Celestial Globes with George, Martha Stewart Living, June 29, 2001

Martha Stewart and George Glazer on Martha Stewart Living, 2001

The George Glazer Gallery was featured on the June 29, 2001 episode of the television program Martha Stewart Living. In a segment titled "Celestial Globes with George," George discussed the history and use of celestial globes with special attention to locating the constellations. He showed Martha antique star cards, a celestial globe by James Wilson, America's first globe maker, a British pocket celestial globe, planispheres and other "star spangled" items. George also appeared on the show in 1999 and 2001.

Interview is transcribed below:

Martha: George, we all are familiar with world globes, but what is a celestial globe?

George: A celestial globe, as the name suggestions, is a globe of the stars and of constellations. Constellations are groups of identifiable stars, including the 12 signs of the zodiac, identified in ancient Greece and Rome as mythological classical gods, goddesses, and animals. The celestial globe was developed for people interested in astronomy to use to visualize the relative location of constellations in the night sky.

Here is a charming pair of American 19th Century globes by Gilman Joslin (above). The terrestrial, world globe. And here the companion celestial star globe. The tradition of making globes in pairs dates back to the great Dutch globe maker, Gerard Mercator.

On the Celestial globe you can see the various constellations in the Northern and Southern hemisphere. The concept here is that when you look at the sky, it appears as a moving concave sphere -- even though, of course, it is not. We perceive it this way because we we are situated on a sphere -- the earth -- that is rotating once a day and revolving around the sun (the closest star to earth) once a year.

So, with a celestial globe, imagine the earth is in the center, and we are looking up at what was known in ancient times as the celestial firmament. Actually, the stars in the sky are at various distances apart. But the way they appear to us, is how they are shown on the globe. And this has a scientific purpose because it allows us to look at the sky and recognize different stars and constellations. At different times of the year, when we look at the night sky we can also see some of the planets in our solar system, comets, nebulae, etc., but these are not indicated on a celestial globe.

Martha: So, I gather the astrological signs of the zodiac would be shown?

George: Yes, you can see on this celestial globe by James Wilson, Americas first globe maker (above left), and on these Urania's Mirror star cards here is Cancer the Crab, the zodiac sign for people born on the Fourth of July. And Gemini, the twins, right nearby. Also Leo the Lion, your zodiac sign.

The zodiac signs are based on when the sun in its apparent path around the earth appears in 12 different periods of the year, shown by this angled band, called the ecliptic, on the globe. Of course the sun does not really revolve around the earth — the earth revolves around the sun. We are simply referring to the apparent path of the sun. We do not necessarily see Cancer in the sky in July — that is merely when the sun appears to pass through that constellation.

Other constellations, based in classical mythology are also shown on the globe and in these cards. For example in Urania's Mirror, we can see Perseus (above right), holding the head of the Gorgon Medusa, with her hair of snakes.

Even though a celestial globe is intended to show how we perceive the sky as if the earth were inside, we look at the celestial globe from the outside of it, as if from some imaginary point beyond the cosmos. Thus, the constellations are seen differently from that side of the imaginary sphere. For this reason, on celestial globes, the constellation figures are reversed and they are rendered artistically as if we are viewing the from their back — far side. So we can see that Leo the Lion, a sign of the zodiac, is shown as we perceive him from earth, on the Urania's Mirror cards. But on the Wilson celestial globe, he is shown reversed from the back side.

Martha: How are Urania's Mirror cards used?

George: These star cards were invented what is said to be a young lady in about 1825 — these are British. What's interesting about these is that they're not just maps, because if you hold it up to the light, you see that there are little holes in it. You have stars of what we call to be different magnitudes, they're different brightnesses so the holes are slightly larger.

Martha: So you would look up at the sky, holding this to the side and try to identify the same stars in the sky and the same pattern?

George: Exactly.

Martha: When I am in Maine, I have used a planisphere to determine what stars are viewable. Is this antique one the same thing?

George: Yes. The constellations come into view at different times of the year, and depending on where you are on earth. This American 19th Century planisphere shows the constellations on a revolving disc, and is designed so that by setting the revolving dial for month, day, and time at night, you know what stars are visible in the Northeast United States. This particular one, designed by Henry Whitall of Philadelphia in the 1870s, is calibrated for the latitude of Philadelphia and New York. If you were at a different latitude, you would need a different planisphere.

Martha: What other kinds of celestial globes might be of interest to a collector?

George: Here is a teeny 3-inch celestial pocket globe, in its own little carrying case. It was made in London in the early 19th century for British amateur astronomers [by the Cary firm]. Here is another London globe, by Newton, but it is mounted on a charming little stand. It looks like a miniature floor globe. In contrast, here is a full size celestial floor globe made by Gilman Joslin of Boston in the late 19th century, the same maker that produced the little pair of globes we saw earlier. You can see that it has the lovely brightly colored constellation figures.

Martha: How common are they? Maybe some of our viewers have one of these globes in their attic waiting to be discovered?

George: Well perhaps, though those examples are fairly rare. Sometimes 19th century globes are found in American houses, around from the days when they were used in schoolrooms. Here are two 20th Century globes that are more commonly encountered. This Hammonds American globe from the 1940s eliminates showing constellations figures; instead the stars are connected by simple straight lines. Here are the Big and Little dipper in the Northern Sky.

This Rand McNally globe, from about the 1960s, has a midnight blue sky, and still shows the constellation figures in full form.

Martha: Are these globes very expensive for a collector?

George: The early ones we looked at today, like the Dudley Adams, those globes cost thousands of dollars. But 20th century celestial globes are in a more moderate price range -- a few hundred dollars.

Martha: Well there is so much of interest in celestial globes, I can see where one can become very passionate indeed. Thank you so much George for sharing your collection of globes and your celestial knowledge.

Copyright ©2002-2020 by George D. Glazer. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.