9819 AN EXTREMELY FINE PAIR OF CARVED MAHOGANY TERRESTRIAL AND CELESTIAL GLOBES BY GEORGE ADAMS, MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENT MAKER TO KING GEORGE II English. Signed And Dated G. Adams, 1782.   Measurements: Height: 38 1/2 in (98 cm) Diameter: 23 2/3 in (60 cm)


Each made up of hand-colored engraved gores, with engraved brass meridian circle and an equator wire, both with movable semi-meridian. The carved stands with three fluted legs supporting a fluted carrying ring. The legs united by cabriole stretchers surmounted by an urn and supporting a circular compass.

The terrestrial globe inscribed: Britanniarum/ REGI Augustissimo/ GEORGIO TERTIO./ Scientiarum Cultori pariter et Praesidio/ Globum hunc Terrestrem./ Omnes hactenus exploratos terrarum tractus, Ad./ Observationes Navigantium It inerantium et Astronomo/ rum recentiores accuratissime descriptos exhibentum/ Grati animi et pietatis monumentum/ D.D.Q./ Omni cultu et officio devinctissimius/ G. Adams/Londini apud G. Adams, artificem Regium/ in vico Fleet Street/ 1782.

(To the most August King of the Britons, George III, equally a devotee and protector of the sciences, this terrestrial globe, showing all the places on Earth thus far discovered, from the most recent and accurately described observations of voyaging seamen and astronomers, is given and dedicated as the monument of a grateful heart and respect, with all honor and duty, by the most devoted G Adams, London, by G Adams, Instrument Maker to the King, in Fleet Street, 1782.)

 The celestial globe inscribed: Britanniarum/ REGI Augustissimo/ GEORGIO TERTIO/ Aftronomorum Patrono Munificentifsimo Celeberrimo/ Globum hunc Cælestum/ Novam et Emendatiorem Cælii Imaginem, Sydera apud/ Africæ Promontorium Auftrale nuperrimè observata. Atq./ Stellas Catalogi Flamftediani Universas, verè exprimentem/ Grati animi et pietatis monumentum,/ I D. D. Q. | Omni Cultu et officio devinctissimus/ G. Adams/ Londini apud G. Adams, artificem Regium/ in vico Fleet Street.

(To the most August King of the Britons, George III, the most generous and celebrated patron of astronomers, this celestial globe, a new and corrected image of the heavens, showing accurately the stars recently observed at the southern promontory of Africa and also all the stars in Flamsteed’s Catalogue, is given and dedicated as the monument of a grateful heart and respect with all honor and duty, by the most devoted G Adams, Instrument Maker to the King, in Fleet Street.)

An old Geneva Private Collection

The origins of celestial and terrestrial globes extend to antiquity, when philosophers and astronomers first began to conceive of the earth and heavens as spherical in form. As science and technology advanced and world exploration expanded, so did the art of globe making with more accurately constructed models being produced, particularly by seafaring societies such the Spanish, Dutch and English. By the mid-eighteenth century, the manufacturing of globes in Britain was led by a select few makers based around London’s Fleet Street. The present globes are signed by the maker who would dominate this field in the late-eighteenth century, George Adams, and are dated 1782.

The Adams’ were a family of opticians and scientific instrument and globe makers. George Adams Sr. (1709-1772) was active as early as 1738 and established at 60 Fleet Street by 1757. Despite entering the globe trade later in his career, he won acclaim for his work in this field and for his writings on astronomical and geographical subjects, particularly his 1766 A Treatise Describing The Construction And Explaining The Use Of New Celestial And Terrestrial Globes. As suggested by the inscriptions on the globes quoted above, the family, especially George Senior, benefited considerably from a relationship with George III, who, in 1760, the first year of his reign, appointed him Maker of Scientific Instruments to the King. The 1766 treatise also began with a dedication to the king, which Adams commissioned Samuel Johnson to supply; it reads:

Geography is in a peculiar manner the science of Princes.  When a private student revolves the terraqueous globe, he beholds a succession of countries in which he has no more interest than he has in the imaginary regions of Jupiter and Saturn.  But Your MAJESTY must contemplate the scientific picture with other sentiments, and consider, as oceans and continents are rolling before You, how large a part of mankind is now waiting on your determinations, and may receive benefits or suffer evils as Your influence is extended or withdrawn.

It seems likely that Adams would have also employed Johnson to compose the elaborate dedicatory inscriptions on the globes (see above). However, the king’s recognition of Adams was not owing in the first instance to his skills as a globe maker, but was more to do with his remarkable success in creating scientific instruments, providing the finest twenty percent of the king’s collection of one thousand pieces. Nearly all of the collection remains intact today and is housed at the Science Museum in London, after being presented to the nation by George V in 1927. It appears that the relationship between Adams and the king was close; the French Astronomer Jérôme Lalande records that, during his visit to Buckingham House in 1763 to see the king and his scientific collections, Adams was on hand to operate the instruments at the king’s command.

