Posted by Jacob Garvelink on

A globe is a three-dimensional scale model of planet earth or another celestial body such as a planet or the moon. The word globe comes from the Latin word ‘globus’ meaning mass or sphere. Globes depicting the earth are also called terrestrial or geographical globes. More specifically they can also be political globes. These depict the countries of the world in various colors as well as specifics like trade routes, steamship lines or even Zeppelin routes. 

A physical globe does not show any (or only minimal) country or political demarkations. It focuses on the physical geographical information of our planet showing mountain ranges, habitat types and often information such as depth and elevation. These globe are less frequently found than political globes.

A globe is the only representation of the earth that does not distort either the shape or the size of large features. Flat maps are created using a map projection that inevitably introduces an increasing amount of distortion the larger the area the map shows. A typical scale for a terrestrial globe is roughly 1:40 million. This corresponds to a globe with a circumference of one meter, since the circumference of the real Earth is almost exactly 40 million meters.

A globe is usually mounted at a 23.5° angle on a meridian. In addition to making it easy to use, this mounting also represents the angle of the planet in relation to the sun and the spin of the planet. This makes it easy to visualize how days and seasons change. The meridian can also be placed inside of the globe and sometimes a double meridian is used which gives the globe a very nice free feel. The stand of a globe will vary widely from clean wooden or bakelite stands to extravagant ‘seats’ to hold a globe or even airplanes and meticulously turned wooden stands. The stand is often a tool for aging a globe beside the map which is being used.

Many globes feature an analemma, which is often placed in the Pacific Ocean. In short: an analemma is a curve representing the changing angular offset the Sun from its mean position on the celestial sphere (the sky) as viewed from Earth.

The analemma is clearly visible on this stunning early 1950s Cram's Black Ocean's Globe as sold by Concrete Matter

Sometimes a globe has a surface relief. In these globes elevations are exaggerated, otherwise they would be hardly visible. Most modern globes are also imprinted with parallels and meridians so one can tell the approximate coordinates of a specific place. Globes may also show the boundaries of countries and their names, a feature that can quickly become out of date, as countries change their name or borders. This is still the most important aging tool in vintage globes, though caution should be taken as sometimes older prints are used on modern globes.

There are also globes called celestial or astronomical globes which are spherical representations of the celestial sphere. Celestial globes show the apparent positions of the stars in the sky. They omit the Sun, Moon and planets because the positions of these bodies vary relative to those of the stars, but the ecliptic, along which the Sun moves, is indicated. A potential issue arises regarding the "handedness" of celestial globes. If the globe is constructed so that the stars are in the positions they actually occupy on the imaginary celestial sphere, then the star field will appear back-to-front on the surface of the globe (all the constellations will appear as their mirror images). This is because the view from Earth, positioned at the centre of the celestial sphere, is of the inside of the celestial sphere, whereas the celestial globe itself is viewed from the outside. For this reason, celestial globes may be produced in mirror image, so that at least the constellations appear the "right way round". Some modern celestial globes address this problem by making the surface of the globe transparent. The stars can then be placed in their proper positions and viewed through the globe, so that the view is of the inside of the celestial sphere, as it is from Earth.

A short History of the Globe

The sphericity of the Earth was established by Greek astronomy in the 3rd century BC, and the earliest terrestrial globe appeared from that period. The earliest known example is the one constructed by Crates of Mallus in Cilicia (now Çukurova in modern-day Turkey), in the mid-2nd century BC.

No terrestrial globes from Antiquity or the Middle Ages have survived. An example of a surviving celestial globe  is part of a Hellenistic sculpture, called the Farnese Atlas, surviving in a 2nd-century AD Roman copy in the Naples Museum in Italy. Early terrestrial globes depicting the entirety of the Old World were constructed in the Islamic world. The oldest surviving terrestrial globe is the Erdapfel, created by Martin Behaim in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1492.

the globe above is a facsimile of Martin Behaim’s Erdafel by Globemakers Greaves & Thomas

15th Century

With the age of the great explorers a growing interest in globes arose. The text on the globes were Latin since this was considered the language of science of that age. Nuremberg in Germany was the epicenter of globe production in Europe and one of the oldest surviving globes today, the Martin Behaims “Erdapfel” (earth apple) from 1492 is on show at the Germanischen Nationalmuseum in Nurnberg. Another very early globe is the so called Hunt-Lenox Globe from ca. 1507 currently housed in The New York Public Library.

