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Thinking Globally

For the collector interested in science, art, geography or history, globes are out of this world
Judd Tully
From the Print Edition:
Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01

The only thing that's missing in George Glazer's incredibly cluttered Manhattan gallery is a warning sign for visitors to watch their step. Though the tall and rather large-framed antiques dealer has no trouble navigating the minefield of antique floor globes, opened print file cabinets and clusters of other rare planetary treasures, newcomers to his gallery often find themselves immobilized by the sight of so many strange objects.

A hands-on, show-and-tell type of dealer, Glazer lumbers around the gallery, located on the third floor of an Upper East Side townhouse, reaching for globes and telling their stories in giant-sized, paragraph- long sound bites. Like his sophisticated Web site, www.georgeglazer.com, the information flows in many directions.

Terrestrial and celestial globes have been around since ancient Greece, but those spheres only survive in depictions on sculptures. Rare globes from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries -- by such masters as the Franciscan friar Vincenzo Maria Coronelli, who made the enormous "Marly" globes for Louis XIV, and the Belgian physician and mathematician Gemma Frisius -- are usually cloistered in museums such as the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, or in a few private collections. They seldom, if ever, appear on the market. There are, however, many English, French, German, American and even Islamic globes by renowned makers, such as the Cary family of London and James Wilson of New York and Vermont (America's first globe maker), that come up for sale or auction.

A lawyer by training, Glazer opened his gallery in 1993 after on-the-job training as a fledgling English furniture expert at the tony Arader Galleries on Manhattan's Madison Avenue. When globes came into the gallery, Glazer would handle them, since he had a decorative arts background and could identify the various period stands that the delicate globes were cradled in.

Considered scientific instruments by some, and sold at auction at Christie's and Sotheby's under that appellation, the larger English-made versions of free-standing terrestrial and celestial globes are also considered English furniture, and sold alongside Chippendale side tables and claw-footed chairs. That's due in part to the elaborately carved wood stands that support the printed and often hand-colored "gores," engraved maps that are applied to the papier-mâché spheres.

Floor globes have always been pricey objects, and in past centuries, they inhabited English country manors or the wood-paneled libraries of London townhouses. English globes in floor and table models dating between 1780 and 1840 represent the most traditional aspect of the market. "It's really the English makers that people are after," says Catherine Southon, Sotheby's London specialist in scientific instruments. She estimates that her auction house sells no more than 20 globes each year, but not for lack of demand. "I can't get enough of them. The bigger and earlier the globes, the more money they make."

Glazer cut his collecting teeth on English furniture, and English globes in particular. (He even rolled a Regency-style, nineteenth-century Bardin floor globe on casters across Grand Central Station's cavernous main room, after acquiring it in a Westchester antiques store and lugging his valuable trophy home on the Metro North Railroad.) Despite this background, Glazer skirted the more established English globe market and developed a special fascination and expertise in the less explored territory of nineteenth-century American globes.

His education was helped tremendously in 1991, when Arader acquired a large group of globes and related reference materials at a Sotheby's auction of the collection of aficionado Howard Welsh, and turned them over to Glazer to catalogue and market. One of his first customers was actress Mary Tyler Moore, who bought a pair of early Wilson nine-inch-high globes in 1992. "Welsh collected an unusual number of American globes," says Glazer, "and when I realized that there was a whole field of American globes that nobody had really looked at, I decided to specialize in this field."

Glazer has no qualms about broadcasting his admittedly arcane expertise. "I would say immodestly, I'm the leading globe dealer in the country, certainly in American nineteenth-century globes, and probably globes in general." He reaches for a 12-inch terrestrial table globe with a weighty Victorian-era cast-iron stand, made by New York-based globe maker Herman Schedler, circa 1889. It is priced at $3,600 and is one of about 300 globes in Glazer's eclectic inventory, ranging in price from $250 to $50,000.

"It's still not a defined area of collecting, per se, the way some things are, like duck decoys, with a legion of collectors," says Glazer, barely masking a smirk at the thought of the comparison. "Certainly, people collect maps, and oftentimes a map collector will dabble in globes, but the number of people who've decided ¿I'm going to collect globes' is very small. I'm working with a few people who are building collections, but it's more or less because I [originally] twisted their arm."


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