... and it is not even a weapon!
I bought this years ago, off a gentleman who had found it at a flea market in France. It's an octagonal measuring stick, 78.4cm long in total, inlaid with mother of pearl. It has a different kind of measure on each of its six outer faces.
Vietnamese measuring stick.
In addition, there is an imperial reign mark at the top:
"Made in the reign of Minh Mạng"
Minh Mạng was the second emperor of the Nguyễn dynasty of Vietnam, reigning from 1820 to 1841. He was the 4th son of the dynasty's founder, Gia Long. Minh Mạng was an intellectual, known for his opposition of European influences on one side, but also keenly interested in its useful innovations on the other. He was a micro manager, involved in the most minute affairs. This measuring stick probably has something to do with all of the above.
If we take the emperor's name as the first facet of the stick, and move right as his reign mark is written, we encounter the following measures:
官田尺 "Official land foot"
9 units. 42.2 cm total.
4.7 cm per unit.
大清尺 "Great Qing foot"
10 units, 33 cm total.
3.3 cm per unit.
官缝尺 "Official tailor’s foot"
8 units, 51.5 cm total.
6.4 cm per unit.
官木尺 "Official wood foot"
10 units, 43.4 cm total.
4.3 cm per unit.
英國尺 "English foot"
10 units, 32.2 cm total.
3.2 cm per unit.
富拞尺 "Abundant foot"
4 units, 40 cm total.
10 cm per unit.
The Great Qing and English feet are well-known, but notice how the inch differs from the then already fairly standardized 2.54 cm. The "Abundant foot" looks like it might be the European centimeter. Perhaps the characters 富拞 that do not make much sense in Chinese are an old Vietnamese way of writing Europe.
I am left to guessing what the land foot, tailor foot and wood foot are but they allude to different products, perhaps for tax purposes.
Besides the data the decor consists of flowers and tendrils in a typical Vietnamese style, as also found on Vietnamese Christian crosses and sword scabbards of the 19th century. With that, it presents a good benchmark for dating and attributing other items.
There is an uncanny resemblance to ancient Egyptian cubit rods, such as that of a Maya (treasurer) of Tutankhamun.
Cubit rod. (2022, December 21). From Wikipedia.
Also see the standard yard of King Henry VII (1495-1497) which has a similar form. Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed January 24, 2023.
Who would need such a stick? My guess is someone working as a custom official or some other tax or regulatoy role. The imperial reign mark betrays this person was working directly for a Vietnamese emperor who was known to keep a very tight leash on things.
I hope you find this object as interesting as I do. If you have any further info, don't hesitate to contact me. I would love to know more about the lesser known measures on the stick.
Not for sale.