Snow globes are transparent spheres of glass or plastic filled with a clear liquid and enclosing a miniaturized scene. Paperweights, ornaments, souvenirs and collector’s items, snow globes are little worlds that sit in the palm of your hand. Shaking the sphere agitates the small white particles inside and they swirl like snowflakes in the wind. When you set the snow globe down, the particles gradually fall like new snow, settling on the scene inside. The rate of snowfall varies according to the viscosity of the liquid and the weight of the flakes.
The world’s largest snow globe collection is owned by Wendy Suen
Her first one was a gift from her husband. Since then, she is reported to have bought more than 4,000 of them, spending more than $150,000.
Snow globes’ ancestors were glass paperweights with decorative designs inside. Then someone got the bright idea of hollowing out the glass balls and filling them with water. White, powdery flakes were added so when you turned the paperweight upside down, you started a snowstorm.
The French word is boule à neige, meaning snow ball
No one knows who the original inventor of the snow globe was, but records show that in 1878, snow globes were common enough that seven artisans displayed hand-crafted boules à neige at the Paris Exposition.
Eleven years later, the Paris Exposition of 1889 presented the Eiffel Tower to the world as part of the national celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the best-selling souvenirs was a snow globe with the Eiffel Tower inside.
An Austrian named Erwin Perzy made medical instruments
He was experimenting with ways to concentrate and intensify lighting for surgeons. Shoemakers, watchmakers and anyone doing close work had been placing glass globes filled with water in front of candles to magnify their illumination since the Middle Ages. The general principle was similar to the visual effect you get when you look through a magnifying glass.
Perzy experimented with materials that would reflect and boost the light
Just as Edison tried thousand of filaments in his light bulbs before finding the right one, Perzy fiddled with glass chips, metal shavings and anything he could think of, including soap flakes, wax, rice and clay. One of the things he tried was grains of wheat, and the way they fell reminded him of snow. Soon after, he obtained a patent for a “glass globe with snow effect.”
Perzy opened a factory with his brother Ludwig and started manufacturing schneekugels, something Vienna Snow Globes still does today, producing about 200,000 a year. The number one seller, year after year, is a snow globe with a Christmas tree inside.
The Perzy family still paints and assembles their snow globes by hand
Vienna, by the way, is the home of the Perzy Snow Globe Museum. The Japanese Snowball Association operates its own Snowdome Museum in Tokyo. Their philosophy about the little air bubbles that inevitably invade our snow globes is quite different than ours: The bubbles are a gift of the angels.
When snow globes began to be made of plastic rather than glass, they became cheap and tacky
Kitschy snow globes quickly became popular souvenirs of amusement parks, hotels and resorts. By the 1950s and 60s, Americans taking to the highways could buy snow globes at every roadside attraction across the country.
- The TSA says snow globes can be packed in your carry-on bag only if the entire snow globe, including the base, fits in an approved quart-sized resealable plastic bag. A spokesperson said “You don’t get a 3-1-1 bag and a snow globe bag. It has to be in the same bag your other permitted liquids are in.”
- Hallmark, maker of snow globes, says sunlight refracting through the snow globes can ignite nearby flammable materials, posing a fire hazard.
- The Marks & Spenser Clementine Gin Liqueur snow globe bottle has been deemed dangerously appealing to children.
The snow globe that falls and smashes in the famous scene from the film Citizen Kane was made by Perzy’s company, Original Vienna Snow Globes.
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