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Pocket Sundial and Compass

Not on view

Pocket Sundial and Compass

Artist: Butterfield a Paris (active Paris, France)

Date: 1700-1710
Medium: Silver, brass, steel
22.2 x 60.3 x 52.4 mm
Signed: Dial-Butterfield, Paris
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Thomas R. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 256
Label Text
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French and German makers produced pocket sundials for travelers. Engravings on the backs of the dials indicate the latitudes of the European towns and cities most frequently visited. Each sundial had a compass for orientation.

Text Entries

French and German makers produced pocket sundials in quantity during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Intended for travelers, these sundials displayed in engraving on the reverse the latitudes of important locations in Europe. Each had a compass to orient the dial. French dials have a flat plate engraved with hour scales corresponding to different latitudes. The gnomon, a wedge-shaped plate, casts its shadow on the hours and , for traveling purposes, folds for storage.

This pocket sundial is engraved with four alternating Arabic and Roman chapter rings labeled for latitudes of 52, 49, 46, and 43 degrees, spanning the area of France. The enclosing signature and circular glazed compass are labeled with cardinal and intermediate points. The adjustable folding gnomon is engraved with leafy scrolls and a 40- to 60-degree scale indicated by the beak of a bird forming the support. The reverse is engraved with a gazetteer listing the latitudes of a representative set of French and other European cities. The sundial has its original octagonal case fitted with black fishskin and a hinged lid.

The maker of this pocket sundial, Butterfield, was an Englishmen who settled in Paris in 1720. The royal engineer for mathematical instruments, Butterfield specialized in astronomical instruments that measured the position of the stars.