out the flowerbeds which were at 40-50 centimetres distance from each other.
As the rod has been used by generations in the Netherlands and close to the west coast (so far from the borders) there is a fair chance it is of Dutch origin. Based on the font of the figures and the use of ebony I estimate the rod to be of the late 19th century or even older.
Using and diffusion
Together with the chain and rope, measuring rods belong to the oldest ways to measure distances. Books on surveying of all ages discuss the use of these simple measuring devices. Here in the Netherlands measuring rods used to be called roede, which were - depending on the part of the Netherlands where they were used - between three and six. A section was measured using pegs which were driven into the ground at the ends of the rod. When applied to sloping terrain, the rod was held horizontal using a carpenter's level and aligned with the previous measurement using a plumb bop or sighting rod. Measuring rods for the highest accuracy had their ends tapered to a knife edge and completely covered in brass or steel to reduce wear. This rod however has square ends, that only are protected at the sides, not at the ends. These square ends were however not unusual, the Dutch trading firm Ahrend - of whom I have two steel tapes in my collection - only had calibrated measuring rods of 2 and 5 metres available, both with square ends.1
Notes: Based on two catalogues that were kindly made available to me by Otto van Poelje:
- Ahrend, Prijscourant No 31, N.V.WED.J. Ahrend & Zoon's Industrie- en Handelsvereeniging, (Amsterdam, 's Gravenhage, Hilversum, Parijs, 1922), p.134.
- Ahrend, Ahrend's Technische Prijscourant 44, (1957), p.84.
If you have any questions and/or remarks please let me know.
1953 Wild K2 Alidade 19th c. measuring rod 19th c. Lerebours chain 20th c. Chesterman chain 20th c. Tibaut steel tape 20th c. Ahrend steel tape 20th c. Ahrend steel tape 1980s DOSbouw clinometer