Wonderful worlds: the oldest pair of English globes in private hands

Created at the end of the 17th century by London’s pre-eminent globe-makers, these depictions of Earth and the heavens — 14 inches in diameter — are sophisticated instruments that incorporate precise technology and the latest discoveries of the day. Remarkably, they have survived in working condition

An early pair of English table globes, offered in Valuable Books and Manuscripts on 10 July 2024 at Christie's in London

Robert Morden (c. 1669-1703), William Berry (1639-1718) and Philip Lea (1683-1700), An early pair of English table globes. Both: 21 in (53 cm) high; 14¼ in (36 cm) diameter. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. Offered in Valuable Books and Manuscripts on 10 July 2024 at Christie’s in London

Around 335 years ago, in a workshop somewhere in London between Cheapside and Charing Cross, a trio of the city’s most talented cartographers met with an idea to create a new pair of globes — one to map the Earth, the other the heavens.

Using copper plates engraved with the latest maps, they printed 12 elliptical gores (tapered strips of paper to cover the main body of the globe) and two circular calottes (caps for the top and bottom), then delicately pasted them around a 14-inch-wide plaster sphere. Coastlines and borders were indicated with watercolour, and the most important cities highlighted in gold. The celestial globe was made in a similar way, then both orbs were mounted on six-legged oak stands via a swivelling brass ring. As a final touch, the makers added a paper cartouche that revealed their names: Robert Morden, William Berry and Philip Lea.

Only a few of these remarkable early English globes still exist. On 10 July 2024, as part of Classic Week, Christie’s is offering the oldest pair remaining in private hands.

The cartouche of the terrestrial globe, naming Morden, Berry and Lea as its makers

Morden, Berry and Lea weren’t the first to make a printed globe in England. That distinction fell to the Elizabethan mapmaker Emery Molyneux in 1592. But at the time the three men started their businesses in the capital, the cartography trade had been dominated for a century by the Dutch.

Morden made and sold mathematical instruments, maps, globes and books from his shop, The Atlas, near London’s Royal Exchange. He and Berry, the owner of a nearby shop named Ye Globe, had both apprenticed with Joseph Moxon, a mathematician and hydrographer to Charles II, who had learned the art of globe-making in Amsterdam.

Philip Lea initially apprenticed with Morden, before setting up a shop named The Atlas and Hercules near St Paul’s Cathedral. He clearly impressed his mentor: sometime after 1683, Lea joined Morden and Berry as a partner, taking a third share in their joint globe-manufacturing business.

The three men’s timing was savvy — interest in science, nature, geography and, crucially, the age of exploration was reaching new heights in England, and the demand for globes was soaring. They became valuable teaching aids and a necessity for any discerning gentleman scholar’s library.

Robert Morden (c. 1669-1703), William Berry (1639-1718) and Philip Lea (1683-1700), An early pair of English table globes. Both: 21 in (53 cm) high; 14¼ in (36 cm) diameter. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. Offered in Valuable Books and Manuscripts on 10 July 2024 at Christie’s in London

‘The Globes is [sic] the first studie a learner ought to undertake: for without a competent knowledge therein he will never be able to understand any author either in astronomy, astrology, navigation or trigonometry,’ Moxon wrote in 1659.

In fact, with a sophisticated pair of globes like these — fitted with meridian rings, hour circles, hand-pointers and a compass (the celestial globe retains its original) — it was possible to calculate the annual movement of constellations in the night sky, the hour at which the sun would rise and set relative to any location on the planet, the difference in local time between two longitudes, and even seasonal variations in the length of day and night.

According to James Hyslop, head of Science and Natural History at Christie’s in London, the accuracy and ingenuity of these globes is typical of the empirical approach to the observable world that flourished in Restoration England. And while we don’t know who initially owned this particular pair, many of the men’s customers were important fellows of the newly formed Royal Society, including Robert Hooke and Samuel Pepys.

The terrestrial globe

Morden, Berry and Lea prided themselves on the accuracy of their mapping, using contemporary sources rather than ancient texts to chart the most recent knowledge of the world’s surface.

A note ‘To the Reader’ explaining how the latest discoveries and scientific information have been used in the creation of the globe

‘To the Reader. Think it not strange that the Description of this Globe differs so much from all other Globes extant, for indeed there is not any part of ye Earth wherein we have not made a considerable alteration…’ begins a handwritten description glued over the Indian Ocean.

In the terrestrial globe’s representation of the Americas, California is shown as an island and Canada has no northern or western coasts

The depiction of South America includes illustrations of indigenous dwellings in Brazil, and a battle scene

Yet large areas of the world were still uncharted. The entire Antarctic continent has been omitted, because the makers weren’t sure if it was land or ice. Australia and New Zealand are only partially delineated according to Abel Tasman’s voyage of 1644. California is shown as an island. And Canada has no northern or western coasts, reflecting the maritime trade’s hope of finding the Northwest Passage.

Australia and New Zealand are only partially delineated according to Abel Tasman’s voyage of 1644

Any gaps in knowledge have been conspicuously filled with illustrations of ships and sea monsters, rhumb lines, and the routes of circumnavigation taken by the national heroes Sir Francis Drake and Sir Thomas Cavendish.

Illustrations on land, meanwhile, depict rhinos, elephants, ostriches, elk, boar, and members of indigenous communities, pointing to the early-modern fascination with exotic cultures, flora and fauna.

The celestial globe

Picked out in gilt paint, the positions of 62 stars in the night sky are shown on the celestial globe. The Milky Way, Magellanic Clouds and more than 50 constellations are labelled, while the 12 symbols of the zodiac are fantastically illustrated.

The cartouche of the celestial globe, like its terrestrial counterpart, advertises the shops in London owned by Morden, Berry and Lea

The globe also features a new, single-star constellation just below Ursa Major, which is brightly gilded and surrounded by a coloured design of a heart and coronet. It’s labelled in Latin ‘Cor Caroli’, which translates as ‘Charles’s Heart’.

The honorific title was given by Sir Charles Scarborough, physician to Charles II, who claimed that the star appeared particularly bright on the night of the King’s triumphant return to England from exile on 29 May 1660. (In fact, it is the brightest star of the northern constellation of Canes Venatici.)

The Milky Way (‘Via Lactea’) and a lavish depiction of the constellation of Scorpio appear on the celestial globe

Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces are among the globe’s other fantastical illustrations of signs of the zodiac

Surviving globes by Berry, Morden and Lea are extremely rare, says Hyslop. The Whipple Museum at the University of Cambridge has one terrestrial example, while the collection of Royal Museums Greenwich includes one terrestrial and two celestial — but all four are missing equipment such as compasses and hour circles, and their maps are badly smudged and torn.

The pair offered for sale at Christie’s, however, are almost immaculate. ‘The hour circles are still fixed to their poles, the meridian rings still rotate, and the paper gores and horizon rings have barely any scuffs or fading,’ says the specialist.

This could be because they’ve spent the past century perched high up on two plinths, out of harm’s way, in a Masonic lodge in Bridport, a town near England’s south coast. Prior to that, no one knows who looked after them so well.

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‘The survival of this pair of globes in original, working condition is extraordinary,’ adds Hyslop. ‘It’s not every day you have the chance to acquire not only one of the finest pairs of English globes in existence, but also the oldest obtainable.’

Classic Week — Art from antiquity to the 20th century — takes place from 2 to 10 July 2024 at Christie’s in London. Highlights include Titian’s The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, the rediscovered The Madonna of the Cherries by Quentin Metsys and Frans Hals’s Portrait of a gentleman of the de Wolff family. The pre-sale view is now open

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