A 470-year-old globe, believed to be the oldest example of its kind offered at auction, sparked an intense bidding battle – and left the seller in shock as she watched live online.
Five phone bidders competed against the internet to secure one of the rarest objects ever uncovered by Hansons Auctioneers. Such was its scarcity many museums could not advise on the 16th-century terrestrial globe because they had nothing like it in their collections.
The historical item prompted strong worldwide interest ahead of auction and it swiftly soared past its guide price of £20,000-£30,000. The hammer eventually fell at £116,000 to a private buyer in New York, America, bidding online.
The seller, who watched the sale live from her home in Wales, was stunned as the bids came flooding in – and revealed she paid only £150 for the item at a Welsh antiques fair.
“I thought I was pushing the boat at £150 when I bought it during the pandemic,” she said. “I had no idea it was so important and valuable. I watched the auction with my friend, my husband and a glass of wine. My friend was crying, I was in shock and my husband was totally and utterly dumbstruck. It goes without saying that I’m delighted.”
The seller took the object along for free valuation at Hansons’ Staffordshire saleroom, Bishton Hall, where she met the firm’s works on paper expert Jim Spencer. His intensive research revealed her antique was an incredibly rare circa 1550/60 globe by, or a derivative of, Francois Demongenet, a French geographer known for globe gores which became a model for other makers.
Jim, head of Hansons’ Library Auction, said: “I’m delighted for all concerned. This is an exceptional result. This object truly deserved to excel. To me, the globe feels priceless. It’s just so early and fragile to have survived the centuries.
“One specialist told me 16th-century globes are nigh on impossible to come across. In terms of value, the general consensus was that it was a ‘complete unknown’. We think our globe could be the earliest ever offered at auction.”
The oldest terrestrial globe in the world is the Erdapfel from 1492. The second oldest, the Ostrich Egg Globe from 1504, was sold at the London Map Fair in 2012. Then comes the Hunt-Lenox Globe, circa 1510.
Jim vividly remembers the day he saw the item for the first time: “The vendor brought along a number of objects for valuation and was unsure if the globe was anything of great significance. I expected to pick up a modern reproduction, but I was instantly struck by the engraved gores, which indicated authentic age.”
The globe depicts a world before Australia had been discovered by Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon in 1606. The country appears as part of a southern land mass called Terra Incognita – unknown land. 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.
“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 felt like a museum piece.
The globe, which featured 12 engraved gores, a stippled effect to the seas, monsters, ships and a depiction of Greek god of the sea Triton, was originally in the collection of Major Edward Croft-Murray (1907-1980), former Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum.
“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.
Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “The bidding battle for this globe was out of this world and deservedly so. It’s one of the most important historical finds Hansons has ever made.”