Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #240 - Another Mystery Object

I'm still clearing out my mother's house, and amongst my dad's old junk I found a strange thing. Anyone seen one of these before, or know what it is? - I have no idea, by the way, so this is not a prize quiz!

It is a cylindrical rod of dense, dark wood - not ebony, I would say. It's very hard. It is exactly 1 foot in length - hmmm - it also has the crown emblem and V-R stamped into the end, so, whatever it is, it is Victorian and it was government property.

My first thought was that it might be a police truncheon or night stick of some sort, but it's too puny, and examples I've seen of such things are usually lead-filled and fitted with a wrist-strap. Perhaps then, I thought, it is some sort of official measuring stick used by excise men or someone with a governmental role. It does look a bit like a miniature ECW general's baton of office, but that's by the way.

If my dad collected it as an artefact of interest then it might well be connected with ships, or stevedoring - as a young man he worked at Liverpool Docks and was always fascinated by sailing ships and the maritime traditions of the old port.

The reason I thought of a measuring stick was because I have seen examples of antique yard-sticks used for measuring the depth of beer or spirits in a barrel, and they were the same sort of idea.

Any clues? Obviously it isn't important, but it would be nice to understand what it is.


  1. I would suggest the wood is Lignum Vitae, it should sink in water. Otherwise no idea.

  2. Could it be... the Black Rod? The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is a Parliamentary official in the UK, I believe. This artifact could conceivably be a symbol of office. Of course, it might simply be a black wooden stick.

  3. Would it be a parade truncheon,if such ever existed?

  4. Way, way back when I was a tea boy in my very first job, the Chief Clerk (who was very "old school") used something very similar for drawing the lines in the leather bound ledger books which he wrote up daily in copperplate and maintained with a jealous devotion. I once asked him about his stick and he said it was an accountants ruler which had been handed down to him with the ledgers from the previous Chief Clerk.

    True story even if it sounds like a bit of Victorian twadle.

  5. Gentlemen - thanks for your suggestions - appreciated.

    John - it may well be lignum vitae. Heavy woods are always interesting - I was always intrigued by Greenheart - apart from being very hard and tough, it also has a specific gravity of 1.0, which is the reason why the manufacture of old dock gates and canal lock gates was so expensive!

    Archduke - yer actual Black Rod is probably in use, and may be a bit more ornate than this specimen. Symbol of office is on a theme which was followed in a couple of emails I received.

    Alan - parade truncheon - this is around that same theme.

    Brian - interesting - I've seen a Victorian accountant's ruler in a museum once, and that one was a wooden rule with slim roller built into it, to facilitate quick movement of the ruler while keeping it parallel, but a simple dowel could do a similar job, I guess. Such a device harks back to the days when accountants (a) still worked with ledger books (b) were still able to add up!

    One of my email responses came from a fine chap named Anonymous - he's actually very famous, as he has written and composed some of the great works over the years. On this occasion, Old Anon reckons that the original version of "passing the baton" was literally that - in certain situations - sentry duty, maybe an official or policemen who was currently in temporary charge or taking his turn of duty - an official wooden baton would be passed to each man taking his turn. A general's or marshal's baton is a grandiose development of the same idea - the carrier is The Man.

    All interesting - thanks.

  6. More email - similar theme - Martin P suggests that it might be an official ruler carried by customs officials, for checking through a ship's manifest. There is also an implied threat, that if the lists don't tally, some serious rapping of knuckles might take place.

  7. If it is exactly one foot, then a ruler it likely is, but what would a customs officer want to measure with it, I wonder? A small cloth tape measure carried in the pocket might be more useful, but possible something to carry in the hand, with as you say the faint threat of force about it, was intended more as a badge of office, like a swagger stick?

  8. I haven't a clue, but its very intriguing whatever it is?

  9. This has been bothering me all week and while sitting here painting some 2nd Empire Grenadiers the possible answer has drifted up from who knows what memory, many, many years ago. I think that it is a clerks or book keepers ruler.

    I don't know if I am the only one here who learned to write with a steel nib and inkpot, I fear I may be.  But for those who used new fangled biros, if you underline with a flat ruler and nib some ink inevitably flows onto the ruler and when you withdraw it, it smudges downwards ruining the page.

    The answer is a raised round ruler where no part of the nib  comes into contact with the wood. You then simply role it down the page leaving a clean line.

    As for the VR I do not think it signifies anything more than it was civil service issue. When I had holiday jobs at the tax office in the 60's anything that could be moved was stamped with HMSO.

    I do not know whether I am pleased or depressed at having this information. I fear I am becoming something of a forgotten relic myself.


    1. John - I believe you are correct. A ruler is not the most exciting thing it could be, but we should honour it for what it is. The smudging thing is why modern rulers have one side bevelled, I think. You have reminded me that I have a rather fine fountain pen stored away somewhere in my desk drawer, and I also have some cartridges for it.

      I shall dig it out and have a practice with it - with luck, it may encourage me to take enough trouble over my scribbling to ensure that I can read what they say the following day.

      Waterman, I think, with a slightly over-wide nib. Black cartridges.


      Excited now.

  10. Did you ever get to the bottom of this? I've just found one at my mum's house.

    1. Hi Bridget - yes, it seems it is a traditional book-keeper's ruler, used as a guide in tables of figures, and it's round because that makes it easier to draw a line (or cross a figure out) with a nib-and-ink pen without getting ink around the place. Mine has the V^R logo because it was from the Victorian civil service - probably the customs service, since my father acquired it while he was working at Liverpool docks. It's made of lignum vitae, so would also be good for hitting someone on the head. I gave mine to one of my grandsons, who has no idea what a book-keeper might have been, but enjoys hitting his brother on the head.