Wooden rulers offer a measure of nostalgia
I didn’t give the wooden rulers a first look as I breezed along the tables of not-much-worth-considering items at the auction house. Who needs a ruler these days, I’m sure I huffed to myself.
That was my impression during my first walkthrough. I always comb the tables to see what catches my eye; sometimes, nothing does. But when I go back for a second round and actually take my time and look, once-hidden objects suddenly appear.
That was the case with a box of rulers, which interestingly were in pretty good shape figuring they were made to be used. Picking one up from the box of about a dozen, I noticed the text and the graphics on it. Then I noticed others that were just as amazing and so telling of their time and purpose.
They were much more than functional items given out decades ago to customers for free. They were advertising products and business services, and some even had useful information engraved in their surfaces. A shoe-store ruler told you how to measure your feet for shoes, and then bring the measurements to the store for a perfect fit.
A baking company noted that you got more energy from a loaf of bread than from either 11 pounds of spinach, 2 pounds of chicken, 5 oysters and a host of other meats, fruits and vegetables. Another bore Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. And another listed the names of U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts from the 1960s, as well as information about space (perhaps dating it).
The first one that grabbed my attention advertised Pillsbury Best Flour – a common product for bakers even now. None of the rulers were dated, but their appearances screamed vintage. I suspect that they all were distributed around the same time as the astronaut ruler.
Most were wood, but a few were metal, along with some small thin ones. Three unfolded into sideways “W” and “Z” shapes. And some were printed on both sides.
Since very few people use rulers these days, they are mostly for show and nostalgia. One collectors site noted that rulers were first made to standardize measurements based on the parts of the body, such as hands and feet. And that by the 17th century, the markings on rulers were drawn in inches, followed by smaller units.
Because of the engravings for companies that may no longer exist, the rulers can be used as they are or repurposed for decorating projects.
Here is a sampling of the rulers at auction: