Kevin Blackston
PO Box 217
Floresville TX 78114-0217
United States of America

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Roto-Gage at Disney World

Earlier this month, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. It’s something that had been on our “bucket list” for several years, and it seemed as good a time as any to go.

Even though this is not peak season for Disney World, the place was packed. Wait times for some attractions were as much as 90 minutes, but the Hall of Presidents—a building with displays featuring presidential memorabilia and a brief show about United States Presidents—was, rather sadly, less than crowded. Suprisingly enough, one of the items on display had to do with stamp collecting.

Descriptive placard and Roto-Gage tool that belonged to Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Roto-Gage

The card describing the “stamp collector’s Roto-Gauge,” which is on loan from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, states the following:

Franklin D. Roosevelt began collecting stamps at age nine and continued the hobby the rest of his life. Even while President, he found time to expand his prized collection, inspiring new philatelists across the nation.

FDR was probably one of the best known stamp collectors in the world at large, but I had never heard of this tool before. The Roto-Gage (as the item was marketed) features not just a perforation gauge and small ruler, but a built-in magnifying glass and watermark tray. It was apparently intended to be something of a Swiss Army knife of stamp collecting, or as a piece of marketing material described it, “A compact and handy instrument that takes all the labor out of stamp collecting…the one thing needed to make this fascinating hobby a perfect relaxation.”

I have to wonder about the utility of having all of these tools combined into one unit; it seems to me it might be a bit unwieldy. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting piece of philatelic history, and definitely not the sort of thing I expected to see at Disney World.

Have you ever seen the Roto-Gage before? Ever used one? What do you think of the idea of combining multiple tools into one product like this?

Published 2013-02-24 Last updated 2018-06-20


Bradley Harris (2021-01-19 09:21):

Thanks for posting this article!

While my main collecting interest is Canada revenues, specifically Canada bill stamps, I also collect perforation gauges. Don't know why: I'm not much interested in perforation varieties! I own two examples of the Roto-Gage.

Practically speaking, it's not especially praiseworthy. I'd give it a C-minus on accuracy. For all its claims to convenience, it's quite cumbersome and inconvenient for the very reason that allegedly creates its virtue: Everything's attached. I don't want to pour watermark fluid on my perf gauge. The Roto-Gage was a fancy solution for a non-problem.

Historically, though, it's a delight. A look back to that mid-20th century era of gadgetry, when every perceived problem, we thought, could easily be over come by "inventing something." Better living through engineering.

Some claim the Roto-Gage is frightfully rare. There are sightings on eBay offered at $250, even $500. Nonsense! Those typically don't sell. I've bought mine on eBay, very fine condition, both in excellent, clean boxes, one with complete, near mint instructions, under $60. And I've seen as many as two at a time on eBay.

Another item to watch for in this same spirit: the "Tel-I-Tong"...another inventive early-to-mid 20th century item consisting of a pair of stamp tongs from whose head unfolds a set of flip-out tabs including a ruler, perforation gauges, even a magnifying glass. Gosh, guys, pull this one out of your plastic pocket protector and watch the girls at the stamp club go googly!

For the record, my (sympathetic but non-philatelic) beloved Elizabeth rated the Tel-I-Tong "Cute" but the Roto-Gage "Wow!"

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