Stock Number: 8130


For sale, antique French "Butterfield" type dial. The unsigned brass dial shows an effaced fleur-de-lys replaced by a bold Phyrgian bonnet, a symbol of the French Revolution, at a time when royal symbols were dangerous!


2-1/2 x 3 inches (6 x 8 cm)


18th century

Country of manufacture


Categories: Portable Sundials, Timekeeping


A REVOLUTIONARY SUNDIAL, French, 18th century, unsigned, of the “Butterfield” type. The eight-sided brass dial measures 2-1/2″ x 3″ (6 x 8 cm), with folding gnomon adjustable from 40° to 60° North latitude against bird-form support, and inset glazed compass. The upper surface is engraved with four chapter rings for different latitudes, and most distinctive cross-hatched decoration. The underside has a gazetteer of 17 cities and their latitudes, the spring plate also with cross-hatching. The gnomon carries unusual leafy vine decoration. Condition is fine noting the tiny interior tip of the gnomon is broken off, and the glass and needle are probably replacements. In all respects the decoration is special — this dial was not made by any of the standard makers of the period: Butterfield, Bion, Macquart, Chapotot, etc. But it is the inset compass that carries the most remarkable history. It is divided with an eight point rose labeled with directions, and a magnetic variation scale from 30° E to 30° W. The North point shows traces of an effaced fleur-de-lys (traditionally the symbol of the monarchy in France), re-engraved with a bold Phrygian bonnet (the symbol of liberty adopted during the Revolution, based on the hat worn by the Phrygians of antiquity, in Asia Minor). This directional was obviously re-engraved in the last decade of the 18th century, when it became very unhealthy to be caught carrying a royal fleur-de-lys!

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David and Yola Coffeen both have enjoyed academic careers, as planetary astronomer and as linguist/educator. But since 1982 (yes, 1982!) they have been full-time dealers in early scientific and medical instruments, under the name Tesseract. Selling primarily by catalogue (over 100 issued so far) they also have a web presence at www.etesseract.com, and can be contacted at [email protected].

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