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Photos: 130 Snow Globes Make For A Big Exhibit Of Tiny Little Winter Wonderlands

“They’re little worlds that are fun for people to look at and shake up,” says Julia Courtney, curator of “Let It Snow,” an exhibition of snow globes—and 19th century Japanese prints, but we’ll focus on the snow globes—at the Springfield Museums’ D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield through Jan. 4. “One of the biggest complaints we have of the show is that there’s no opportunity to handle them.”

The earliest snow globes seem to have been made in Europe in the 19th century. In particular, they attracted attention at world’s fairs in Paris in 1878 (including one snow globe depicting a man with an umbrella) and in 1889 (globes depicted the brand new Eiffel Tower, which debuted at the fair).

“The idea was out there, but that was the first time they were really mass-marketed and given away,” Courtney says.

There are 130 or so snow globes in the Springfield exhibit, drawn from three anonymous collections. Most are of recent vintage, but Courtney says some date to the 1950s and ‘60s. How to recognize the older ones?

“Typically the vintage ones are really simple, black base, round glass globe and one figure in the center,” Courtney says. Another way to tell: “A lot of the vintage ones, the water has evaporated.”

Vintage snow globes. (Courtesy)
Vintage snow globes. (Courtesy)

“The later globes that are plastic and fashioned with a plug at the bottom, those can be refilled,” Courtney says.

A snow globe with a soldier figurine dates to the World War II era, Courtney says. “For some reason, people really latched onto snow globes in that time. They were new to the U.S.”

One of the earliest U.S. snow globe manufacturers was the Nancy Sales Company, Inc. (Nanco), founded in 1937, outside of Boston, Courtney says.

“In the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, snow globes had hit the market. They were really popular. They’d started with World War II, then transitioned to holiday ones,” Courtney says. And in the late 1940s, she says, snow globes began being manufactured as travel souvenirs.

“Snow is sort of magical and I think that’s the attraction of snow globes,” Courtney says. “It’s this little, magical world and you, maybe, have entire control over it.”

Greg Cook is co-founder of WBUR’s ARTery. Be his friend on Twitter @AestheticResear and on the Facebook.

Boston's skyline in snow globe form. (Courtesy)
Boston's skyline in snow globe form. (Courtesy)
Snowman. (Courtesy)
Snowman. (Courtesy)
Snow globes celebrating the (then) brand new Eiffel Tower were one of the sensations of the Paris Exposition in 1889. These versions are of a much later vintage. (Courtesy)
Snow globes celebrating the (then) brand new Eiffel Tower were one of the sensations of the Paris Exposition in 1889. These versions are of a much later vintage. (Courtesy)
A snow globe created for and given to sponsors who have attended Springfield’s Bright Nights Ball, an annual event begun in 1996 to raise funds to light up the city during the winter months. The three buildings in the globe were the first ones illuminated as part of the project, Courtney reports. (Courtesy)
A snow globe created for and given to sponsors who have attended Springfield’s Bright Nights Ball, an annual event begun in 1996 to raise funds to light up the city during the winter months. The three buildings in the globe were the first ones illuminated as part of the project, Courtney reports. (Courtesy)
Plastic figures of a snowman and Santa with snow globe bellies probably date to the 1960s, Courtney says. (Courtesy)
Plastic figures of a snowman and Santa with snow globe bellies probably date to the 1960s, Courtney says. (Courtesy)
Snow globes don't just celebrate winter. (Courtesy)
Snow globes don't just celebrate winter. (Courtesy)
Ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz." (Courtesy)
Ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz." (Courtesy)
A globe depicting Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. (Courtesy)
A globe depicting Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. (Courtesy)
Snowmen. (Courtesy)
Snowmen. (Courtesy)
Travel souvenir snow globes. (Courtesy)
Travel souvenir snow globes. (Courtesy)
Lobster. (Courtesy)
Lobster. (Courtesy)
A Lone Ranger snow globe was perhaps inspired by the 1950s television show, Courtney says. (Courtesy)
A Lone Ranger snow globe was perhaps inspired by the 1950s television show, Courtney says. (Courtesy)
Santa. (Courtesy)
Santa. (Courtesy)
American flag. (Courtesy)
American flag. (Courtesy)
Disney's Snow White. (Courtesy)
Disney's Snow White. (Courtesy)
A holiday selection. (Courtesy)
A holiday selection. (Courtesy)
Rudolph the reindeer. (Courtesy)
Rudolph the reindeer. (Courtesy)
"Ho Ho Ho." (Courtesy)
"Ho Ho Ho." (Courtesy)
Travel souvenirs. (Courtesy)
Travel souvenirs. (Courtesy)
Snow globes celebrating the (then) brand new Eiffel Tower were one of the sensations of the Paris Exposition in 1889. This version is of a much later vintage. (Courtesy)
Snow globes celebrating the (then) brand new Eiffel Tower were one of the sensations of the Paris Exposition in 1889. This version is of a much later vintage. (Courtesy)
The New York skyline. (Courtesy)
The New York skyline. (Courtesy)
The Disney Company has long used snow globes as part of its marketing. (Courtesy)
The Disney Company has long used snow globes as part of its marketing. (Courtesy)

Greg Cook Twitter Arts Reporter
Greg Cook was an arts reporter and critic for WBUR's The ARTery.

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