Describing the worldJune 18th, 2020 By Catherine Amey
Tiny paper mâché and plaster sphere
One of the most fascinating objects I’ve catalogued is this tiny paper mâché and plaster sphere. Just seven centimetres in diameter, it nestled into the palm of my hand. Originally issued by Nicholas Lane’s London publishing firm in 1776, the globe was purchased by the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2019 from Douglas Stewart Fine Books in Australia.
Of particular interest were the lines curving across its varnished surface, tracking the travels of English voyagers James Cook and George Anson. Near the bottom of the world were Australia and New Zealand, already tinted pink to represent British rule, a cartographical convention that emerged in the late 18th century.
Among those privileged enough to afford them, there was a significant market for pocket globes in the late 18th and early 19th-century Europe. As I worked with the globe, I wondered about the other, unknown, hands that had held this miniature world and what they would think about its current port.
Lane’s pocket globe is one of a kind
Spheres such as this one offer intriguing insights into the European interest in oceanic voyaging, the cartography of colonisation, and how children learned about Australia and other far-flung lands,’ as the State Library of New South Wales points out in Geographical Games and Globes.
Lane’s pocket globe is the only item of its kind in the Alexander Turnbull Library Rare Books and Fine Printing Collection and Cartographic Collection, and there is only one other in Australasia, at the National Library of Australia. The globe neatly complements the Alexander Turnbull Library’s collection of print volumes and maps recording the expeditions of Cook and other European travellers.
Creating an intellectual surrogate for the library catalogue
From my ‘far-flung’ workstation in twenty-first century Aotearoa New Zealand, I puzzled over how to describe the little hand-coloured ball, the first edition issued by Lane. How could I record its form, content and context, and create an intellectual surrogate for our library catalogue? As my colleague, Hannah Mettner points out in Cataloguing the Marama Warren collection, this requires thoughtful consideration.
Fortunately, the international standards we follow allow precise technical terms such as ‘cartographic three-dimensional form.’ Rare book thesauri permit us to add appropriate headings, such as ‘globes’ and ‘geographic works.’
With the help of my colleague Andrew Robinson, a senior map cataloguer, I recorded the scale of the map, 1:220,000,000, adding machine-readable codes to convey that, like many globes of its time, this tiny world was made of plaster and paper mâché.
I also described the globe’s case, a hinged spherical box covered with shagreen, and lined with celestial maps of the northern and southern skies. Lane had acquired the latter from the British globemaker Richard Cushee (1696-c1734). As science historian Elly Dekker points out in ‘The Doctrine of the Sphere’, in early modern Europe it was ‘the fashion to model the earth and the heavens by separating the terrestrial and the celestial spheres.’
Describing a worldview as well as a world
As I reflected on the colours and lines recording the journeys of Anson and Cook, I realised that I was describing a worldview as well as a world. I thought of all the trajectories that were absent, such as the French and Dutch travels to the Pacific in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were latecomers, however. Hundreds and thousands of years before the Europeans set sail, great Polynesian waka navigated the vast oceans of the Pacific — the original voyages of discovery.
Description available in National Library catalogue
Finally, my description was complete and is available in the National Library catalogue.
After cataloguing, the globe was transferred to the Collection Care team, so that appropriate housing could be created.
When can I see it?
You can look forward to viewing this allusive artefact in our upcoming exhibition Mīharo/Wonder, opening on Thursday 25 February 2021, 245 years after it was first crafted. See you then.
Thank you to Anthony Tedeschi, Curator Rare Books and Fine Printing for his assistance with writing this blog and organising the images of the globe and its case.