Vintage Globes

Michelle Radcliff
antique globe

Vintage globes can be a fascinating collectible item. These globes are not just nice to look at, they actually reflect what the world was like at the point in time in history when they were made.

History of Globes

What may be surprising to some is how long globes have actually been around. It is unknown how or why the American myth about Christopher Columbus proving the Earth was round by sailing west from Europe to reach India was started. While it is true that Columbus thought he had landed in India when he reached the Americas (therefore, calling the natives Indians), it is not true that he was trying to prove to the rest of Europe that the Earth is a sphere. This concept had already been long believed by most educated people of Columbus's time. It is believed the spherical Earth concept goes as far back as 570 BC, when ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras first hypothesized about this idea. The theory took hold in ancient Greece, where later philosophers and universal truth seekers such as Plato and Aristotle offered scientific proof, such as the Earth's shadow being round during a lunar eclipse.

The earliest globes date back as far as 1000 years ago. The earliest known globes were celestial globes, made for the purpose of tracking the stars and planets in the night sky . This was important for early nautical navigation.

The earliest known terrestrial globe that is still around today was made in 1492, in Nuremburg, Germany, by cartographer Martin Behaim. During this time, it was still believed that the earth was the center of the universe. However, thanks to astronomers such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and scientists like Isaac Newton, it was finally understood that our world revolved around the sun and that a force called gravity affected the movement of all heavenly bodies.

One of the biggest influences on terrestrial globes was Flemish mapmaker Gerardus Mercator. Mercator developed a type of map called a Mercator projection, which uses the lines of longitude and latitude to simplify map reading and help make navigating the globe easier.

Evolution of Globes

The early European globe makers were educated cartographers and teachers, often hired by prestigious lordships, emperors, kings or queens. Antique and vintage globes were painstakingly hand made with great attention to detail and were primarily made for the wealthy and powerful. Globes became a status symbol for upper class households and people of importance.

During the 16th century, southern Germany became the center for globe manufacturing. By the 17th century, globe making had spread to countries like Holland, France and Italy. England followed close behind and in 1810, James Wilson of Chicago became the first American to produce globes.

It was during the latter half of the 1800's when globes finally started to become available to the middle class. By this time, Chicago had become the U.S. leader in globe manufacturing. It became a fashionable trend for men to carry a small pocket globe, similar to carrying a pocket watch.

With new technology in the manufacturing process, globes could now be mass produced. These three dimensional maps of the Earth now became commonplace as educational tools in schools, as fashionable decor for middle-class homes and miniature globes even became toys for kids.

How to Date a Globe

Because globes were advertised as up-to-date, they were never stamped with a date. The way collectors date vintage globes is by the geographical and political names and borders that it displays. Here are some examples of historical events that would help date the globes made before or after each event:

  • 1867- Russian territory becomes Alaska
  • 1873- Yellowstone becomes a national park
  • 1899- Philippines and Puerto Rico (U.S.)
  • 1914 - 1924 (only) Saint Petersburg in Russia named "Petrograd"
  • 1919- Treaty of Versailles in Europe. Polish Corridor, Balkan States, Czechoslovakia formed
  • 1924 - 1991 Saint Petersburg in Russia called Leningrad
  • 1976- North and South Vietnam unify to become Vietnam
  • 1960- French Equatorial Africa (part), Oubangi, Chari dissolves and becomes Central African Republic

Countries in the middle east and in the African continent experience a lot of turmoil and change, making the current events that happen there a good source for globe dating.

Where to Find Vintage Globes.

The easiest and quickest way to find vintage globes is to look online. The best online resources include:

Check your local community for estate sales and yard sales where you might come across vintage globes as well. If you are interested in the value you may be able to find low cost or free appraisals online.

Vintage Globes