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Measuring stick

Measuring stick

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (Probably, based on similarities with similar sticks made in southern Germany, made)

  • Date:

    1800-1850 (made)

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Wooden measuring stick rectangular in cross section tapering from top to bottom, with a turned, baluster shaped handle. Along its length, the four rounded edges are inset with veneer pieces, each 6-7mm in length, in repeating patterns of dark, light, medium light, light, dark. With inset white strips, probably calibration marks.

On side A, measuring from the bottom the first interval is 40.3cm, the second 81.8cm, the third 164.35, the fourth 164.31, the fifth 163.85cm.

On side C, measuring from the bottom the first interval is 54.04mm, the second 108.4mm, the third 218.38mm, the fourth 218.24mm

Face C: Missing veneer plaques at lower end.

Place of Origin

Germany (Probably, based on similarities with similar sticks made in southern Germany, made)


1800-1850 (made)


Length: 77.4 cm

Object history note

Given by Dr W. L. Hildburgh "acquired by the donor at Nuremberg".

Historical context note

The ell was used over many centuries by tailors as a standard measure for cloth. Across Europe the ell varied in length from place to place and from time to time.

In England the ell is mentioned in a legal document of 1196 and in Magna Carta. Tailors’ ell sticks are mentioned in documents from the early 1500s and in English inventories from 1578. Elizabeth I confirmed the English ell at 45 inches, and an official measuring stick, calibrated with this length, still exists (Science Museum, London). The ell was abolished by statute in 1824 (Act 5 GIV c74).

The ell was used in German speaking countries and in France (called there an aune). A German inventory of the late 1600s mentions eight wooden ells among a tailor’s possessions. An ell being used to measure cloth appears an illustration in a French publication of 1771.

This stick closely resembles tailors’ ell rules illustrated in Eichen, Wiegen, Messen um den Freiburger Münstermarkt / mit Beiträgen von Mona Djabbarpour ... [et al], Catalogue of an exhibition held at Augustinermuseum Freiburg, 31 Jan. - 27 Apr. 2003. (NAL: 603.AD.0506), and figures 298 and 299 in Pinto, Edward. Treen and other bygones. An encyclopaedia and social history. London, G Bell and Sons, 1969, Pinto also makes the point that such rulers were made in England, but survivals of these “are extremely rare, possibly because they were unornamented”.

Descriptive line

A wooden measuring stick, slightly tapered, with inlaid checkerwork. South German, ca. 1800-1850.


Woodwork; Tools & Equipment


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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