A ‘priceless’ ancient globe depicting the world in the 1500s – complete with strange sea monsters – could sell for tens of thousands of pounds after being uncovered at a free valuation event.
Jim Spencer, head of the Library Auction at Hansons Auctioneers, was stunned when a client brought the item, which dates back to circa 1560, to the firm’s Staffordshire saleroom, Bishton Hall at Wolseley Bridge.
He said: “The vendor had a number of objects and was unsure if this was anything of great significance, so one of the valuers called me over to take a look. I expected to pick up a modern reproduction, but I was instantly struck by the engraved gores, which indicated authentic age.
“I couldn’t wait to begin researching it. I don’t think it’s possible to say what its monetary value is because I have nothing to compare it with, but I’m guiding at £20,000-£30,000 and feel it must surely reach or soar beyond that. If the globe gains the interest it deserves, the sky’s the limit. To me, it feels priceless. It could be very special indeed. It’s just so early and fragile to have survived the centuries.”
The 16th-century terrestrial globe, which is nearly 500 years old, is by, or a derivative of, Francois Demongenet, a French physicist and geographer. He is best known for a set of globe gores which became a model for other engravers and carvers of miniature globes.
It depicts a world before Australia had even been discovered by Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon in 1606. The country appears on the globe as part of a southern land mass called Terra Incognita – unknown land – and is empty.
Meanwhile, Japan is called ‘Sipannge’; islands near Java are termed ‘Gryforum Insule’; North America is marked ‘Devicta ann 1530’ and South America is marked ‘Nova Terra Inventa anno 1492’ and ‘Canibales Tropophagi’.
“The sheer age of the globe is mind-blowing,” said Jim. “People would’ve been wearing ruffs and codpieces when they first handled this globe in Elizabethan England. No European had sighted let alone set foot on Australia.
“It includes depictions of sea monsters as, at that time, people believed fantastical creatures lived beneath the waves. In 1583, English explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed to have encountered a lion-like monster with ‘glaring eyes’ during a voyage.
“So many places hadn’t been explored. It’s amazing to think of all the historical events this delicate little globe has survived. As well as coming through two world wars, it was made a century before the Great Fire of London in 1666. To me, it feels like a museum piece. It must be one of the earliest globes to come on the market.
“Exploration flourished in the 1500s thanks to improved navigational skills. For example, Sir Francis Drake became the first Englishman to sail around the world, circumnavigating the globe between 1577 and 1580. He was encouraged in his adventures by Queen Elizabeth I.
“Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492 and Portuguese traders António da Mota and Francisco Zeimoto reached Japan in 1543. This was a time of seafaring adventurers, naval warfare and the original pirates of the Caribbean.
“I know Demongenet-style globes have been sold in the past constructed of brass or silver, and they achieved big sums, but this is so fragile with the engraved paper gores. A sheet of the unused gores alone is important and valuable, but to see an actual globe like this, it’s just incredible.
“I contacted various museums when researching the globe, and some of the responses were ‘we don’t have anything like this in our collections, so we are unable to help’. This hammered home its rarity and importance.”
The globe was originally in the collection of Major Edward Croft-Murray (1907-1980), former Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, prior to its purchase be the vendor.
“I guess we’ll never know how Major Croft-Murray acquired the globe, but we do know he was one of the ‘Monuments Men’ who rescued all manner of treasures during the war,” said Jim. “This globe transports us right back, and almost encapsulates the fragility of our planet.”
The globe, lot 150, features 12 engraved gores, a stippled effect to the seas with several monsters and ships and a depiction of Greek god of the sea Triton. It will be offered in Hansons Auctioneers’ December 14 Christmas Library Auction at Bishton Hall, Staffordshire.