The young auctioneer was ecstatic. He’d just sold the object illustrated here for a cool £16,000 on behalf of a client from Crewe who didn’t know he owned it. The rare and early celestial and terrestrial pocket globe – consider it a precursor (by about four centuries) of the sat-nav – was “found” by the auctioneer, Chris Large of Nantwich, Cheshire auctioneers Peter Wilson, in the bottom of one of 16 boxes of otherwise unloved and unwanted bric-a-brac from the man’s parents’ home. When told of the magnitude of the winning bid, the owner was naturally enough, “over the moon”. The auctioneer was happy too. “Something like this always cheers you up and makes you realise why you enjoy the job so much,” he said.
Less than three inches in diameter, the globe was concealed inside what was otherwise a dirty green-coloured outer case of the same shape that looked like it would have been more at home in a game of skittles. However, when the hinged outer case was opened, the colours of the globe nestling inside were almost as bright and vivid as they were on the day it was made. On the inside of the outer case, protected from sunlight and damage, was a “map” of the heavens. It was quite delightful. Not bad when you consider that it dated from 1710.
Clearly the globe was an early example. Its 12 hand-coloured printed “gores” – the term for the pieces of vellum covering its surfaces illustrating the various land masses – showed
northern Canada as “Unknown Areas”, while huge swathes of Australia and New Zealand were also left blank. But was it right?
There were initial doubts that the case and the globe it contained were strangers to each other – termed a “marriage” in the trade. One inscription read “Correct Pocket Globe With Trade Winds” by H. Moll”, while another read “A Correct Globe with New Constelations (sic) of Mr Hevelius 1710”. Worries proved unfounded.
The late 17th and early 18th century saw a universal thirst for knowledge of the Earth and its heavens. Cartographer Herman Moll (1654-1732) probably originated in the Netherlands but was in London by 1678, where he opened a book and map shop. However, he turned to publishing after the success of his own work, which he called “Thesaurus Geographicus”, followed by “Fifty-Six New and Accurate Maps of Great Britain” and another work he called “The Compleat Geographer”. He is known to have been making and selling pocket globes for the amateur geographer in 1710.
Astronomer Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687) meanwhile, came from a rich family of Polish brewers, and began to study the constellations in 1640, using a huge 150-foot telescope, which he built himself, on the rooftop of his home in Danzig (now Gdansk). He published “Selenographia” his study of the Moon in 1647, which won him the patronage of four Polish King’s. Today he is regarded as the founder of the study of lunar topography and with Copernicus, one of Poland’s greatest astronomers.
So, the authenticity of the Crewe globe looked promising. But what put the matter beyond doubt was the word “Damp”, almost hidden among the place names, a clue that only the specialist might recognise. It is also known that some of now rare examples of Moll’s globe were printed with the route of Dampier’s circumnavigation, completed in 1709. The Crewe globe was such an example and that’s why it made £16,000. It sold to a collector in Hong Kong.
Captain William Dampier (1651-1715) was the first Englishman to explore parts of Australia (then called New Holland) and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. He is also remembered as having rescued Alexander Selkirk, who was the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s book Robinson Crusoe.
Born in Somerset, Dampier joined the Navy in 1673 but his career was cut short by ill health. He subsequently made his circumnavigations as a somewhat lawless privateer. However, publication of his exploits and discoveries turned him into a hero and advanced geographic knowledge by previously unthought-of degrees, coming as they did before voyages by Captain Cook. Indeed, he has a port and archipelago named after him on Western Australia’s Coral Coast.
Not everyone has £16 grand to spare for what is little more than a scientific instrument collectors’ curio. Collectors of furniture love free-standing antique globes, which add instant class to any room. But even they caused problems for their original owners. The oldest surviving globe dates from 1492 and does not show the Americas which had yet to be discovered However, such was the speed with which explorers were discovering new areas of the world that globes were out of date almost immediately they were made.
Cartographers responded by publishing printed paper maps containing the latest information available which could be purchased separately and pasted over the top of the existing but outdated versions. Globes are found in which the name of one cartographer has been replaced with that of a later one. This does not affect value. Indeed, it could be argued the globes are more interesting for it.
This practice also explains why some are found with cartographic information and discoveries that date from many years after the date of manufacture of the base or stand. Regency library globes have elegant stands with tripod bases and slim, gently curving supports. Victorian examples, on the other hand, are heavy with turned legs and far less style. However, the latter can be had for a few hundred pounds apiece.
Bonhams will sell a pair of the former – 18-inch celestial and terrestrial globes by J & W Cary – in a sale of scientific instruments in Knightsbridge on May 3. Purchased new by the vendor’s family in the 1830s to furnish a newly constructed home, they are estimated at £30,000-50,000.