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Sphere no. 10: a Celestial Globe by John Senex and A. N. Other

Autumn, 1999

A 12-inch celestial globe of 1738 by John Senex has been the latest to benefit from the programme of restoration of globes originally announced in the first issue of Sphæra. The restoration has been carried out by Sylvia Sumira, who has been able to work through the Museum’s globe collection as the result of continuing support for the programme from the South Eastern Museums Service.

John Senex was an engraver and a map and globe seller active in London throughout most of the first half of the eighteenth century. He was a member of the Stationers’ Company and became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1728. His widow Mary carried on the business successfully for fifteen years after his death in 1740. It seems that John constructed the globes as well as engraving the plates for their printed gores, for when Mary sold up in 1755, James Ferguson announced that he had acquired ‘the Plates, Moulds, &c. belonging to the Globes that were constructed by the late Mr SENEX’.

The restoration has drawn attention to a very curious feature of this globe. In an old repair, towards the south pole, a substantial area of the sky has been replaced using parts of gores belonging to a different globe. Crux (the Southern Cross), for example, is in the added section. In the case of Centaurus, much of his human aspect is original, while the equine part is added. The repair has been skilfully done and, while no such procedure would be entertained by a modern restorer, as an historic restoration it adds to the interest of the globe.

The challenge now is to identify the added gores. One set of clues comes from the stellar nomenclature. On the original surface the stars are identified by individual names or by Greek letters within constellations. On the added gores there are Greek letters, Roman letters, Roman letters with numbers, numbers alone and underlined numbers. The numbers contain up to four digits. This diversity of labelling styles signals the use of a number of different star catalogues.

The globe specialist Elly Dekker has pointed out that the nineteenth-century firm of Charles Smith & Son of London used underlined numbers to indicate the use of particular star catalogues. On this and other stylistic grounds she believes that the alien gores are from one of their globes. What now remains to be done is to find a 12-inch example of ‘Smith’s Celestial Globe’ in order to make a direct comparison.