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Instrument type

Late 16th century ?; French
Gilt brass; 59 mm in diameter

The instrument consists of a circular disc with a handle and several volvelles.

The front is laid out as a nocturnal and a horizontal sun and moondial.

The disc has several circular scales as follows (from the outside):

1) A zodiacal scale marked with the usual Latin names of the signs (except 'GEMINY') and the symbols. Each sign has a 30? scale numbered by 10 and divided to single degrees.

2) A calendrical scale with the names of the months indicated by their initial letters. Each month has the corresponding number of days, marked by 10 and divided to 1. The equinoxes are in February and August. Between these two scales is a revolving ring attached by four radial arms to a rotating disc in the centre, marked with the age of the moon 1 to 29, divided to 1/2. The hours are not marked but indicated by protruding teeth with two elongated teeth indicating 12 o'clock.

Over this disc revolves another disc of the same size with an index marked 'LIGNE DE FOY'. The disc has an hour scale 6 to 12 to 6 and a folding gnomon set for latitude circa 40?. A circular cut out allows the phases of the moon to be seen. Attached to this disc is a compass marked with the cardinal points and with a swivelling engraved lid.

The centre of the handle, with a suspension apparatus, corresponds to 20 May.

The reverse is laid out for a vertical pin gnomon dial with the folding gnomon now broken off. The rim is marked on one side with the initial letters of the months and the symbols of the zodiacal signs and an hour scale numbered 4 to 12 to 8, divided to 1/2 and 1/4 hours.

In the centre of this scale are two volvelles. The larger one, to which the folding pin gnomon was once attached, has scales indicating the lucky and unlucky days in a month, marked on the smaller disc with an index arm as 'LE GRAN [Symbol] SON LES IOVRS HEVR{EUX} LE PETIT SON LES IOVRS PERILE{S}'. These scales are (from the outside): 'LP 8 30 M[Aries] 6 16 17 18'; 'L 5 22 29 A[Taurus] 6 15'; 'L 4 27 M[Gemini] 7 15 17'; 'L 3 8 I[Cancer] 6'; 'L 2 13 16 I[Leo] 15 17'; 'L 12 A[Virgo] 19 20'; 'LP 8 23 28 S[Libra] 16 17'; 'L 3 25 O[Scorpio] 6'; 'L13 26 N[Sagittarius] 15 17'; 'L 18 26 D[Capricorn] 6 7 11'; 'L 3 13 I[Aquarius] P 2 4 6 9 5'; 'L 5 25 F[Pisces] 15 17'. The meaning of 'L' , 'P' and 'LP' and the strange sequence for the unlucky days in January are not fully understood yet.

The instrument has a tooled red leather case with a green velvet lining.

The instrument was purchased in 1867 and is described in F. A. B. Ward, A Catalogue of European Scientific Instruments in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities of the British Museum (London, 1981), p. 27.

Silke Ackermann

British Museum, London
Registration no. MLA 1867,3-10.1

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