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Science, Instrument, Sundial, Portable Cube, Polyhedral, Beringer, Antique, Nuremberg, c. 1780-1821

David Beringer (1756-1821)
Portable Cube Sundial
Nuremberg: c. 1780-1821
Wood, paper and brass
8 inches high, overall
2.625 x 2.625 x 2.625 inches, cube

Polyhedral portable cube sundial comprised of a wooden cube. Each of five sides of the cube (other than the bottom) has an applied hand-colored engraving and a shaped brass gnomon.  One side has a brass plumb bob attached by a string. The cube is supported on a pivoting joint atop a turned wood central standard, on a rectangular beveled base ending in four small disc feet. The base has  an applied engraved paper panel with floral design and an inset compass to orient the sundial with regard to the North.

The top face of the cube has an engraved paper dial printed with central garland and an hour scale in Roman numerals clockwise from IIII to XII and I to VIII. Each side, North, South, East, and West has a different hour scale in Roman numerals, and different graphic designs, including flowers and people. The North and South faces are labeled Nord and Sud, each with hour scales numbered in Roman numerals along with a central floral garland decoration. The North side is also labeled “D. Beringer.” The West dial displays a diagonal hour scale flanked by cherubs with a garland. The East dial has a similar design as the West, with a plumb bob hanging from a string.  Beringer portable cube sundials like this one are also in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

Product description continues below.


A sundial is a device that tells the time of day from a shadow cast by sunlight.  This varies during the day by the apparent position of the sun in the sky. In basic form, a sundial consists of a flat calibrated dial plate and a raised gnomon that casts a shadow onto the dial. As the sun “moves” in the sky during the day, the shadow aligns with different hour-lines, which are marked on the dial to indicate the time. There are many variations of types of sundials including single plane sundials that are oriented either vertically or horizontally, as well as other shapes and designs. A polyhedral sundial has multiple dials — one on each side other than the bottom. For any side exposed to the sun as it “moves” during the day, the time shown by the shadow cast by the gnomon  is accurate. Other sides that are in the shadows during certain times of the the day (and of course at night) are periodically then not in use inasmuch as without sunlight they do not show the time at all.

Polyhedral dials are associated with Renaissance astronomy in the 16th and 17th centuries. They served as ingenious demonstration pieces showing the skill and knowledge of mathematicians and instrument makers who designed them. They were status objects for their owners to show their interest and appreciation of different aspects of math and science.  They have been made with varying numbers of faces and shapes, ranging from regular polyhedral with all equal faces, to highly irregular shapes. Some had plumb bobs or inset compasses for orientation.

David Beringer was an instrument maker in Nuremburg, best known for producing polyhedral sundials, which became popular in South Germany in the latter half of the 18th century. According to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, Beringer was likely the first person to produce a polyhedral dial with a cube design. According to the Liverpool Museums, the Berringer cube polyhedral dial in their collection is used as follows:

To use this dial first … adjust it for the latitude where it is being used. A small plumb-line … is suspended from a pin near the top. The whole dial [is] tilted until the plumb line crossing the curved scale show[s] the correct latitude. When it is correctly set the straight edges of the gnomons are parallel to the Earth’s axis. Next the dial is aligned using the compass in the base. The faces don’t show the same hours. Nord (north) shows the hours of 4am-8am on the right and 4pm-8pm on the left. West only shows a shadow from 1pm-8pm. South shows the hour from 6am (on the left) until 6pm (on the right). The East face shows the hours 4am-11pm.

Condition:  Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, handling, and wear.  Paper tones vary somewhat on different sides, with the greatest wear and darkening on the top of the dial and on base.


“Cubic Sundial.” National Museums Liverpool. (9 April 2018).

“Polyhedral Dial.” Matrix: Maths and Technology Revealed in Exhibition. (4 April 2018).

“Polyhedral Dial.” Royal Museums Greenwich. (4 April 2018).

“Portable cube sundial.” Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2018. (4 April 2018).

Additional information


19th Century