Magazine article The Spectator

Value under the Microscope

Magazine article The Spectator

Value under the Microscope

Article excerpt

As the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and as awareness of climate change continues to rise, interest in the natural sciences is soaring. This is rubbing off on the collectors' market in scientific instruments, with globes, sundials and microscopes proving particularly popular.

The appeal of globes is especially broad -- because they are scientific instruments, decorative objects and comprehensive cartographical histories wrapped into a single package, says George Glazer, a former attorney who now runs a globe dealership on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (www.georgeglazer. com). 'You could argue that a globe is the ultimate item to own, because it is so many things in one, ' he says.

Prices for antique globes range from less than $500 for smaller 1930s models to as much as $2 million for rare 16th-century specimens. 'For a pair of high-quality early 19th-century English floor globes in very good condition, you're looking at $200,000 to $250,000, ' says Glazer. Floor globes, rather than those designed to sit on a table, generate the most interest. 'They tend to sell the best because they fit the concept of a globe that people have in their mind, which they might have picked up from a movie or a visit to a library.' Globes are also sound investments. Prices for floor globes doubled between 2000 and 2008 -- with the value of some 1940s and 1950s 'black ocean' globes tripling over this period. This is a reflection of a recent rise in interest in modernism and 20th-century decorative arts in general, Glazer says.

'Twenty or 30 years ago, this kind of thing was considered junk. I'd certainly rather have my money invested in my inventory of globes than in company stock at the moment.' Christie's South Kensington sells globes at its biannual travel, science and natural history auctions. James Hyslop, the auction house's scientific instruments and globes specialist, says that tiny pocket globes (see picture) are proving even more popular than many larger models. 'They were created in the 18th and 19th centuries, predominantly by English makers. Prices for these have shot up -- especially for 18th-century models, which have fetched up to £11,000 at auction.'

Pocket globes tend to be around three inches in diameter, and often come in spherical fish-skin cases decorated with maps and charts on the inside. They are more practical for those interested in building a large collection, simply because they don't take up as much space as desk or floor globes. As George Glazer says, 'I don't know anybody who has a room containing 20 or 40 floor globes -- other than me.'

Elsewhere in the scientific instruments market, Islamic items are also 'shooting up in popularity and value', thanks to a surge in interest among wealthy buyers in the Middle East, according to Hyslop. 'The sheer amount of money in the Gulf has really driven up prices. Some Islamic sundials which might have sold for £100 ten years ago are now making up to £4,000.' Prices for Islamic astrolabes -- instruments designed to measure the positions of heavenly bodies -- are also rising sharply. 'The last astrolabic quadrant [a sophisticated type of astrolabe] we sold, which dated from 1876, made £5,500. Ten years ago you could pick that up for £100 quite easily, ' Hyslop says.

Sundials of all vintages, from all over the world, are perennially popular, he adds. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.