Rare Scottish Sundial to be Offered at Christie’s Travel Science and Natural History Auction

A Scottish sundial boss discovered half-buried in the ground in Herfordshire, England, and then used by the owner to grow strawberries, is expected to realise between £7,000 and £10,000 when it is auctioned as part of Christie’s Travel, Science and Natural History sale in London on 6 April 2011.

The sundial, scientifically referred to as a stone polyhedral dial, will be sold alongside over 200 objects, instruments, globes and illustrations from the Golden Age of Colonial Exploration in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and includes scientific discoveries made during the Age of the Enlightenment; estimates range from £300 to £30,000.

Discovered in 1974, the rare sundial boss was found half-buried in the ground at Walton Lodge, Great Amwell. The then resident of the Lodge dug it up and rescued it, displaying it as an object of intrigue in the garden and successfully growing strawberries in the semi-spherical hollows, the scaphe dials. The dial accompanied the owner on several house moves, and after a chance encounter with a sundial enthusiast, the boss has now been recognised – after analysis of the dial projections – as a rare type that would have originally been located just south of Edinburgh circa 1630-1730. It is one of only three known examples to have come onto the market in the last twenty years.

From the find location, in Hertfordshire, it can be deduced that the sundial was probably brought to Walton Lodge by one time resident the Mylne family. Robert Mylne (1633-1710) was the last Master Mason to the Crown of Scotland, and his uncle John Mylne (1611-1667) was responsible for the earliest dated dial of this type at Drummond Castle (1630). Originally having formed the central section of a much larger piece of scientific garden statuary similar to the example at Mountstuart gardens on the Isle of Bute the location of the remainder of the dial is unknown.

Further items in the sale range from a rare late-Regency 18-inch library globe made by the London family firm John & William Cary in 1835 (estimate: £30,000-50,000) right through to a charming and highly detailed watercolour of an Indian temple with a banyan tree by Peter Dallas (estimate: £300-400). A broad selection of items of Asian interest feature in the sale, including a 19th century painting on glass illustrating a view of Hong Kong, displaying the trading houses with their respective national flags (estimate: £2,000-3,000). The sale will also feature the two earliest scientific national geological maps, one plagiarised after the other (lots 26 and 27) – George Bellas Greenough’s map is only the second known example of his kind to ever have been offered at auction; a very interesting view of the city of Troy by the German artist Johann Jacob Wolfensberger (1797-1850), which was executed prior to the famous excavations of the site (lot 202); and archive of 161 drawings by Sir Henry Wickham, the plant collector who smuggled rubber plant seeds out of South America, thus stealing the rubber industry away from Brazil (lot 180); and a collection of 166 detailed insect drawings by Victorian scientist Fred Enock provide a fascinating insight into the art of science, and as well as being scientifically interesting are also very decorative and have a surprisingly contemporary appearance (lots 73-80).

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