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Catalog Data

Granite, bronze
8 × 16 × 16 in. (20.3 × 40.6 × 40.6 cm)
ca. 1868
Victorian (1837-1901)
Bronze and granite sundial. The base of the sundial is a square slab of brown granite, with Roman numerals in opposite corners. A mother bird with a worm on a pinecone and pine sprig and four baby birds are cast from bronze and perched on the base. This imagery on a timekeeping device recalls the old adage, “The early bird gets the worm.”
Label Text:
The sundial was one of the earliest methods developed by man to tell time. A dial mounted on post or baluster is the oldest type of sundial, and ones most commonly found in the garden. This type of sundial features an upright gnomon—the Greek word for pointer—is a slanted indicator which casts a shadow indicating the time of day. It is mounted on a horizontal plate inscribed with hour numerals and directionals. The directionals indicate the bearing of true north and the latitude, so that it could be calibrated for accuracy. They were usually placed in a central, exposed position where they could track the position of the sun arc unimpeded by shadows in order to maximize their use. Originally the term sundial referred only to the plate and gnomons, however in its current usage, sundial refers to the dial and its base. Most of these bases are pedestals in baluster form and were made from a variety of materials such as wood, stone, cast iron, and concrete, and followed the changing fashions in architecture and the decorative arts. Frequently, there is a motto engraved on a plaque and fixed to supporting column. The dials could also be mounted vertically and supported by architecture, such the wall of a garden or side of a building.
Up to the early nineteenth century, sundials were both garden ornaments and mathematical instruments. After the invention of more precise methods for telling time, the sundial declined in popularity and became primarily a decorative garden feature and a nostalgic symbol of the past. By the 1850s, sundials were placed as matter of style rather than effectiveness. They were frequently moved to the margins of the garden, and other ornaments such as fountains, urns, and statues took center stage. Today, the sundial is valued for its decorative and associative appeal, rather than its accuracy.
bronze  Search this
granite  Search this
sundials  Search this
Garden ornaments and furniture  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens