Antiques Column with Michael Dowse
Last weekend my wife went into a garden centre. As I was with her I did too, although I was unsure of the reason or objective.
We were immediately transported to December 24th, the displays for Christmas were everywhere and I have never seen so many snow domes. Snow domes, or snow globes as we might know them, may conjure up images of cheap holiday souvenirs but they are in fact a popular collectable nowadays and date back further than you would think. The first documented evidence of snow domes was by Charles Cole, American Deputy Secretary of the Commission of Glassworks, writing about the 1878 Paris Exhibition. Although it is believed that their origins lie with the development of solid glass paperweights in France in the mid-1800s, Cole makes no mention of this. The first ‘souvenir’ snow domes were made for the 1889 Paris Exposition, to commemorate the construction of the Eiffel Tower, with mini Eiffel Towers in them. After all, the real tower was originally supposed to be dismantled after the show. Unfortunately none survive today.
The 1940s saw a boom in popularity for this novelty when mass produced plastic domes took over from the previously hand-made glass domes. Joseph Garaja patented the assembly of snow domes under water in 1927, aiding this boom.
The glass domes used various substances to achieve the ‘snow’, such as ground-up bone, ceramic dust, sand or ground rice. When the plastic dome came into production, the snow followed suit and was more often than not plastic too. The liquid in the both glass and plastic domes was water but often with an addictive such as glycol to encourage the
‘snow’ to fall more slowly and swirl around before settling. Snow domes are not always circular with the oval becoming popular in the 1940s as it was found to be less likely to crack. Unusual shapes or examples with forms that surround the globe are popular as are those domes with internal moving or musical parts.