Take a look at all the wonderful vintage stuff I got at another recent estate sale! There was this unassuming little house on a side street with barely enough room to get down between all the parked cars on either side. I walked up to the house and the people running the estate sale were really nice and said some of my favorite words … half price! So I was already happy but then I went into the tiny house and there were so many wonderful treasures!
One of the things that you see in the picture, in the lower right, is an old measuring tape by Stanley. This is one out of the 1930s. It has great Art Deco designs and a name to match “Defiance”… how perfect. I don’t know why but I am drawn to measuring tapes. Not only are they functional but I love the mechanics of them. So of course, I had to find out what I could about them. Come on down this road with me.
According to National Day Calendar, tape measures can be traced back to early Roman times when a marked leather strap was used to measure things. Prior to that, a bulky chain or rope suspended between two objects was used.
From there, there isn’t much of a change. One man, James Chesterman who worked for a Sheffield steel factory in England used the flat wire he had created for crinoline skirts and turned it into a tape measure (Collectors Weekly). He started to sell his tape measure to engineers and surveyors, as Collectors Weekly tells us.
Collectors Weekly lists the first person to patent what we think of as a spring tape measure as Alvin J. Fellows of New Haven, Connecticut. Very enterprising of Mr. Fellows.
But actually Mr. Fellows didn’t really invent the device, he was improving on a design. Connecticut History website says he figured out a new way to attach the spring clip so the tape would stay out until you released it. Either way, it definitely made my life easier!
It was expensive, though. So people still kept buying those folding wooden rulers as they were more affordable.
In 1871 another company, Justus Roe & Sons out of Long Island began making inexpensive steel tape measures. Collectors Weekly says that these tape measures had studs along lengths of wire and were patented as “Roe’s Electric Reel” although they weren’t electric. In 1895 Roe began putting out etched steel-ribbon tape measures. By the 1960s Justus Roe was making tape measures for lots of companies, Stanley being one of them.
What makes spring loaded tape measures so great is you can put it in your pocket or purse and have a device that can measure up to 6′ or more! It can bend, too which is helpful. Some are made from cloth or fiberglass which is good for measuring while sewing so you don’t transfer any grease or dirt to the cloth.
Depending on the “type” of measuring tape you are using, you may have specialty marks on the ruler. According to Collectors Weekly, “black truss” marks are on rulers used for roofing. Others have marks every 16 inches which is a standard in the building industry for space between studs in a house.
Two newspaper publishers in Coshocon, Ohio came up with the idea of using their printing presses to print advertisements on anything they could get their hands on, including measuring tapes (Collectors Weekly).
Measuring tape covers have been made out of lots of things like celluloid and Bakelite (highly collectible) and Catalin which are both plastics that came out in the 1920s. These were usually tapes used for sewing. Others had precious metals or mother of pearl. They come in many shapes and sizes, too!
I hope you have learned as much as me today about measuring tapes and I hope you like them as much as I do. For more vintage treasures, visit the Vintage Eve’s shop and look around. The items from the estate sale will be hitting the shelves over the next week!
I’ll be partying at Adirondack Girl @ Heart this week!