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Ever since Greek geographer Crates of Mallus constructed a sphere in the second century B.C. to represent the Earth, globes have given us a way to comprehend geography. Not in two millennia have they lost their capacity to fascinate or, as today’s antiques marketplace suggests, to adorn the home with an air of scholarship.
Globes were originally produced in pairs — terrestrial and celestial. The latter was used for astronomy, while the former facilitated the study of everything from geography to the mathematics of calculating distances. In the 18th century, globes were largely imported from Britain. “The American globe industry began with the War of 1812, when Americans began to assert their economic and cultural independence from England,” says Deborah Jean Warner of the National Museum of American History.
Dating can be tricky because after 1900, the year is not usually present in the cartouche. Warner suggests boning up on history. Globes changed as nations rose and fell, and the dates of those events help pinpoint the date of production. Also notice the stand. “It is usually in the furniture style of the period,” says dealer George Glazer.
Today, old globes offer an attractive and tangible record of history. “They have the cachet of collectibles for their intellectual component and beauty,” says Glazer.
Globes pictured are from George Glazer Gallery. For contact information see Resources below.
JUST THE FACTS
Origins: The first commercially made American globes originated with Vermont farmer and self-taught geographer James Wilson, who sold them from 1811 to 1840.
Forms: The pocket globe, typically for student use, is 3 or 5 inches in diameter. A table globe, the most common type, ranges from 6 to 18 inches in diameter and is mounted on a stand. Floor globes, also on stands, can be anywhere from 12 to 30 inches in diameter. “Table globes are more in demand; floor globes are more expensive to make and are valuable today. Rare Wilson-made globes, the earliest, are highly collectible,” says George Glazer, who usually stocks between 250 and 500 American globes at his gallery in New York.
Authentication: American globes are rarely faked or reproduced. An expert can often determine if a globe has been “married” to a stand of a different period. The maker’s name is typically recorded on a cartouche on the globe. “Even if a manufacturer pasted its label over the label of a British-made globe, as often done, the globe is still considered an American globe,” says Glazer. For dating, look at the geographical particulars: Eastern Oklahoma was usually labeled Indian Territory until 1907; St. Petersburg, Russia, was named Petrograd from 1914-24.
Expect to pay: $10,000 to $50,000 for a floor globe, circa 1850s-80s; $1,000 to $30,000 for a table globe, circa 1820s-80s; $3,000 to $5,000 for a pocket globe, circa 1860s.
Resources: George Glazer Gallery 212/535-5706, www.georgeglazer.com; National Museum of American History, 202/633-1000, www.americanhistory.si.edu