One of our regular contributors has submitted a comment about mail order catalogues, even though he admits there is no Metric Views article to which it relates. We are happy to respond by reproducing part of one of several articles on this subject that have appeared over the years in UKMA News, the newsletter of the UK Metric Association.
This is part of an article that appeared in UKMA News in June 2010:
“Catalogues for the twenty-first century (and a few from the twentieth)
At the British Weights & Measures Association (BWMA) AGM in May 2006, a member asked: “that we should have a template for a letter to be sent easily to those who print metric-only catalogues”.
The minutes of the meeting do not record the outcome of this request. However, a recent survey* of a twenty-two catalogues illustrates the concern of that BWMA member, for it appears that Imperial measures have had their day in this business, known before the days of the internet as ‘mail-order’. The results were:
Metric only 11 catalogues
Metric with Imperial in brackets 7
Random choice of measures 1
Imperial with metric in brackets 0
Imperial only 3
Interestingly, all three ‘Imperial only’ catalogues, named “Overstocks to clear”, “Scotts of Stowe” and “The Original Gift Co”, are issued by companies operating from the same address: Cotswold House, 1 Crompton Road, Groundwell, Wilts, SN25 5AW.
Another company at that address issues a ‘metric with Imperial in brackets’ catalogue under the name “Solutions from Renwoods”.
* The survey, which was carried out by a member of UKMA included catalogues for household and/or garden items, issued between 2006 and 2010 by a range of companies from the very largest, for example Argos, IKEA and Tesco Direct, to a small company from Guernsey. All the catalogues offered an option of ordering by internet, and in addition by post and/or by telephone, and also offered home delivery.”
And here is the comment submitted to Metric Views on 29 October by Wild Bill:
“Note to moderator: the following doesn’t really fit as a comment to the parent article. but I can’t find anywhere sensible to put it! Maybe an excuse for a new blog article??
Basically, the BWMA’s facebook page has unexpectedly caused me some hilarity of late. They champion “Scotts of Stow” as a fine example of a company still working pretty much entirely in the Imperial world (as if it’s a good thing, naturally). And it’s all true – my mother-in-law left a Scotts catalogue lying around the house last time she visited, and I took a look at it.
But something struck me as being not quite right…. sure, there isn’t a metre or a kilogram to be seen (just as the BWMA were proud to point out). But all the same, the feet and inches measurements were all crazy random-looking amounts, stated to the quarter inch.
Where’s my pocket calculator? Take a random item – say 161 7829 Telescopic Window Washer. “Extends from 5 ft to 11½ ft”. Ah – so that’s from 1.5 m to 3.5 m then (plus or minus a few millimetres of rounding error).
And then the “Garden Groom” hedge trimmer (item 118 9232) with a 32¾ft cable! What? Don’t you mean “32ft 9in” there, chaps? Whatever, we might have understood it a bit better as having a 10 m cable, which is how every other garden centre or DIY shop would have promoted it.
And then there’s item 162 1898 – an “extra length washable runner for hallways and landings”. In other words, a carpet strip. Scotts flag this as “7 ft 10½in long”….. yes indeed, known as 2.4 m in the rest of the world (the difference in this case is only 0.3 mm). And it’s “2ft 11½in wide” – known as 90 cm in the rest of the world (1.7 mm error this time).
On another page is another carpet runner where the text reads “In response to many requests, we’ve made these runners even longer than normal. One is now just under 10ft long!”. Er – hang on. If you’re Imperialists, and you’d *made* an extra long runner, it would actually *be* 10ft, not “nearly 10ft long”. It’s really 9ft 10in in length which is……. yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s 3 m! Well, OK – it’s 3 mm shorter than 3 m but within the available ¼in tolerance it’s exact enough. They’d have had to claim that it was “9ft 10 and 1/8th inch” otherwise and that would be silly.
You just can’t make this stuff up! Scotts have bought in a load of metric-manufactured household goods and rebadged it all in measurements that everyone else in the retail trade abandoned years ago!
The biscuit is taken with item 166 6813 – a tabletop mini-oven with “an adjustable thermostat (150° – 450°F)”. They missed a trick on this one – it is claimed to consume 1500 W. Shouldn’t that be 2 horsepower or perhaps 5100 British thermal units per hour??
Disclaimer: this is all good fun, but the examples above have been cherry-picked a bit. That’s not to say that the whole catalogue isn’t plastered with more examples of perfectly good metric measures having been reworked into imperial equivalent by Scotts, but the Fahrenheit example above is a bit unique it must be said – other temperatures stated do seem to be in °C, and occasionally volumes of things are even stated in litres. Maybe they didn’t have a litre to cubic foot conversion button on their pocket calculator.”