An Introduction to The Mercator Globes at
Harvard Map Collection

Among the treasures in the Harvard Map Collection are two globes produced by Gerard Mercator. His terrestrial and celestial globes (1541 and 1551 respectively) were sold as a pair and became popular throughout Europe. Mercator's globes mark the transition as globes changed from an expensive decoration, made only for the learned, to a commercial product available to a wider diversity of users.

Mercator's globes consist of flat paper engravings consisting of twelve paper gores that narrow at the poles and two calottes (circular caps that cover the poles). The globes were then hand colored and set into innovative four-legged stands with attached horizon rings. While it is believed that he manufactured several hundred of these globes, a recent census reveals that only twenty-two matched pairs survive and Harvard's are the only matched pair in America.

Mr. Philip H. Rosenwald donated the globes to Harvard in 1936. Before they were conserved in 1999 the globes showed evidence of their exposure to heat, moisture, air pollution and use. Conservation treatment was conservative as the overall goal was to improve legibility, protect them from further environmental damage, and ensure that they remain usable for centuries to come. Generous gifts for their conservation and construction of their exhibit case came from the Pforzheimer Endowment for the Harvard College Library and the White Flowers Preservation Fund.

We are thankful to Jeremy Pool (A.B. '67), a member of the Boston Map Society, who developed a digital globe navigator and constellation menus, which allow scholars the ability to view each globe in greater detail. Additional information is available by requesting a brochure describing the globes from maps@harvard.edu.