3D Collection – a Cube Sundial from the 18th Century

This cube-shaped sundial comes from Rudolf Wolf‘s collection. According to his inventory dating from 1873, this sundial was one which he purchased. Sundials were a focal point of Wolf’s collection and he seemed interested in collecting and comparing as many models from various eras as possible. This is what he has to say about this sundial:

Polyhedral clock in the form of a cube with brass gnomons

“It is similar to the sundials shown under no. 115 [on the left, the author] and differs from them only insofar as the compass is attached to the foot and the cube can be rotated somewhat by means of a joint.”

Wolf, Inventory 1873, pg. 57.

Both no. 115 pictured above and the 3D digitised sundial date from the second half of the 18th century.1 This sundial, which is now available as a 3D model, consists of a wooden cube, usually made of oak or the wood from a fruit tree. The cube is supported by a turned rod attached to a rectangular base plate, and can be tilted by means of a joint. The dials of a north, south, east and west as well as a horizontal sundial were printed on paper and coloured by hand, then glued onto the five sides of the wooden cube. Thus, one could tell the time from sunrise to sunset. The brass discs were used as shadow rods or gnomons. A compass is embedded into the base plate.

More so than for timekeeping, polyhedral sundials like these were mainly for entertainment purposes; which makes them descendants of the sundials made for the Kunstkammern2.3

Nuremberg compass maker David Beringer

The north sundial bears the inscription D. Beringer, referring to its maker, David Beringer (1756-1821). The makers of sundials were referred to as “compass makers”, and among these, Beringer was well-known. He was appointed master compass maker in Nuremberg in 1777. Nuremberg had been considered a centre of sundial manufacturing since the 15th century. Read more about this in the blog post on our ivory folding sundial.

Beringer often worked with his uncle Georg Paul Seyfried. Sundials made through their collaboration bear both signatures in addition to Beringer’s master mark, which is a lily. The sundials made by Beringer alone do not carry the master mark.4

Beringer died on 28 October 1821 due to apoplexy – the historical term for a stroke.

Obituaries, Allgemeines Intelligenz-Blatt der Stadt Nürnberg, Nr. CXXX, 05.11.1821, S. 1214.



3D Digitalisation

Object selection
Such wooden cube sundials by David Beringer are preserved in various museums. There are 30 known examples worldwide, some in better, others in worse condition. Our sundial is in very good condition, only the pendulum for adjusting the position is missing (cf. annotation 8). In other sundials, the pasted paper is torn or yellowed, or the compass or cover glass is missing. 3D digitisation thus enables science historians to access a well-preserved cube sundial by David Beringer from any location. Our 3D digitisation offers other museums that own cube sundials by David Beringer a useful manner of comparing them. For instance, it was not until we compared it with other clocks that we realised our sundial is missing its pendulum.

Photogrammetry and modelling
The texture of this sundial is matt, down to the brass gnomons, that hardly give off any reflection. This makes the sundial a good candidate for photogrammetry. The glass of the compass had to be modelled manually.

1. Compare for dating the object: Chandler, Bruce; Clare Vincent: Three Nürnberg Compassmacher: Hans Troschel the Elder, Hans Troschel the Younger, and David Beringer, in: Metropolitan Museum Journal, v. 2 (1969), pg. 211-216.
2. "Cabinets of curiosities": collections of rarities and notable objects, such as animal tusks, hand-made bowls or religious relics, which emerged in the sixteenth century.
3. Syndram, Dirk: Wissenschaftliche Instrumente und Sonnenuhren. Kunstgewerbesammlung der Stadt Bielefeld / Stiftung Huelsmann, München 1989, pg. 155.

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