Monday, January 26, 2015

The celestial globe, and it's place in your collection

     For Milena man has looked to the heavens in wonderment always asking questions, Can God hear me? Are we alone in the universe? Will my neighbors maple tree block my dish network signal?  These questions and many more will NOT be answered by staring into the intricate surface of a celestial globe!  Well what good are they then.... I'd like to make the argument that no globe collection is complete without one!  Celestial globes have been made right along side terrestrial globes since globe making began.
     Celestial globes are a fascinating, and somewhat overlooked part of our hobby.  A celestial globe is in my opinion an essential part of any globe collection.  200 years ago in 1815 if you were going to purchase a globe you were almost certainly in the market for a pair of globes a terrestrial, and it's counterpart a celestial globe. Of course if you were in the market back then you were wealthy, and you were probably furnishing a library and a pair of globes were de rigueur.
     Sometime soon after James Wilson started globe production in America we see the decoupling of the terrestrial and celestial globe.  Why?  Well around this time we start to see two things happening simultaneously; more emphasis on educating children, and the application of industrial efficiencies on globe production.  Both of these factors help set the celestial globe on a path of decline, you see as schools started buying lots of globes they gravitated ( ha ha pun intended ) towards the terrestrial sphere. Simply because a geographic knowledge was much more important to schools and parents. Don't fret not all is lost,  celestial counterparts were still manufactured and offered for sale by the vast majority of globe makers but to encourage volume sales they were no longer sold as a set.  Think about this if you wanted to have a globe in your household in 1860 or so you might look at an Andrews,  Joslin, or Nimbs model for between $10 and $50 ( several hundred dollars today)  depending on size. This was a daunting cost, doubling up to buy the celestial mate? A choice, unfortunately not often made.
     Consequently there are not that many nice examples of celestial spheres out there, and the farther back in time you go the harder they are to come by.   A nice Joslin, or Andrews globe is getting hard to find, I'd guess compounding that difficulty by 10 to find a nice celestial! In fact Murray Hudson states that American Celestial globes are scares by a factor of 100 to 1 compared to terrestrial spheres. With that in mind lets look a a few nice examples of exceptional celestial spheres.
1831 James Wilson Celestial globe

1890 Merriam & Moore Celestial globe

1940's Rand McNally celestial globe
1930's celestial globe

     Now although these spheres span almost 120 years they have much more in common than you might think. All of these connect the sky together in familiar signs of the zodiac, 3 of 4 go further and outline the fanciful creatures these constellations are supposed to represent. Certainly this adds an artistic whimsy to their existence.  Now the night sky does not change all that much over the years, certainly a lot slower than the political boundaries on a comparative selection of terrestrial globes spanning 120 years. It is because of this comparative little change that globe makers did not see it necessary to update celestial gores nearly as often as terrestrial gores.  This makes it harder to judge the date of manufacture when looking at a celestial globe. You have to employ your knowledge of decorating styles, as well as construction materials  to come up with an approximation.
     So what to look for as you collect?  The best would be a matched pair  A matched pair are the ideal for any collection of anything, much value is added when you have a set, true for globes, windsor chairs, and baseball cards.  OK matched pairs are few and far between, what else should I look for?  Here is where I would say buy the one you like most.  What I mean is realistically if you amass a dozen nice globes you will probably be able to find just one really nice celestial so buy one who's overall asthetic is pleasing to you. If you live in an old Victorian house and your budget allows, then buy a celestial from the 1860's to the 1890's ( if you can find one )   if your decorating style is mid century, or ultra contemporary, buy that 1940's Rand McNally beauty, you will have a "statement piece" that even your clueless friends will find mildly interesting. 

My personal favorite 1930 Rand McNally

****The James Wilson, and Mirriam & Moore globes pictured are curtesy of Murray Hudson,  The 1930s, and 1940's celestials are curtesy of Vintage Cals****


  1. I got a 12" Rand McNally celestial globe (edited by Oliver Lee), with blue frame, in the late 70's, and lost it around 1990 while moving (I think it was damaged in storage then discarded). Recently I decided to search for and obtain a replacement for nostalgic reasons, and obtained an older version with chrome frame, on eBay. I was suprised to find that they're out of production and rare and there's not much info about them. Now I know they go back at least until 1930, in 8" and 12" sizes, with various bases, and that they apparently enlisted astronomer Oliver Lee in the 40's to 'edit' the globe to make corrections. So I curious how much you know about these and if you can blog about a more detailed story, such as what are all the bases offered, when was Lee brought in, when did they stop offering them & why. There are several celestial globes offered now with gimmicky illumination features, but I prefer the classic versions, and don't understand why they're not still offered.

    1. Bob, Firstly thanks for your great comment and questions. Rand McNally made celestial globes at least as early as 1920 I have seen a 1920's version of the small Rand Mcnally globe I featured in this article that was tan background, with black stars and printing. That one dated to 1920. American globe makers generally never sold their globes as pairs, but selling a terrestrial/ celestial globe pairs was standard practice until the early to mid 19th century.
      It is when schools started buying globes en mass that companies abandoned the practice of selling pairs, so celestial globes after 1850 or so are a hard find, they were probably 10% of the market or so. Then the space race began and celestial globes enjoyed a bit of resurgence. By then Rand McNally, Crams, and Replogle were the dominant players in the market. Rand mcnally made in my opinion the nicest celestial globes in the 1940's through 70's many of their styles featured chrome or bakelite mountings. I know of Oliver Lee but I must confess I know nothing about him.
      Why are they not offered now........? Well to hazard a guess they just don't sell, heck regular terrestrial globes are a tough sell today, changing times I guess. You bring up some great points that are worthy of further investigation and perhaps a blog post is in the future.
      I, like you really like celestial globes in their classic form, I own two examples, both are favorites.

  2. I guess there's no production timeline or way to date my new old globe. On the web, I've found several of the chrome frame version which have sold in recent years and they all say 'rare vintage early 60's', but they prolly don't really know. Mine had blue frame & base which is apparently really rare, though there is a picture of one on the web if you look. Astronomer Oliver Lee (1882-1964) retired to Santa Cruz from Northwestern University in 1947. He's the one who proposed the theory that the Moon broke from the Earth leaving the Pacific. Sales info on these globes often say he created or developed these for Rand McNally, but the globes actually say 'edited by', and the globe and cartouche (next to Hydra) of early versions are very similar to the Lee versions, which is why I think they enlisted him in the 40's to go over it and make updates & corrections. The Rand McNally 'our history' webpage makes no mention of any of this.