Saturday, June 10, 2017

Whales Here, Unfrozen Brandy and Parts But Very Little Known: A Late 18th Century Benjamin Martin Globe

***The following is a guest blog post by my friend, and sometimes rival collector  Brian, as passionate a collector as I,  please enjoy***   

Benjamin Martin globe about 1780
  I have had quite a bit of luck lately finding globes from the late 1800s to early 1900s (although Kyle snapped up a few of them before I could get to them!) I am a classical musician but on the side I am an antique picker and collector who also loves globes (along with a number of other various interests including rare books, maps and prints). Globes are fantastic; I appreciate the ever-changing cartography and beautiful colors of the orbs and also the artistic elegance of various styles of mounts.  I have put them in my university office and have had many conversations about them with genuinely interested people.  This is not like my old collection of coins which simply sat in a closet waiting for the rare chance to come out when the subject of coin collections came up (pretty much never). Globes are well worth the hunt and for this post I decided to focus on one globe in particular.  

     I get really excited when I find a globe that has states with different shapes (like Dakota before it divided into North and South) or different names (like Indian Territory) but when continents are different shapes I get ecstatic.  Unfortunately, as many of you know it is difficult to own a middle 19th century globe or anything earlier for a “pickers” price.  This last year I had the luck to acquire something I thought I would never get my hands on; a globe from the late 18th century made by Benjamin Martin!   It is a twelve inch orb with a full mount and a brass meridian and although the globe has two small holes (in the ocean fortunately) and is missing a section of horizon ring along with the brass hour circle and pointer, the orb is in quite solid condition.  Others that I have seen for sale from this period are either super nice and therefore out of my reach price-wise or else in extremely rough condition and not worth the expense to restore.  I really enjoy researching the things I find and this globe has been no exception.  I am certainly not a globe expert but I do know how to do good research and thankfully, as a professor I have access to a worldwide system of libraries for free!  I have a number of times complained to Kyle that there really are almost no good reference materials out there that show actual details of globes.  Admittedly globes are difficult to photograph well and two dimensions on a page can hardly do them justice but it sometimes feels like there is a secret society of people who have this specific information and they don’t want to share it with others.  My goal here is simply to briefly provide some information about the maker and then share some decent pictures of the actual globe surface for other collectors’ enjoyment.

   The cartouche for this globe is interesting because it reads “MR. SENEX’S Terrestrial Globe/ Now drawn and improved/ according to the latest observations by/ JAMES FERGUSON/Made and Sold by/ BENJ. MARTIN Fleet Street London.”  Under the cartouche it says Thos. Bowen Sculp. While the globe manufacturing plates clearly passed through a line of makers, it is not always abundantly clear why events unfolded the way they did.  John Senex (1695-1740), a Fellow of the Royal Society (F.R.S) was a prolific and important map maker of high regard who also sold globes. It is safe to say that he was essentially the most highly regarded globe maker in England in the early 18 th century. In 1740 he passed away and his wife Mary Senex continued the business until 1757 when, for reasons unknown, she sold most of the plates and equipment to James Ferguson (1710-1776).  Ferguson used the plates for a few years until, presumably due to business difficulties; they finally transitioned to Benjamin Martin (1704/5-1782).  After Benjamin Martin died it is unclear what happened to the plates for some of his medium sized globes and it is presumed that they fell out of use because they were becoming obsolete. Some makers continued using Senex plates for pocket globes (Dudley Adams and later Lane) and larger globes (Dudley Adams) until the beginning of the 19th century.  

