By RONALD GRIM
Last October the Geography and Map Division purchased at auction a pair of 13-inch globes -- one terrestrial and one celestial -- manufactured by James Wilson, America's first commercially successful globe maker. The purchase marks the Library's first acquisition using funds from the Philip Lee Phillips Society, an association of friends supporting the acquisition and public outreach programs of the Geography and Map Division. Without this support, these globes could not have been added to the Library's collections.
The globes' lengthy titles are: "A New American Terrestrial Globe on which the Principal Places of the Known World Are Accurately Laid Down, with the Traced Attempts of Captain Cook to Discover a Southern Continent, by James Wilson, 1811, with Additions to 1819, Albany New York," and "A New Celestial Globe Containing the Position of Nearly 5000 Stars, Clusters, Nebulae, Planetary Nebulae &C. Correctly Compared & Laid Down from the Latest Observations and Discoveries by Dr. Maskelyne, Dr. Herschel, the Rev. Mr. Wollaston &C. &C. By James Wilson, 18[21?]."
The 1819 terrestrial globe is a revision of Wilson's first dated globe (1811) and includes such new geographic information as the states of Indiana, Illinois, Alabama and Mississippi.
The title cartouche of the celestial globe is worn and the date is difficult to determine, but it is most likely the 1821 edition. The celestial sphere is the earliest Wilson 13-inch celestial globe in the Library's collections, and the only example made from Wilson's first celestial printing plates.
James Wilson of Bradford, Vt., (1763-1855), was primarily self-taught in geography, cartography and the engraving and printing techniques of globe production. His globes were up-to-date and accurate as well as being beautifully crafted works. In December 1827, Wilson exhibited his globes at the Library in Washington and distributed business cards with the following notice: "James Wilson is the original manufacturer of Globes in this country and has brought the art to such a degree of perfection, as to supersede altogether the necessity of importations of that article from abroad. Members of Congress, as friends of American productions and ingenuity, are respectfully invited to examine these Globes."
The newly acquired globes are composed of paper gores applied over a papier-mâché core, mounted in wooden stands with four legs joined by cross stretchers supporting wooden horizon rings, and supported in a brass meridian ring. They represent the early period of globe manufacture in Albany, N.Y., when Wilson's sons, Samuel and John, had taken over much of the globe manufacturing business.
In her inventory of American globes, A Catalogue of Early Globes, Made Prior to 1850 and Conserved in the United States (New York: American Geographical Society, 1968), Ina Yonge cites only two examples of the 1819 terrestrial globe, one held at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She lists only one copy of the 1821 celestial globe, which is also held by the Metropolitan Museum.
Globes played an important educational role in 19th century America, yet they have often been inadequately collected and preserved. Deborah Warner notes in her series of articles "The Geography of Heaven and Earth," (Vol. 2, Rittenhouse, 1987-88), that "Globes and other astronomical demonstration apparatus were very popular with 19th century Americans -- much more popular than their representation in American museums and libraries would suggest. School globes, for instance, which were once very numerous, are now known by one or two examples, and globes from the late 19th century are much harder to find than are earlier ones. This scarcity of historic globes is largely a reflection of the fragility and cumbersome nature of globes, the rapidity with which their maps became obsolete, and the traditional bias of museums in favor of elegance, and against item in common use."
During the past two decades, the Geography and Map Division has worked to improve the Library's collection of American-produced globes, with emphasis on Wilson's work.
The Wilson globes in the Library's collection include a pair of undated (circa 1820) 3-inch terrestrial and celestial globes that have recently been restored and are on display in the Library's popular new exhibition "American Treasures of the Library of Congress." In 1992 Kathi Boan donated a pair of 13-inch terrestrial and celestial Wilson globes to the Library in memory of her father, Howard Welsh. At the auction of the Welsh collection at Sotheby's in 1992, the Library purchased an 1811 13-inch terrestrial globe (the first dated globe issued by Wilson), as well as an 1828 13-inch terrestrial globe. The Library has no examples of Wilson's 9-inch terrestrial and celestial globes that were issued as early as 1819.