An early 18th century German polyhedral sundial, with five printed and coloured enamelled paper card dials, one signed D. Beringer; the others decorated in the Neo-Classical manner with floral sprays and geometric borders, two faces depicting expectant lovers, each face with brass gnomon, on wood pillar with compass joint over the horizontal paper plate and compass, the blued-steel needle with brass cap, on four bun feet, 7 1/8 in (18.4 cm) high.
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 labelled 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.
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.
References: Cubic Sundial.National Museums Liverpool. Polyhedral Dial. Royal Museums Greenwich; Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2018.
The Science Museum have an almost identical cubical sundial but lacks the needle and glass.