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Fine Brass Pocket Sundial and Compass by Michael Butterfield Paris

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Fine Brass Pocket Sundial and Compass by Michael Butterfield Paris

A fine brass Anglo-French octagonal pocket sundial with compass by Michael Butterfield, circa 1700.

The sundial can be used anywhere between latitudes of 40° and 60° covering Southern Spain and Italy north to Scandinavia. The elaborately engraved base plate has various Roman chapter rings with subdivisions on which the folding hinged gnomon (a triangular flap) casts its shadow. It is signed by the maker in the following manner: Butterfield A Paris. On one side is a glazed recessed compass, with a blued steel hand, to position the instrument in such a way that the time can be read. The triangular gnomon is richly engraved and can be set for a particular latitude by sliding the gnomon up or down, the latitude being indicated by the beak of a figured engraved bird. The folding gnomon and cut corners enable the dial to be carried in the pocket.

The underside shows the latitudes of various European places, including London and Rome.

Its maker Michael Butterfield (b.1635, d.1724) was an English instrument maker who based himself in Paris for a time. These types of dials, often replicated by other makers, became known as Butterfield Dials. They were a fashionable and functional traveller’s accessory from the late 17th century onwards.

Interestingly, early watches did not keep time particularly well and a dial such as this were used to regularly set a watch. Anecdotally, sundials may also have been preferred to sounding timepieces whilst on the road – the chimes being thought to attract thieves.

Similar examples can be found in the British Maritime Museum, V&A and the British Museum.

Condition

Good. Wear consistent with age and use.

Dimensions

Height: 2.56 in. (6.5 cm)
Width: 2.29 in. (5.8 cm)
Depth: 0.32 in. (8 mm)

Literature

Tardy, Dictionnaire des horlogers français, Paris, 1971, p. 103
C. Cowham, A Dial in Your Poke, Cambridge, 2004, passim
H.Higton, Sundials, An Illustrated History of Portable Dials, London, 2001, passim

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