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Collecting Antique Globes

The oldest known terrestrial globe was created in 1492, when Spanish and Portuguese explorers pioneered the circumnavigation of the world. For many years, globes were precious and available only to Kings and nobility. Expensive and challenging to produce, they were held in the highest reverence. To own a globe meant to possess power and knowledge of all the known lands. They were, in many cases, the ultimate status symbol. As time went on, globes became more widely available, though no less precious. Today, antique globes offer a glimpse into the past, a virtual snapshot of the world as it was, or was known to be at the time. The finer examples are quite rare and collecting them should be done with great care and attention.




As with most antiques, condition is very important. Small defects, such as minor scratches and repairs to the paper, are expected in all antique globes for they are extremely fragile. Look for any major cracks, breaks or signs that the globe has been dropped or seriously damaged. You also want to ensure that the globe's stand is in good, stable condition. A high quality globe stand could be the difference between an average globe and an extraordinary globe. Many stands also have a compass in the base, so be sure to check that these are complete and working as well.




Next, who was the maker of your globe? Commercial globe making, directed towards a privileged few, began in The Dutch Republic towards the end of the 15th century and soon spread to the rest of the continent, and eventually America. Sixteenth-century Italian globes became renowned for their highly decorative flair, while Royal Cartographers in France expertly crafted the earliest French globes for King Louis XIV and his royal court in the 17th century. Important makers in Germany were ushered in with the Enlightenment and globes from the New World began to appear at the end of the 18th century.


Many believe that some of the finest antique globes and scientific devices were crafted in London during the 18th and 19th centuries. Royal Cartographers George Adams and his son George Adams, Jr. are among the most talented makers of this period. Other notable London makers include John and William Cary, James Senex, James Ferguson, Newton & Son, William Bardin and George Wright. Many other fine globes from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries were created in France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and the United States, and there are a number of references available that provide information on important makers. Quality workmanship is an essential element in determining the value of your globe.




The date of your globe is also important, and how important of course, depends on your interests. Pre-World War I globes are ideal for a great majority of collectors. Seventeenth-century globes are among the rarest and most decorative, and typically the most expensive, exhibiting features that no longer exist today. Every globe provides a fascinating socio-political commentary of aggressive world powers, undiscovered territories and detailed descriptions of the paths taken by the world's greatest explorers. It is common for many English globes to show the paths taken by Captain Cook, while some globes from the end of the 19th century even map out submerged telegraph lines and shipping lanes. It's absolutely captivating to view a late 18th century globe representing the majority of North America as a vast, unexplored territory!




Most globes were created in pairs, one depicting the earth (terrestrial) and the other depicting the sky (celestial). When buying a single globe, it is wise to inquire whether or not it once belonged to a pair. You may notice that pairs will be dated several years apart. Because exploration was so fervent, the map of the earth was much more dynamic than that of the constellations. Celestial globes remained unchanged for many more years than their terrestrial counterparts. A celestial globe may be dated 1816, while its terrestrial partner could be dated 1826, yet they are still a matched pair. Many terrestrial globes include corrections and additions in order to depict the latest journeys, explorations and discoveries. Celestial globes feature richly colored cartouches of the constellations, adding an artistic flair to any globe collection. The ornate figures, animals and celestial beings represented on a celestial globe are truly stunning and are testament that many map makers were not only technical geniuses, but creative as well. One of the most engaging globe "sets" is the pocket globe. Featuring a hinged opening at the equator, the exterior of the tiny globe features a terrestrial map and when opened the interior is lined with a celestial view. An ingenious, and very portable, way to show the earth and sky!



Finally, when considering adding a globe to your collection, remember that size IS important. The most common diameter among makers was the 12-inch globe, so you are more likely to find more of this size on the market. Smaller, tabletop globes are quite appealing and a 15-inch globe is one of the rarest and most desirable of all. When picturing the size of a globe, keep in mind that the surface area increases exponentially as the diameter increases. To determine the surface area of a globe, use the formula 2(3.14)d2. For instance, the formula for a 15-inch globe is 2 x 3.14 x (15)2 = a surface area of 1,413 inches. A 15-inch globe's surface area is an impressive 57% larger than that of a 12-inch globe, and even more astounding, a 40-inch globe is 1100% larger! As the diameter of a globe increases the surface area increases, adding to the complexity of its production.


A fascination with globes may also lead the discerning collector to other related antiques including maps, planetariums, armillary spheres and numerous other devices created to picture our earth and sky. A definitive resource for information regarding globes and globe makers is Globes from the Western World by Elly Dekker and Peter van der Krogt. We hope these guidelines help you to expand, or perhaps even begin, a beautiful collection that is both rewarding and educational!


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