Globes and other navigational instruments were symbols of an age of expansion, and these finely crafted tools of discovery are highly valued today.
As explorers, pioneers and colonizers, the Victorians were an outward-looking people who eagerly rode the rising tide of Britain's world status. Interest in the natural world and how it worked was not just the preserve of scientists - all who had the benefits of money and education were keen observers of the world at large.
Domestic interest in the wider world took root in earnest during the 18th century, when a concentrated bout of intrepid exploration saw the discovery of new islands, countries and even continents. Quite suddenly, the world became very much larger - to the delight of merchants and businessmen who quickly appreciated the trading opportunities to be had; indeed trade and exploration frequently went hand-in-hand. Globes, particularly, therefore assumed a new importance in daily commercial life and gradually began to spread to a wider audience that excitedly followed developments.
Globes in the 18th century were normally sold in pairs: a terrestrial globe representing the earth, and a celestial globe showing the heavens. Up to 6Ocm / 24in in diameter, these globes were fragile objects made with a spherical core of papier
mache, plaster or wood. Gores - triangular sheets of paper printed with the map - were pasted over the core and sealed with shellac. Occasionally the gores were painted by hand. A meridian ring, often of brass, connected the globe to its stand.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF GLOBES
Globes were made long before the 18th and 19th centuries. The earliest terrestrial globe known was made by Crates, a Greek, around 150BC, though no examples have survived from the ancient world. But there is a celestial globe from around 3OOBC in the Royal Museum in Naples. Celestial globes were produced in Islamic countries throughout the Middle Ages, though they were rare in Christendom until the 15th century when the manufacture of them was revolutionized. Terrestrial globes were non-existent simply because everyone believed that the world was flat - that is, until navigators such as Vasco da Gama and others showed otherwise.
Once explorers had proved that the world was a sphere, the globe assumed a new importance. By the 19th century, it had become almost a standard piece of furniture in well-to do households, along with brass instruments such as the compass, dividers and telescope. Two navigational instruments that were vital to seafarers are shown below on an early 19th-century chart. They were the sextant and chronometer, contained here in a lockable case.
Early globes tend to be rare and expensive, so you
may do best to look for very late 19th century or early 20th-century examples. Some of these were mass produced from two pressed hemispheres of thin metal joined together at the 'equator' to form a sphere.
Metal globes were generally painted and overprinted and are prone to rust. When this happened, the rust ate into the surface detailing,
obliterating it. Look carefully, therefore, for signs of restoration work which might show
as patches of mismatched colour or sudden loss of fine detail. Look carefully, also, for similar repair patches on globes with
printed paper gores and a varnished finish.
Scientific instruments, by their nature, were
usually made extremely carefully and from high-quality, corrosion-resistant materials,
mainly brass. As such, many complicated instruments have survived in working order. The penalty for the buyer, though, is that they are
very expensive, as the elegance of their design, their ongoing functionality and the quality of the craftsmanship are such that they are much sought after.
Each piece must be taken on its own merit, but beyond examining it for obvious signs of abuse, wear and tear or broken parts, try to assess whether it still performs the basic function it was designed to do.
Telescopes, for example, should be checked to ensure that the sections still slide
smoothly through their full range and that the glass lenses are not scratched on the outer surfaces nor badly soiled on the
Replacement parts for most early navigational instruments are virtually
impossible to find and having precision parts specially made up is prohibitively expensive.
For the limited purse, perhaps the best value for money are the simpler instruments, such as pairs of dividers and
compasses. Late 19th-century pieces can still be found comparatively cheaply.