Skip to main content
clickable transparency Dartmouth College Library
Home >  About the Libraries >   Friends of the Library >   Dartmouth College Library Bulletin > April 1992 >

Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

The Senex Globes


EXACTLY two hundred years passed from the time the John Senex globes were first offered for sale at Benjamin Martin's residence over against Dunstan's Church in London and the year 1957 when they found a home in Baker Library, Dartmouth College. The peregrinations of the globes during most of one of these years is not known, but I can shed light on the brief period that they were in my possession.

This is the story, and the characters, in the order of their appearance, are: one, a friendly neighborhood antiques dealer; two, a leading authority on cartography; and lastly, the head of one of the most august international societies of geographers. The objects that play a part in the story are few in number and come in pairs: the globes themselves, old work pants, and paint-stained shoes.

In order to commute to Manhattan by train each day, I would drive to the White Plains station and, in doing so, always passed a small antique shop known mainly for its Shaker furniture. It seemed odd that the store would display in its small show windows what appeared to be two geographic globes, which were suspended from the ceiling by short lengths of cheap chain. Normally, they would have been cradled in walnut or mahogany stands and found in the homes of the very wealthy or in the most exclusive private men's clubs.

A number of weeks passed before I found time to stop at the store. The owner mentioned that he had given up trying to find suitable stands for the globes and offered to close them out at his cost, which was thirty-five dollars. At that price, the globes aroused genuine interest, so the owner unhooked the chains, carried the globes to a table covered by an old rug, and invited my close inspection. They were sixteen inches in diameter and rotated on brass meridians about an inch wide. They were a rich tobacco color and very decorative; I purchased them, after determining that one was terrestrial and the other, celestial. I thanked the proprietor and, with his help, took them to my car and drove home.

Our apartment was quite small, and my wife was less than enthusiastic about what I thought would be a welcome addition to our living-room decor. But when I agreed to store them in grocery cartons in my bedroom closet until I found stands, the problem was temporarily resolved. Before we put the globes away, we examined them with a magnifying glass and found that on the geographic globe the west coast of the United States was identified as 'unknown,' as were large parts of Africa, South America, Australia, Canada, and the Arctic. Of course the celestial globe identified far fewer stars and constellations than are known today; evidently the skies were not nearly so crowded in those days.

The legend within the cartouche of the terrestrial globe reads:

A new & Most correct
Laid down from the latest observations
of the most judicious
By Jon Senex F.R.S.
Now made and sold with several new
improvements by
Benj. Martin only
in Fleet Street, London, 1757

The legend within the cartouche of the celestial globe reads:

The Celestial Globe
on which the True Face of the heavens is
delineated, and the Constellations containing
upwards of 2,000 Stars more than are on
any former Globes are laid down from
the most recent and accurate
Observations of Astronomers
and adjusted to the year 1740

By Jon Senex F.R.S.
Now made and sold with several new
improvements by
Benj. Martin only
in Fleet Street, London, 1757

The globes remained in the darkness of my closet, taking up most of the floor space and crowding my shoes. After several months, I decided to sell them, at cost if necessary, after learning from several cabinetmakers that custom-made stands would be outrageously expensive. Consulting the yellow pages of the phone book, I found the name of P. H. Prouse, 1 an eminent antiquarian whose rare-book business also included maps and globes. A week later, I arrived at his mid-Manhattan office carrying, in each hand, a carton containing a globe. Before that I made a necessary brief stop.

My office, which was nearby, was being painted, so I decided to check in to see if progress was being made on schedule. Knowing that I would be pushing furniture back in place at the end of the day, I had worn old pants and even older shoes. I stayed only a short while, but by the time I left to make my presentation to Mr. Prouse I had acquired several paint stains on my pants and even more on my shoes.

The Prouse office was at street level, and the entrance was through an impressive bronze door. I placed my cartons down and rang the bell. There was no response, so I rang again; soon the door opened, but only slightly. A conservatively-dressed man said in an impatient voice, `What is it!' I answered, `I have two old globes for sale and I would like to show them to Mr. Prouse.' The 'guardian' of the office looked at my pants, then my shoes, and finally at the grocery cartons. 'We're not interested!' he barked, and attempted to close the door. But I had planted one foot against it to keep it open and said, 'I've come a long way with these globes and if Mr. Prouse wants to refuse my offer, I want to hear it from him personally.'

In a fraction of a minute, I had my wish and heard from Mr. Prouse, who proved to be a man of few words. At the time, I was still standing in the partially-opened doorway, which allowed me to see farther into the office, the back of which was blocked off by black velvet drapes. They parted just enough for Mr. Prouse's head to appear. He looked like a stage manager counting the house before the show was to begin. What a performance it was to be!

He acted exactly as his assistant had, quickly checking my shoes, pants, and the cartons, but not their contents. `Not interested!' he shouted in a voice that, had he been on the stage, would have rattled the seats in the farthest corners of the second balcony. I backed out to the sidewalk, and the door slammed shut in my face. At that moment, Mr. Prouse lost the opportunity to purchase, at a giveaway price, what later would prove to be a pair of extremely rare and historic globes.

Having the afternoon off, I locked the cartons in the trunk of my car, fed the parking meter to the maximum, and walked to the nearby New York Public Library at Forty-second Street. Inside I was able to show 35-mm slides of the globes to the head of the map room. With the aid of a hand-held magnifier that I provided, a cordial Mr. Alexander studied the detailed close-ups with considerable interest, which changed to enthusiasm when he read the language of each cartouche.'Senex, John Senex,' he said. `Martin, Benjamin Martin,' he continued. 'They are both important names in our field, one an eminent cartographer, the other, a noted craftsman of early globes.'

Learning that I was not pressed for time, he disappeared into the stacks and returned with a copy of Stevenson's Terrestrial and Celestial Globes. 2 He quickly determined that the only pair of Senex globes listed were in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. They were made in 1733, thirty-six years after my globes that were, at the moment, resting in the trunk of my car.

Mr. Alexander was of additional help, suggesting avenues of further research, and before long, I was in touch with the Library of Congress, the American Geographical Society, and numerous museums worldwide. I learned that single Senex globes were on display in the British Museum in London and the Real Biblioteca in Madrid. In our own country, a Senex globe could be found in the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon, a gift from his successor, John Adams.

During my research I wrote to Andrew McNally, the president of Rand McNally, who had been acquiring globes. I found that he was no longer collecting, but it was he who suggested that Dartmouth might be interested. The Library did purchase them and they became a treasured addition to the Map Room, sharing space with other important globes and many historic maps.

By coincidence, in the same mail that brought a letter from the College announcing the safe arrival of the Senex globes in Hanover, there was another letter, this one from Vienna. It was from Dipl.-Ing. R. Haardt, head of the Coronelli-Weltbund der Globusfreunde, congratulating me on being accepted as a member of that prestigious international geographical society. The note ended with the suggestion that I should 'visit and bear Weltbund greetings to your fraternal brother, [P. H. Prouse].' I never acted on the suggestion, but if I had, I would have worn carefully-polished shoes and freshly-pressed pants.


1. The name of the antiquarian dealer has been changed here.

2. Edward Luther Stevenson, Terrestrial and Celestial Globes; Their History and Construction Including a Consideration of Their Value as Aids in the Study of Geography and Astronomy (New Haven: Published for the Hispanic Society of America by the Yale University Press, 1921). (Hispanic Society of America, Publications, 86) .