Object Record

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Catalog Number 58.31
Object Name Sundial
Title Chinese Tablet Sundial
Artist Unknown
Date ca. 1805
Description Two blocks of wood, hinged to be closed for carrying. A compass is set in the lower block. Both blocks are scaled to the gnomon which is a thread extending diagonally between them. The cover block has on its exterior surface a rotatable wooden disc with pointer and scale. Marked with tables and scales in Chinese script. Down the sides of the dial are 13 holes for setting the angle of the lunar dial. (Robert P. Multhauf, "Catalogue of Instruments and Models," 1961).
Label This object, which APS curators described at the time of its donation as "a compass of very curious construction," is actually a typical portable Chinese sundial. No one knows when sundials first appeared in China, but the Chinese may have made portable sundials as early as the 14th century. Production of such sundials increased once Jesuits arrived in the country in the 16th and 17th centuries, bringing with them Western mathematical and scientific knowledge. Before pocket watches became common in the 18th century, Europeans also used portable sundials to tell the time. Chinese sundials are often identified as "Needham types" after scholar Joseph Needham, who spent many years researching science in Chinese history and culture. Chinese sundials' compasses typically point south, as opposed to the compasses of European and American sundials, which point north.
Dimensions H-0.875 W-2.5 D-3.5 inches
Credit line American Philosophical Society. Gift of D. Davis, 19 April 1805.
Search Terms 19th century
nineteenth century
scientific instrument