Patent Model for Combined Mechanical Pencil and Length Measure Invented by Joseph A. Fresco

Joseph André Fresco of Angers, France, applied for a patent on a combination pencil and line-measurer on June 6, 1879. The model he submitted with his application was found in the Smithsonian collections in 1958. It consists of a rectangular brass tube with a round dial at one end and a pencil holder at the other. A gear on the pencil holder causes it to extend and retract. The pencil holder is marked: J FRANK. The dial has a magnetic compass encased in glass on one side, but the needle does not point toward North and appears not to be magnetized.
The other side of the dial has two intersecting circles marked in pencil, one divided to single units and numbered by fives from 0 to 20 and one divided to single units and numbered by ones from 0 to 10. Each circle has a wire for counting. A gear protrudes from the top of the dial case. The user was to run the gear along a map or scaled drawing. The counters would then measure up to 200 km on the drawing. The gear and counters do function on this instrument, both forwards and backwards, but probably not in a uniform manner.
A paper tag is marked: [2–225.] (/) No. 222,687 1879. (/) J. A. Fresco (/) Combined Penc (/) –il and Line Meas (/) –ures (/) Patented Dec. 16 (/) Rotary (/) measure (/) 1879. The patent drawing is pasted to the back of the tag. A second tag is marked: 79 Joseph A. Fresco (/) Stadio Curvimeter (/) Received June 3 (/) Issue.
According to the 1861 English census, Fresco was born in April 1854 in St. Giles, London. He worked in Angers, France, as a mechanical dentist. In 1879 he communicated with inventor William Robert Lake of London, who designed a similar device entitled "An Improved Instrument or Apparatus for the Linear Measurements of Drawings or Plans."
References: Joseph A. Fresco, "Improvement in Combined Pencil and Line Measurer" (U.S. Patent 222,687 issued December 16, 1879); The Commissioners of Patents' Journal, no. 2637 (April 11, 1879): 896.
Currently not on view
Object Name
rule with mechanical pencil
measuring device
date made
patent date
Fresco, Joseph A.
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
brass (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 1.1 cm x 10.6 cm x 2.3 cm; 7/16 in x 4 3/16 in x 29/32 in
place made
France: Pays de la Loire, Angers
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Scale Rules
Measuring & Mapping
Patent Models
Science & Mathematics
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Scale Rules
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Additional Media

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