NEW YORK – “Globes have something mystical about them,” enthuses Vienna’s Globe Museum website, “… echoes of long-gone days when ‘here be dragons’ was a plausible entry on maps. Most of us spent at least some time as a child poking at a globe with a finger and discovering just how little geography we know.”
Globes are spherical orbs overlain with terrestrial (earthly) or celestial (heavenly) maps. Though their images are downscaled, they depict vast areas accurately, without distortion. All feature a set of lines: longitude and latitude, the equator, the path of the sun, circles of the Tropics, and the Antarctic and Arctic Circles.
Traditionally, globes are formed by positioning two half-hemisphere, papier mâché shells on their axis, then securing them at holes at their poles, and uniting them. Next, gores, strips of segmented maps narrowing to points, are glued in place. Though strides in printing eventually allowed quicker, cheaper production, this manufacturing method has barely changed through the years.
Because the ancients saw the sun rise and set at the horizon, many believed that the earth is flat. Controversy arose in the fifth century B.C., when Greek philosopher Pythagoras introduced the concept of a spherical earth. The following century, Aristotle, through observation, confirmed this. Yet according to scholars, the earliest known terrestrial globe, depicting the inhabited world and three imagined continents bound by belts of water, appeared hundreds of years later.
Though terrestrial globes apparently existed in ancient Rome and the Islamic world, the oldest surviving one, named Erdapfel (earth-apple in German), dates from 1492. Since Christopher Columbus had not YET completed his first expedition, it does not depict the Americas.
As man’s knowledge of the world grew, demand for updated, accurately mapped globes rose. Between 1597 through the early 1600s, the golden age of Dutch mapmaking, cartographers like Van Langren and Hondius competed for the lucrative market. Some, to speed production, copied competitors’ hand-painted or printed maps, simply altering landforms or adding geographical names. Others, like leading globemaker Willem Jansz Blaeu, crafted completely new creations featuring fine, copper-engraved scripts, ornate cartouches and curiously charming images of nomads, sailing ships, sea monsters and cannibals.
London globemakers Senex, Adams and Ferguson pioneered globe production through the 1700s, as British trade and travel increased. Cary, Philip , Johnston, C. Smith & Sons, and others followed, marketing not only to educational bodies, but also to Britain’s expanding merchant class.
Through the 1840s, when British societies funded expeditions and fostered natural research, pocket globes, prestigious orbs housed in sleek, fish-skin cases or luxurious, lidded boxes, delighted the country’s upper classes. Though barely 3 inches in diameter, most marked major mountain ranges, rivers, islands, as well as ocean trade winds. Moreover, their interiors sometime featured concave world maps, historical timelines or celestial charts. Since geographic study was a popular Victorian pastime, these tiny globes also graced many a family parlor.
In time, fine globes were produced not only across Europe, but also in America. Early
manufacturers, including Wilson, Joslin, Copley, Franklin and Schedler, were based along the Eastern Seaboard. Though most created standard size globes for home and instructional use, Charles Holbrook created affordable 3- and 5-inch “hemisphere” orbs as hands-on, rudimentary tools for schoolchildren. (Despite their solid wood cores, surviving ones are often worn beyond repair.)
In the early 1860s, A.H. Andrews, a Holbrook employee, set up his own globemaking company in Chicago. Since then, Chicago, home to Weber Costello, Rand McNally, Chicago Globe Makers and other companies, has become the leading center for commercial cartographic publishing and globe production in America.
Many collectors seek vintage terrestrial globes issued in limited numbers. Yet size and condition also affect their value. Those depicting a geographical discovery for the first time – or near its date of discovery, for example, are particularly desirable. So are globes featuring vivid, hand-colored, original maps bearing extensive, crisp detail, symbols and ornamentation – especially those by noted cartographers. A beautiful, original mount may also increase a vintage globe’s worth considerably.
European globes were traditionally mounted on mahogany, walnut, cherry or rosewood bases following popular furniture styles and fashions. American globes were often mounted on turned wood, brass or cast-iron bases. Larger models, displayed in libraries or studies, sat securely atop pedestal floor mounts. Smaller ones, designed for table or desk use, were cradled within low footed bases. Most featured supportive horizontal bands representing the celestial horizon, as well as vertical meridian bands, indicating longitude.
Globes, to some, may all appear alike. Yet to enthusiasts, each, reflecting history, science and art at its time of creation, is a world unto itself.