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Science, Instrument, Sundial, Polyhedral, Wood with Metal Gnomons, Antique, 19th Century

Polyhedral Dial
American or English: Late 19th Century
11.5 inches high

Sundial in the form of a thirteen-faced polyhedron, each side with engraved rays to indicate the movement of shadows and Roman numerals to indicate the hours. Eleven sides are inset with a shaped metal gnomon. The sundial is raised on a stop-fluted tapering rectangular stand with molded and chamfered base. This handmade example was probably produced as an antiquarian piece in the late 19th century when there was a revival of interest in Renaissance astronomy and the history of navigation and exploration.

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.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall handling and wear.  Some light bending and oxidation to gnomons. Remnants of old identification label on bottom.


“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