Blizzard in a Sphere

Some vintage snow globes can bring hundreds of dollars

Snow globes began their story in the late 19th century in Vienna as an accidental creation by Erwin Perzy, an inventor and designer of surgical instruments. Perzy was attempting to create a brighter magnified light source for surgeons. Thomas Edison had recently invented the light bulb and Perzy was asked to make it brighter for the operating room. As lenses were expensive, Perzy looked to using water as a magnifier. He took a glass orb, filled it with water and added particles to magnify and reflect light. In doing so, he experimented with different particles and eventually tried using semolina. The semolina flakes floated, swirled and fell like snow, seeming to resemble a blizzard in a sphere. The experiment ended up not transforming the light bulb for the operating room, but instead turned into an art project.

Perzy soon made a miniature pewter casting of the Mariazell Basilica, a famous cathedral in Austria, and placed it within a glass orb with water and semolina, thus creating the first snow globe. These globes quickly became popular; Erwin and his brother opened up a shop in Vienna and began production. Generations later, the family to this day continues to produce them (although semolina is no longer used).

Snow globes gained popularity and were soon being made by many other different companies using varying techniques. The snow globes’ magical scenes appeal to all ages, making them collectible and forever sought after. Today, in most souvenir shops you can typically find snow globes made of plastic with tinsel and glitter floating around an iconic building or a cityscape. Even I remember bringing one home, marking my first visit to the Statue of Liberty when I was 8 years old.

Some vintage snow globes can bring hundreds of dollars; however, yours is a more typical souvenir type that sell for less than $20. Although it does not have much antique value, it certainly tells a great story that many of us can relate to as it evokes nostalgic memories.

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