Ideal dome ex­hi­bi­tion

Snow globes come in a host of shapes, sizes and de­signs, and their his­tory is more con­tentious than you might think

Southport Visiter - - Antiques -

THERE’S enough Euro­pean fric­tion go­ing on with all this Brexit brouhaha but here’s the thing: who in­vented the snow globe? Was it France… or Aus­tria? One thing’s for sure, de­spite claims in some quar­ters, it cer­tainly wasn’t Amer­ica, but on a visit to the Mi­ami Biennale last week, we found our­selves sur­rounded by the things.

Ev­ery Christ­mas dis­play in ev­ery de­part­ment store was stuffed with them. Amer­i­cans love them, old and new, but the claim they in­vented them is sim­ply not true.

Records pub­lished by United States com­mis­sion­ers on the Paris Ex­po­si­tion Uni­verselle of 1878, talk of “pa­per­weights of hol­low balls filled with wa­ter, con­tain­ing a man with an um­brella. These balls also con­tain a white pow­der which, when the pa­per­weight is turned up­side down, falls in im­i­ta­tion of a snow­storm.”

In the same ex­hi­bi­tion there in 1889 a “snow weight” by an un­known maker was on show con­tain­ing a minia­ture replica of the newly-built Eif­fel Tower, a cen­tral at­trac­tion of the event, with ce­ramic flakes sus­pended in the wa­ter. It can be seen to­day in the Bergstrom-Mahler Mu­seum of Glass in Wis­con­sin, al­though sadly, its wa­ter has evap­o­rated.

Round one to Paris. How­ever, Aus­tria fights back with the in­escapable truth that the first patent for a “schneekugel” or snow globe, was awarded to Er­win Perzy, a Vi­en­nese sur­gi­cal in­stru­ments me­chanic, al­though he hit on the idea en­tirely by chance.

He was work­ing on the new in­ven­tion of “cold light” – light with a high range of ul­tra­vi­o­let rays

– and he re­sponded to a re­quest from a sur­geon to en­hance the power of the Edi­son elec­tric light bulbs fit­ted in his op­er­at­ing the­atre.

Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from lamps used by lace mak­ers in which the power of a can­dle is mag­ni­fied by a clear glass globe filled with wa­ter, Perzy ex­per­i­mented with types of re­flec­tive ma­te­rial in­clud­ing ground glass, which he added to the wa­ter.

Noth­ing worked un­til he tried ground rice. When the par­ti­cles be­came soaked with the wa­ter, they sank gen­tly to the base of the glass, re­mind­ing him of snow­fall.

His first snow globe con­tained a model of Aus­tria’s Maria Zell Basil­ica of the Birth of the Vir­gin Mary, which he made in pewter, and the patent for it was granted in 1900.

Sales were so suc­cess­ful that he and his brother, Lud­wig, opened a shop in Vi­enna, where pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues to this day as a fam­ily busi­ness.

Perzy’s achieve­ment was recog­nised by Kaiser Franz Josef I and sales boomed on both sides of the At­lantic, boosted still fur­ther by Hol­ly­wood. In 1940, sales dou­bled after Gin­ger Rogers ap­peared in “Kitty Foyle”. Mid­dle-class Kitty falls in love with a wealthy man, much to the an­noy­ance of his fam­ily and in a flash­back to hap­pier days, she shakes a snow globe con­tain­ing a fig­ure of a girl on a sledge.

A year later, they more than dou­bled again when the mon­u­men­tal open­ing scene from Or­son Welles’ “Cit­i­zen Kane” fea­tured a snow globe con­tain­ing a tiny log cabin.

When U.S. news­pa­per baron Charles Kane dies with the word “Rose­bud” on his lips, the globe he’s hold­ing drops from his hand and shat­ters, caus­ing re­porters to delve into what it meant. The globe was made by Perzy’s com­pany.

