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Saving the Globes

Spring, 1995

With the help of a grant from the South Eastern Museums Service, a leading London globe restorer has recently been commissioned to visit the Museum and undertake a complete survey of the condition of the globes in the collection.

Having been asked in rather a vague way to look at what might have been a dozen or so objects to be included in the survey, Sylvia Sumira eventually found that it was long past closing time before she had reached the twenty-third globe of the day, with a number still remaining to be examined.

Among the globes surveyed so far are examples by the makers John Senex, the Bardin family, John and William Cary, and Dudley Adams. But the collection is not just confined to traditional terrestrial and celestial globes. The Museum has a rare example of John Russell’s ‘Selenographia’ of 1797 – a printed globe of the moon mounted in a mechanism for demonstrating the effect of lunar libration – and a Russian moon globe of 1961 that includes lunar features invisible from earth photographed by the space station Lunik III in 1959.

The reports that have been presented describing the globes and their condition make interesting reading. On the Senex terrestrial globe of 1718, for example, California is shown as an island, but on his 1738 globe of the same size it is joined to the mainland. Some of the reports suggest the extraordinary powers of the globe restorer: ‘Large losses in Asia, below China and around South Pole ‘ extensive crack at New Holland’. Even this task might appear trivial on reading some of the repairs needed in the heavens: ‘Cracks … at Virgo, dent below Perseus’.

Undaunted, a start has been made on cleaning up the cosmos. Two of the most important globes in the collection are the pair by Willem Janszoon Blaeu from the beginning of the seventeenth century, donated by J. A. Gotch in 1942. They have now been taken away for restoration and visitors to the forthcoming special exhibition ‘The Measurers’ will be able to see the results of the work in July. It is particularly appropriate that such a fine pair of globes as this can be included in the exhibition, as globe-making was a prominent part of the work of many of the leading Flemish mathematical practitioners of the sixteenth century – Gemma Frisius, Gerard Mercator and Jodocus Hondius as well as Blaeu.

Only relatively superficial work can be undertaken on the Blaeu globes at this stage. This will involve the removal of dust and surface grime, stabilizing damaged areas, and cleaning and protecting the brass meridian ring and wooden stand. A more complete restoration of these and the other globes in the collection will have to await future opportunities. In some cases extensive structural work will be required as well as restoration of the printed surfaces. It is hoped that over the years ahead funds will become available to allow as many globes as possible to be restored to something nearer their original condition.