Benjamin Martin was a maker to some degree and distributor of scientific instruments.  In the 1750s he expanded his Fleet Street business to include globe making.  It is important to note that Fleet Street was a significant center of printing and publishing in the 18th century.  He was also a rather prolific author who wrote many books that relate to science and education and you can often find them for sale on Ebay. Specifically he wrote a book in 1762: The description and use of both the globes, the armillary sphere and the orrery which explained many things about geometry and the use of the various instruments to make calculations.  A competitor in 1757, Samuel Dunn claimed that his planispheres were cheaper and as good as globes and then another in 1764, George Adams  claimed to have made an “improved” globe.   Martin was quick to discredit the instruments and denigrate their makers with insults in essays and appendices to his books.  Although the large catalogues published by his business indicate that his endeavors were to some degree successful, he ran into difficulties in the late 1770s and then became bankrupt in 1782, the year of his death.  This general information can be found in a number of places online but I want to give credit to the book Globes at Greenwich: A Catalogue of the Globes and Armillary Spheres in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich by Elly Dekker (1999).  Specifically pages 489-495 (Senex), 332-335 (Ferguson), 409-412 (Martin)  This tome is a treasure trove of information on English globe making but the one problem for those who do not have access to interlibrary loan  is that it retails used for between $300-600!  There is also a book Benjamin Martin, Author, Instrument Maker and ‘Country Showman’ by John R. Millburn (1976) which has four pages specifically relevant to his globe making (101-104).

I wanted to try to figure out as narrow a range as possible for the construction of my globe and I found in the Dekker book that the National Maritime Museum has a Martin globe very similar to mine which they date as pre-1770 because it does not make mention of Captain Cook’s Voyages.  My globe does show the first two of Cook’s voyages which ended in 1775 so it wouldn’t be earlier than 1775-6.  Cook was killed in Hawaii in 1779 but news of this would not have reached England until a bit later and it would take a little longer to update gores and produce new globes.  Based on the cartography and the routes of various explorers mentioned and since Martin died in 1782 it seems reasonable to conclude that it wouldn’t date much later than that.  One last piece of information actually comes from the damage to my globe.  Ideally there would not be holes in the orb, but the holes provide access to the interior where I was able to snake in a small light and get some photos with my Ipod camera.  Since the first layer of the orb is constructed of papier mâché, there were legible scrap pieces of almanacs pages all around the inside of the globe. Fortunately there were a few pages with dates at the top, the latest being 1778!   I am comfortable dating this globe then to somewhere between 1778 and 1782.  It is of course possible that it is from just a bit later but I have not been able to find another one anywhere that has the same surface as mine. 

The North American Continent: The primary thing makes this globe so exciting to me is that it dates to just after the American Revolution.  The original colonies are represented with borders delineated as per their charters; the United States in its infancy.  It is also interesting that Indian tribe names are prevalent all the way to the east coast and what is now Michigan is labeled Six Nations in reference to the Iroquois Confederacy.  Walker’s Settlement appears in the Kentucky area and was named after Dr. Thomas Walker who was one of the earliest explorers of that region.  I had never heard of him before but he is partly responsible for the first log cabin constructed in Kentucky and whose exploration preceded Daniel Boone (who is more famous and who I have heard of) by approximately 17 years.  To the west of the Mississippi it is essentially blank with almost nothing mentioned other than a few rivers.  The west coast is quite rough and aside from the label and description of New Albion the only specific places named are inlets and islands.

The African continent: “This country is scarce known to any of the Europeans” is a comment found in north-central Africa and yet borders and regions seem to be quite clearly delineated.  I almost feel like globes from the 18th century do a better job of simply marking most of central Africa as unexplored or unknown with only a few countries or regions around the coast delineated.  One of my favorite features on many globes from this period till about 1850 is the fictitious range of mountains strung across the middle of the African continent called Mountains of the Moon which were the supposed source of the Nile based on Ptolemy’s works.  While these mountains are not depicted on this globe, there are mountains in the south-east named Back Bone of the World.  Many of these false mountain ranges persisted in maps even towards the turn of the century!  Old-world and outdated racial designations are found in various parts of Africa as well such as the “Land of the Caffers” and Negroland (which sounds like some sort of amusement park).  It is interesting to see how quickly maps of the United States from 1780 to 1880 fill in with details and new states, especially when compared to maps of Africa from the same time period. 