16th Century

In the beginning of the 16th Century graphical reproduction processes were optimized which resulted in the possibility of globe production in series. The typical globe gores (thin paper strips that narrow to points at the poles) were printed on paper which was than glued onto the globe itself. This method was most used for the coming centuries. The paper was printed using woodblock printing until the middle of the century, after which it was replaced by copper intaglio printing. This latter method was replaced in the 19th century by chromo-lithography. The first printed globe gores were produced by Martin Waldseemuller in 1507 in Nuremberg. Famous names to emerge in globe manufacturing in this century are Gerhard Mercator (Belgium/Germany)  and Jodocus Hondius (Dutch). With the growing status as a sea faring and exploring nation, the Dutch demand for globes increased rapidly. Rich merchants and Dutch East India Company’s captain families wanted to be able to know where there ships and loved ones where going. Amsterdam became the new epicenter of globe production, high quality map making and nautical and navigational instrument making. The famous Blaeu family became a real dynasty of map and globe makers. Willem Blaeu trained as an astronomer started the family business.

Jodocus Hondius

17th Century

In the 17th century there was a particular high demand for large globes. The most important globe manufacturers were the family Blaeu (Willem and after him Joan). Matthäus Greuter in Germany and Vincenzo Maria Coronelli in Italy. During this century the globe production shifted somewhat from The Netherlands to France and later on into the 18th century to England. Despite the fact that the globes had too little maps on them, they were still widely used on the Dutch East India Company ships on their ways to the Far East. The most important collection of these very unique globes can be seen in the National Dutch Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. The museum also has the oldest known celestial globe from 1600 made by Hondius. It depicts twelve new zodiac signs, which the explorers first saw when they crossed the equator.

A typical 17th century globe by Blaeu from the National Dutch Maritime Museum, Amsterdam

18th Century

Though The Netherlands where still among the most important globe producing countries, France, England and Germany were also joining in as the demand for globes increased. This also resulted in more ‘clean’ globes with less decoration. The decorations in the form of animals depicting zodiac signs, miniature ships or flags started to disappear from the globe maps. Instead of this more and more scientifical information started to appear on the globe depiciting the new explorations and discoveries of this century. The age of Enlightenment also caused that the former blank spots on the map which used to be filled up with fantasy elements, were now real blank spots. because of the growing knowledge of our earth the globes became also more and more detailed and of higher quality. The explorations of James Cook for example generated a lot of new information. The celestial globe also became much more detailed as more and more celestial bodies where being discovered. From 1780 onwards the British globe makers were in the lead leaving the other globe producing countries behind them. Great Britain became the commercial and scientifical epicenter of the world with an ever and rapidly exapanding empire. Newton & Son as well as George Philip & Son became famous producers of globes bearing the proud titel “Globe & Math Instrument Makers to the King”

A typical lay out of globe gores

19th Century

In this century, along with the industrial revolution, the production of globes became more standarized as well as mass produced. through technical innovations the production became both quicker and cheaper. The map images were now made by lithography and later on chromo-lithography which made the production a lot cheaper. This also meant a wider spread selection of globes in schools. At the end of the century machine were inventend that pressed out half globe part from cardboard.

20th Century

Globes are now being mass produced mainly for schools. The material used for the bases is mainly wood, steel or bakelite. The globe itself is made out of cardboard (pre-1950s) or plastic and sometimes also glass. The glass and plastic globes often feature a lamp inside, which give a great effect especially with the more hard to find celestial globes. Today the USA is the leading producers of globes, with companies like Cram’s and Replogle - a company started in the 1930s by Luther Replogle that still makes globes today. In Europe, the biggest market share for the 20th century globe is made up by German globes. Companies like Columbus have been making a wide selection of high quality globes since the early 20th century. At Concrete Matter a lot of Columbus globes can be found in all size and shapes. Another famous German globe producer is Räth or Räthgloben, which has been making globes since 1917. Räth also made many globes in different languages, like Dutch or Swedish. Early 20th century Dutch globes are relatively rare. Despite this we have had a great selection of globes made by Kaltofen or S.V.H. 

Columbus globes ready for delivery

Globes at Concrete Matter

We source our globes with a great deal of care and the invaluable help of a very keen Dutch globe collector. We pride ourselves in the fact that all our globes are of the highest quality. This does mean that some wear and tear could be present on a globe, but we always take great care in selecting a globe based on exactly its character. Besides the somewhat more common globes we always make sure that we have a selection of special globes as well. This can be a rare celestial globe with an internal lamp, a mint condition 1925 Krause, an interesting slate gobe or an oversized Welt Verkehrs Globe from 1941. We try to have a collection that features globes from EUR 25 up to EUR 3000 in order to serve the demand of the ever strong globe afficienado. A globe is a timeless piece of decoration that is also very much dated. This combination between highly tangible and visual world histroy and a timeless elegant object is what makes a globe such a fascinating object.

To see our entire globe collection please follow this link.

A rare 1925 oversized 20 inch diameter Replogle Globe as sold by Concrete Matter

A ca. 1950 Räth Galaxy Globe with an internal lamp as sold by Concrete Matter. See the globe here.



A Dutch ca. 1930 Kaltofen globe as sold by Concrete Matter. See the globe here.



A beautiful ca. 1925 Hammond's 12" globe as sold by Concrete Matter



A stunning elegant ca. 1950 'Art Deco' globe as sold by Concrete Matter