By Carolyn Burrell
Published by: The International Coronelli Society for the Study of Globes, News 2001
I think I’ve always liked globes. From the ones in my elementary school to the beautiful antiques in museum galleries, to the first globe I bought for $ 1.95 in a thrift store, I just enjoy looking at them. Maybe it’s their colors or their mountings; maybe it’s the old country boundaries viewed dimly beneath the darkening varnish, but globes have an undeniable appeal. Watch people around a globe. First they look at it, then they might touch a country, and then, almost universally, they spin it. Globes, it seems, are irresistible.
I bought my first globe in a thrift store in the early 1970s. It was a 12 inch floor mounted 1930s George F. Cram with a really large dent in Japan. Oh, well, I thought I’ll just turn that side to the wall… From this auspicious beginning, I continue to look for old globes. Most of my collecting in the 1980s and 1990s focused on local antique shops. I collected mostly George F. Cram and Replogle globes from the 1930s to the 1960s, with a few Denoyer-Gepperts thrown in for good measure. Most were rather reasonably priced, and I soon began to fill my limited space.
Then came the Internet. Prior to this time, I had only a limited exposure to older globes, those prior to World War I or earlier. With the advent of the World Wide Web and the online auction house eBay, I began to shop electronically for globes. I very soon discovered that globes made prior to 1900 were very expensive, more expensive than I had ever realized. So, I decided to limit my collection to anything from 1900 to 1960. This time period worked well for me. I couldn’t afford those prior to 1900 and I didn’t really like the style of those after 1960. So I specialized in globes from basically the first half of the 20th century.
Then I realized that I really didn’t know anything at all about who made these globes or how they were constructed. So, being a reference librarian, I went to work with catalogs and periodical indexes trying to find something about my globes. I was pretty shocked by what I found, or rather, what I didn’t find. When it came to books, there was virtually nothing available that addressed 20th century globes. The only good, scholarly source was out of print and written in German. All I can say is, it’s a good thing I can read German, because that book, Muris and Saarmann’s Der Globus im Wandel der Zeiten (The Globe Through the Ages) got me started. From there I scoured libraries, ordered articles through interlibrary loan, copied patents, searched the Internet, bought globe catalogs and instruction books on eBay, and generally looked everywhere for information on 20th century globes. Slowly it all paid off. I began to assemble enough material to make some sense of the 20th century globe industry.
It never occurred to me to publish any of this, especially on the Web. Apart from a few collectors I’d correspond with from eBay sales, there just didn’t seem to be much interest in 20th century globes. The books had made it rather clear that everything important was made before 1850, at the very, very latest 1900. I just assumed nobody was really that interested. However, after watching the trading on eBay for a while, I realized that not only was there interest in 20th century globes, but that the prices were rising along with this interest. I watched as bidders paid large amounts of money for items that were poorly described and often, unintentionally I believe, misrepresented. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard, but as a librarian I found this disturbing. I’m in the business of finding and disseminating accurate information, as well as teaching people how to do research and find information for themselves. So I decided I had to do something with the information I had accumulated. I thought of writing a book. Then I realized I didn’t have time to write a book. So I opted for the other way to spread knowledge quickly to millions of people: I built a web site.
Now, building the web site was the easy part. Putting information in it was the challenge. I wanted collectors and would-be collectors to be able to find out information that would help them make good decisions when purchasing a 20th century globe. I was especially interested in making on dating and manufacturers available. I also wanted to make the site reliable. So much of what is on the Web is unsupported opinion. Therefore, I decided that I would base my articles on published sources, globes in my collection or globes I had actually seen. Fortunately, there was enough reliable material for me to write the kind of articles I thought would be useful. My information is not based on speculation, but mainly on original sources, reputable periodical articles, patents, and my own observation of actual globes.
So I published Globes of the 20th Century (www.20thcenturyglobes.com). I hoped collectors would like it, but I really didn’t know what would happen. Fortunately, it was very well received by those who viewed it and gave me feedback. I’m told it helps collectors identify what they have. I’m thrilled, because that was the purpose.
And my collection? Well, it’s about twenty globes, and not likely to grow much unless I buy a bigger house, something my husband thinks is a bit excessive. So, not every globe featured at the site is in my collection. Many of the globes on the site belong to other collectors who have generously allowed me to publish photos of their globes for the world to see. Some of the collectors I have corresponded with have well over a hundred 20th century globes. But it really doesn’t matter how many globes you have, just that you enjoy them.
So it seems that collecting 20th century globes is gaining momentum. And why not? All globes reflect the historical and socio-cultural milieu in which they were made. 20th century globes tell us about hot wars, colonialism, independence and freedom. They remind us of our youth, our grandparent’s house, or our school. In the late 1950s they showed us Moscow and reminded us of just how small the world really was. They may not be terribly old, but they are terribly interesting. And besides, we still just like the way they look.