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Antique Butterfield Universal Equinoctial Sundial, Circa 1720


Offered for sale is an antique brass sundial made and signed by Butterfield, circa 1700, measuring in hexagon shape 2 5/8" x 3 1/8" with the principal European cities on the reverse. #114

An original 40°- 60° North dial signed "Butterfield A Paris", made by Michael Butterfield, one of the world's leading makers of scientific instruments in the 17th and early 18th centuries, active in Paris from 1675 until 1724. The octagonal dial plate's four hour scales, declination lines and numerals are engraved and enameled in black. The adjustable bird gnomon is finely engraved with acanthus leaves and markers for 40 to 60 degree latitudes, the bird's beak acting as a pointer. The center the panel above the compass is decorated with crossed quiver of arrows and torch. The reverse is engraved with a table of latitudes with the names of twenty four cities, predominantly French, but also Rome, Madrit (sic), Milan and Turin. The compass bowl is engraved "Liege, Calais, Lisle, Bruxelles, Hambourg, Londres". The compass bears the hallmark Fleur de Lys. Superb craftsmanship and elegant details belie its originality. While in perfect condition, the dial has not been cleaned or polished and maintains its original patina.

Michael Butterfield immigrated to Paris from England in the 17th century and became renowned for his instruments of exceptional quality. Original instruments signed by Butterfield are housed in the best Museum collections in the world.

Shipping via the USPS is FREE Insurance available. We ship internationally.

Date: late 1600s to early 1700s

Condition: Excellent. The gnomon is original and in perfect condition. The dial's blown glass cover is original, untouched. The needle moves freely. No case

Butterfield sundial: A form of adjustable sundial invented by Michael Butterfield, an English instrument maker who is known to have worked in Paris between 1678 and 1680. The Butterfield sundial is a small, portable horizontal sundial with a baseplate, usually octagonal but sometimes oval, of brass or silver, with engraved hour lines and a small inset compass. Four or more concentric sets of hour lines are employed, each for a definite latitude, and the folding gnomon has a pivoted style edge, which slides over the main gnomon, so that the angle of inclination of the edge can be varied. The fixed portion of the gnomon carries a scale of latitudes; the pivoted portion is engraved with a bird, the tip of whose bill indicates the inclination on the latitude scale.

Pocket sundial invented by Michael Butterfield (1670-1724), an English instrument maker known to have worked in Paris between 1678 and 1680, with an octagonal base and adjustable bird gnomon. "Both pocket and fixed sundials were widely used from the 15th until the mid- 19th centuries, after which accurate pocket watches and the introduction of standard time made them obsolete.

A pocket sundial by Michael Butterfield (Paris, 17th century): Typically it consists of an octagonal silver horizontal dial with a gnomon of adjustable angle, often with a bird's head pointer, with several rings of hour lines for cities of different latitudes. A magnetic compass is fitted in the same case.

Provenance: Christie's Auction, So. Kensington June, 1992

Lit: Early Scientific Instruments by R. H. Nuttall, PhD, Pub: Charles Frank Limited, Glasgow; Encyclopedia of Antique Scientific Instruments by John Fitz Maurice Mills, Aurum Press, 1983

HISTORY: For thousands of years humans have recognized the passage of time, whether through the cycle of night and day or by the passing of the seasons. Our current method of timekeeping, which uses a 60-second minute, a 60-minute hour and a day divided into two 12 hour periods, originated over 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt (Barnett 1998: 102).

The Ancient Egyptians built great obelisks to track the sun, creating the first sundials. In 600 BC, philosopher and astronomer Anaximander is said to have introduced the sundial to Greece and from there it grew in popularity and was the most trusted timekeeping device for centuries (Ostler 2003). Sundials still remained in use even with the invention of mechanical clocks, as early clocks were notoriously inaccurate and had to be regularly calibrated using a sundial. Around 1600, English mathematician William Oughtred invented the ring dial, a small portable sundial that quickly came into common use throughout Europe (Chandler and Vincent 1967: 156).

It consists of a brass ring which, when suspended vertically and oriented towards the sun, can be used to determine the time of day (Eden and Lloyd 1900: 188) (Figure 2). The interior surface of the ring has numbers corresponding to the hours of the day and the exterior has letters corresponding to the months of the year. A narrow band of brass slides along a groove set in the exterior surface of the ring. The movable band has a hole in it, which can be aligned with the letters, or months, on the exterior of the ring. The hole in the band allows sunlight to pass through and strike the numbers on the interior surface indicating the time of day (Stephens 1851: 52).

Provenance: A private collection. This is an authentic antique sundial. This is an original piece! We guarantee the authenticity of this item.

Shipping to the Continental United States and worldwide. Please look at the picture and read the description, which form a part of the condition description. What you see and what you read is what you are buying

International purchasers should contact sellers at: CAPTAINMADISON@ATT.NET for a shipping and insurance quote to your address and country. International purchasers should appreciate that the Customs Dept. of your country may assess duties, taxes and/or other charges on your purchase as it enters your country, which expenses are not part of the purchase price for this item and remains the sole expense of the purchaser.

This product would make a wonderful addition to any scientific instrument or sundial collection when displayed in a prominent place, being a grand collectible item that would adorn any serious collector's prized scientific instrument and sundial accumulations, while showing a discriminating dedication for fine sundials and other scientific instrument items as well as a devotion to acquiring fine collectibles.

Sellers exclusively use the USPS as its' shipper (insurance available).

Please email sellers to: CAPTAINMADISON@ATT.NET for purchasing, payment, shipping arrangements, requests for more photos, as well as any other inquiries.

Payments may be made by check (must clear), bank checks, postal or bank money orders, Western Union money transfers, pre-payment arrangements, good old U.S. Dollars (green currency), and/or other secure money transfers or payments.

Please regularly visit our other web sites for more sundials and scientific instruments and related products as we shall regularly be adding more products from time to time:

Horizontal Sundial:

Horizontal Sundial: the common or compass/sundial with a horizontal dial plate and polar-pointing gnomon.

Latitude: is the angular position of a place north or south of the equator. Positive values in the Northern hemisphere, negative in the Southern hemisphere.

Style Height / Style Angle (SH): of a polar style is the angle that the style makes with the sub-style line.

Sub-Style (line): the line lying in the dial plane which is perpendicularly below (or behind for a vertical dial) the style.

Hour Line: the line on a dial plate indicating the shadow position at a particular time (includes fractional as well as whole hours).

Hour Angle (h, HA): the angle corresponding to the sun's position around its daily (apparent) orbit. Measured westward from local noon, it increases at a rate of 15° per hour. Thus 3 pm (Local Apparent Time) is 45° and 9 am is -45°.

Hour Line Angle (X, HLA): the angle that an hour line on a dial plate makes with the noon line. For a horizontal dial, the angle increases clockwise.

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  • Model: Butterfield Univ.Equi Sundial

This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 16 October, 2014.

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