Orig­i­nal Vi­enna Snow­globes are painted and as­sem­bled by hand us­ing qual­ity Aus­trian glass not plas­tic, filled with clear alpine wa­ter and exclusive “snow”, which may or may not be ground rice – it’s a fam­ily se­cret – each as­sem­bled and sealed in­di­vid­u­ally.

For the first 40 years, the in­te­rior dio­rama was al­ways a church but Er­win Perzy II ex­tended the range to in­clude Fa­ther Christ­mas, snow­men fig­urines and tiny Christ­mas trees. There are now more than 350 dif­fer­ent de­signs.

“The Orig­i­nal Vi­enna Snow­globe is fa­mous for the long­est last­ing snow, the clear­est glass globes, the widest range of stan­dard and cus­tom styles, and my per­sonal qual­ity as­sur­ance,” Er­win Perzy III, grand­son of the in­ven­tor told me.

Around 200,000 are made an­nu­ally, rang­ing in size from 35mm to 120mm (1.5 inch to 4.5 inches) in di­am­e­ter, sold from the shop, which dou­bles as a mu­seum where a guided tour takes vis­i­tors around Perzy’s first workshop.

Mass pro­duc­tion of snow globes was soon well un­der­way in the U.S.

Joseph Garaja, a Pitts­burgh maker, was granted a patent in

1929, fol­lowed in 1944 by an­other to Wil­liam M. Sny­der of the Atlas Crys­tal Works, who was based first in New Jersey and later in Cov­ing­ton, Ten­nessee.

The for­mer was re­spon­si­ble for per­suad­ing the com­pany Nov­elty Pool Or­na­ments to pro­duce a ver­sion show­ing a fish swim­ming among sea grass, while the lat­ter emerged as one of the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers hav­ing per­fected the tech­nique of mount­ing the glass dome on to a ce­ramic base un­der­wa­ter so that the dome was filled en­tirely. Prices started at $1 a time and ex­am­ples are recog­nis­able be­cause the com­pany’s name is printed un­der­neath. Add two noughts for an­tique ex­am­ples to­day. Their prod­ucts are poor re­la­tions in com­par­i­son, but they are col­lected widely.

The pe­riod co­in­cided with the boom in ad­ver­tis­ing and tourism after two world wars, both of which boosted pro­duc­tion fur­ther.

Globes with ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gans and lo­gos sell for a pre­mium.

The ad­vent of plas­tic and in­jec­tion mould­ing in the 1950s meant costs were re­duced and pro­duc­tion in­creased, but at great cost to qual­ity.

Col­lect­ing snow globes took off in the 1980s when kitsch was a craze, fu­elled by such lu­mi­nar­ies as Andy Warhol.

Those with glass globes and ce­ramic bases are worth more than all-plas­tic ex­am­ples. Globes com­mem­o­rat­ing spe­cific events are prized, par­tic­u­larly rar­i­ties from world fairs. Avoid globes with the all-too-fa­mil­iar Christ­mas themes, es­pe­cially Santa, and any in which the fluid level is any­thing less than full. Plas­tic dis­colours over time and a trea­sured globe should be kept out of sun­light.

Avoid also “snow” that has failed the test of time. Cheaper ex­am­ples have no snow at all, while oth­ers show signs of “snow sick­ness” in which the flakes have be­come con­gealed and lie for­lornly around the in­side of the base in a lump.

The joy of a snow globe is sim­ple: cre­at­ing a mag­i­cal win­ter won­der­land in the palm of your hand …with­out wor­ry­ing about how to get to work.

Er­win Perzy III with an early snow globe fea­tur­ing a hand-crafted model of St Stephen’s cathe­dral in Vi­enna. Left, an early Perzy snow­man globe

The Orig­i­nal Vi­enna Snow­globe com­pany made globes for Pres­i­dents Rea­gan and Obama; Old and new Perzy globes in the com­pany’s mu­seum in Vi­enna

Er­win Perzy I, aged 25

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