Stock Number: 7144


For sale, antique 17th century Italian fruitwood diptych dial. Each surface bears a dial or decoration on this unusual fruitwood instrument with the latitude of Rome.


1/2 x 3-1/2 x 7/8 inches (6.6 x 8.8 x 2.2 cm)


c. 17th century

Country of manufacture


Categories: Timekeeping, Portable Sundials


UNUSUAL FRUITWOOD DIPTYCH DIAL, Italian, c. 17th century. Measuring 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ x 7/8″ (6.6 x 8.8 x 2.2 cm) closed, the dial is handshaped of lovely fruitwood with fittings of brass and horn, and inset glazed compass with shaped needle and paper marked with magnetic declination. The angle of the lid is adjustable in latitude against a calibrated and notched hinged brass arm engaged by brass slider above. The wood and horn have decorative straight and crenelated outlining, circles, star punches, and rose carvings. Numerals are punched, and the brass has hand cut wiggle-work patterns. Surface Ia has a polar dial divided every half hour for twice twelve hours, with brass hub to hold a vertical pin gnomon which would stow in a lidded compartment in the base. This dial is completed by a Latin motto “Si Solo deficit nemo me respicit,” (If the sun withdraws, no one will pay attention to me). Ib has a string gnomon vertical dial divided 6 am to 6 pm, with black lines and red numerals, and marked for the latitude “GR. 42,” plus a vertical pin gnomon dial for Italian hours (13 – 23) and stamped with Zodiacal signs. IIa bears again the latitude mark, with a horizontal pin gnomon dial again for Italian hours (10 – 23). IIb is inked with a large table in manuscript, including approximately 20 Italian cities and their latitudes.

Workmanship is somewhat primitive and the condition is rather rough, with insect losses to the horn fittings, caus-ing hinge failure, and water losses to the manuscript table on the base. Nevertheless it is a most interesting diptych dial, rare as an Italian example, doubly rare in fruitwood, and unusual for its features especially the slide clamp for latitude setting. We find very few recorded Italian diptych dials, noting in particular the three in the Harvard collection recorded by Lloyd (compared with the 46 German and 32 French examples). The latitude (42°) is that of Rome.

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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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