The Search for the Northwest Passage: Lots of people died or disappeared trying to find a trade passage to Asia.  Europeans were searching for a water route through the interior of the continent but found that there was no such navigable route.  The next option then was to try to go over the North American continent through the arctic waters.  The area between North America and Asia on this globe is still full of interesting comments about discoveries and geographical traits.  De Gama’s Land which was mentioned in the accounts of his voyages is found here and represented as a partial, speculative coastline with a note that he saw this coast on a trip from China to New Spain.  I love that everything north of Washington State is a vague outline of the shape of Alaska! The progression of updates through the Senex plates is much like watching a projector come into focus as explorers progressively provide more and more details of the region. 

James Cook’s Voyages:  A few years ago I read through the Journals of Captain Cook and I was fascinated.  Some consider his voyages to be the end of the “exploring the globe to find new continents and lands” phase of exploration.  Certainly there were still some small islands to be discovered and the mapping of the Antarctic continent was not completed, attention was directed more at exploring the unknown interiors of the continents, especially of Africa, Australia and South America.  Crazy to think this globe could have been in a shop being created even as Cook was pulling stunts (like kidnapping the King of Hawaii) that finally got him shot and killed in 1779.

Holes:  I wanted to include at least one image of the interior of the globe so you can see the almanack pages (the old spelling is used inside this globe) as well as the wooden brace that runs through the middle of the globe.  Right about in the middle of the image you can see that there was something related to the Covent-Garden Playhouse that was going to take place on the 13th Day of September, 1778. 

Whales and Unfrozen Brandy:  There is a comment near Greenland that states, “Brandy Freezes by the fire” and another in Baffin Bay that says simply, “Plenty of Whales here”.  These are the types of annotations that are simply no longer found on globes in the 20th century. 

South America:  There is a big green region in the middle of South America that is described as “Country of the Amazons” with a little note below which reads, “These Parts are but very little known”.   

The Analemma: On this globe, the analemma is surprisingly rectangular and pasted on separately just to the west of Mexico.  It  actually covers up the names of a few places.  I believe analemmas were just starting to become standard on globes at this point in time in part thanks to Benjamin Martin.  

The Wind Rose: The Wind Rose or Compass Rose (which marks the 32 directions of the wind) in the Atlantic is beautiful and reminiscent of the portolan style maps of earlier times.  This is another item feature that slowly became extinct on later globes.  You might still find a Rose on a globe; however the lines extending from it won’t be there. Even though they could decorate the libraries of the wealthy and provide anecdotal geographical information for armchair explorers, globes from this period were meant to be used as instruments to aid with navigation.  If you were to get on a ship from Europe in the 18th century and embark for the exciting New World, the guy in charge of getting you there needed one of these along with a bunch of charts and measuring instruments!  

The Solid Brass Meridian Ring:  The hand-carved markings on this ring are exquisite to say the least.  Of course most of this type of work is done by currently done by machines even though there are also brass carving artists in the world today.  It looks like it would take days to make all the markings required for one of these globes, especially if you consider the work required for the hour circle and pointer which are regrettably missing on my globe.  I’ll bet that if we could  go back in time and visit the shop where this work was being done in the 18th century we would be absolutely impressed with how fast the work can be accomplished by workers who do this on a daily basis!  My plan is to take a few brass carving classes, obtain some raw stock, make some measurements and whip up a replacement in a few weeks (probably not!).

     Well, I hope you find this brief synopsis of my globe interesting and informative.  As I said above, I have not been able to locate any other copies of this exact globe online or in any of the standard reference works.  I feel it is important to share information for free so that collectors can become more knowledgeable in the field. If you are a large retail operation with years of experience then you have likely seen a large number of globes and the reference books that go with the trade but if you are a smaller collector, information can be quite scarce.   I have other pictures of the entire surface of the globe that I would be happy to provide if asked.   Thanks again to Kyle who invited me to come up with a post for his blog; it was a pleasure! 


  1. This is really an informative post and this globe can be a great educational tool for kids.This is very nice vintage antique item..thanks

  2. thanks, I wish more people could see the history, and art that is a globe!