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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

(continued from page 1)

As Glazer points out, "What makes globes most interesting is also the thing that possibly keeps dealers or other people from focusing on them, which is, they combine different disciplines. They're scientific instruments -- maps and cartography -- as well as decorative arts, so none of the dealers in any of those fields, or even possibly the scholars, feel entirely comfortable with these aspects. Usually, somebody's interested in one or the other. They're neither fish nor fowl."

At that moment, the gallery doorbell buzzes and Glazer instantly changes gears, bustling over to take care of a potential client who is looking for a special gift for her husband, who recently returned from a trip to the North Pole. After 30 minutes or so of Glazer's rapid-fire observations about Admiral Richard Byrd's polar explorations in the 1920s and '30s, and hunting down a half-dozen examples of period globes bearing details about those daring exploits, the overly sated client departs with a six-inch Geographic Educator puzzle globe, and the dealer instantly returns to his subject.

"Nobody's going to live with just a bunch of globes. If you begin to establish a point of view of things that interest you, to me, those are the better collectors, and that should be a goal for a collector. Otherwise, the collection is very static. In a sense, there's no imagination, even if it's filled with good objects."

Heartily digging into his delayed lunch of Chinese takeout, Glazer fine-tunes an earlier observation. "One of the things I try to do here, that I'm not sure all antique dealers do, is try to tie the thing into a historical context. Globes are really more interesting than maps," he insists, "and I can make a case that globes are the most interesting thing that one could collect. They have everything, really, and relate to so many different things."

He rapidly ticks off a laundry list of possible interests: "There's travel, history, science, geography, or something about your ancestors or politics that you can learn from a globe. They can be used to demonstrate principles of astronomy. So it's surprising they haven't been collected more."

Globes pop up in a confounding variety of auction venues, from country house sales to maritime painting auctions, from Los Angeles to London to Monaco. Last October, a pair of early nineteenth-century 21-inch English library globes, by renowned London makers John and William Cary, sold for $138,000 (est. $120,000-$125,000) at a Christie's Los Angeles sale of scientific and engineering works of art. In May, a pair of 12-inch globes, dated 1792 and made by German globe maker Johann Georg Klinger, fetched $30,740 (est. $8,700-$11,600) at a sale of scientific instruments at Sotheby's London. The record price at auction was set at Christie's London in October 1991, when a magnificent pair of elaborately engraved gilt-metal globes, made for Sultan Murad III circa 1579 and attributed to the workshop of Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, fetched $1.82 million.

Globes occasionally sneak into single-owner celebrity auctions, such as the pair of 15-inch-high German globes on stands of walnut and ebonized wood that made $10,200 (est. $5,000-$7,000) at the glitzy Gianni Versace sale at Sotheby's New York in April. But they paled in price to a stunning pair of eighteenth-century French globes by Didier Robert de Vaugondy that sold for $280,598 (est. $139,082-$208,623) at the gilded Karl Lagerfeld sale at Christie's Monaco in April 2000. (Globes were often sold in pairs of one celestial and one terrestrial, particularly in the early centuries of globe making.)

Contemporary celebrities aren't the only famous globe aficionados. The late Duke of Windsor had a passion for globes. A three-inch-diameter celestial pocket globe by J. & W. Cary, circa 1800 and fitted in a spherical case covered in shagreen (fish skin), sold for $12,650 (est. $1,000-$1,500) at the giant Duke & Duchess of Windsor sale held at Sotheby's New York in September 1997. Another pocket celestial globe of the Duke's from the same period depicted Australia as "New Holland" and North Africa as "Barbary," underscoring Glazer's remarks about the lure of history and geography.

The search for globes can take you to dealers and traditional auctions, but there are other possible sources as well. Surfing on eBay for globes is a hit-or-miss prospect, because the search engine, unless you fine-tune your query, will more than likely deliver an errant listing about an Art Deco-styled lighting globe than a terrestrial object. "There're some good nineteenth-century American globes that turn up on eBay simply because they're the kind of things that are just sitting around in people's attics. And [eBay's] also good for reference materials and old trade catalogues," says Glazer, warming up for a warning. "[But] you wouldn't really know whether something was rare or not or be able to properly evaluate the damage. Condition is a sticky issue. You really can make a mistake. There's no question about it."

Polishing off his late lunch with a famished gusto similar to his hunger for globes, Glazer summed up: "There is no one great collection of American globes; but those globes that have passed through my hands would easily constitute the greatest collection of American globes, that's for sure. But I just don't have the luxury of keeping them, either for money or for space. That's the life of a dealer."

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