The fashion for scientific demonstrations can be traced back to the 1740s and the invention of the Leyden Jar, an apparatus that was used to show an electrical charge. Interest in this field would rise rapidly thereafter, not least due to the support and interest of George III’s father, Frederick Prince of Wales, who encouraged leading scientific lecturers of the time to come and speak to his sons at their home Leicester House. Among their number was the great astronomer John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), and there is evidence that he set up an entire planetarium in the house.1 The production of scientific instruments in London increasingly came to dominate the European market. Jacques Cassini, director of the Royal Observatory in Paris in the early-eighteenth century, even considered sending young French apprentices to London to learn the requisite techniques from the Fleet Street makers.2 After the death of Frederick in 1751, his son Prince George continued his interest in this area. He constructed an observatory in Richmond Park specifically for the purpose of observing the transit of Venus in 1769, and the astronomer William Herschel called him “the best of kings, who is the liberal protector of every art and science.”3

However, Adams did not initially make his name by making globes or scientific instruments. In the 1740s, when interest in science was growing, Adams was more famous for his manufacture of microscopes and navigational equipment. The former area was newly fashionable thanks to two publications, Micrographica Nova by Benjamin Martin, and The Microscope Made Easy by Henry Baker. Adams took full advantage of this trend by producing his own publication, Micrographica Illustrata: or the Knowledge of the Microscope Explained, which he used to fully publicize his own microscopes. The Prince of Wales’ Microscope made by Adam for the future George III in 1755, which is now in the Science Museum, is an example of his remarkable skill in this area; it can be tilted to any angle and included sophisticated focussing capabilities (figure 1). He maintained this specialism later in his career; during Lalande’s aforementioned visit to Buckingham House in 1763 the Frenchman commented on the King’s Microscope, recording that it cost “trois mille pieces” and was made by “M. Adams,” most likely referring to the highly elaborate silver microscope also now in the Science Museum collection that Adams made in 1761 (figure 2).4

Adams’ other early specialism in navigational instruments would pay considerable dividends. He invented a new sea quadrant, which he promoted with another publication in 1748, The Description and Use of a New Sea Quadrant. This aided him in obtaining a position as main supplier to the Office of Ordinance. The Seven Years War in the 1760s ensured that he benefited from a brisk trade in navigational equipment for use by the military. These connections allowed Adams’ reputation to spread far and wide. In the 1750s the botanist Peter Colinson wrote to Benjamin Franklin to inform him that he had acquired some instruments for him from Adams. It would appear that the firm had no shortage of orders in the 1750s. Aaron Burr, later the third vice president of the United States, also wrote to Franklin to say he had asked Adams for some quotes but had received no reply. The firm’s reputation in the American colonies is further confirmed by Thomas Penn’s presentation of a copy of Micrographic Illustrata to the Library Company of Philadelphia.5

Adams first began to show signs of interest in globes around 1746 when he advertised “Globes, celestial and terrestrial, of all sizes,” although there are no records at this stage of him having sold any until around 1755, when he began advertising to that effect in various publications. A devastating fire that struck his workshops in the late 1750s, and the ongoing large commissions of scientific instruments from the new king in the early 1760s, meant that Adams was unable to begin globe production in earnest until later in the decade. He offered a full range of sizes and prices, and the option of having them mounted in expensive mahogany stands, or more practical ones for use by educational institutions.6 He was charging rather more than his competitors, which he claimed was because his productions were of a much better quality—this claim he felt compelled to justify in print, partially explaining the 1766 treatise mentioned above.7

Adams’ globes reflected the most up-to-date star catalogues and geographic exploration of the time. The present examples feature several other additional innovations; on the terrestrial globe a broad paper circle surrounds it horizontally at its center, dividing it into northern and southern hemispheres, and it is supported by the wooden stand which includes a compass at the base. Within this broad ring are four concentric circles: the innermost is divided into 360 degrees, the second contains the 32 points of the mariners compass, the third contains the twelve signs of the zodiac and on the fourth are the months and days. Adams’ innovations also made the globes easier to understand. On terrestrial globes he added a thin brass semicircle, moveable about the poles, representing the meridian. Upon this semicircle is a small brass sliding circle, divided into a few of the points of the mariner’s compass, representing the visible horizon of any point at which it is set. On the celestial globe the brass semicircle represents the moveable circle of declination, and the small circle denotes an artificial sun or planet. A further semi-circular wire, the horary circle, is mounted at the equator and carries two indices, one on the east and one on the west of the strong brass circle, that show “in what space of time any part of [the earth’s] rotation is made.”8

The details on the celestial globe are based on Flamsteed’s star catalogue. The names of the constellations are given in English, Latin, Greek and sometimes Arabic and were based on constellations devised by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille from observations made at the Cape of Good Hope in 1750-52 and published in 1763. He used names based on contemporary scientific instruments that are graphically represented on the globe. These include the Microscope, Mariners Compass, Air Pump and Painter’s Easel. Adams also used the instruments he made for George III in this way, such as his double-barreled air pump or “Machina Pneumatica” and universal microscope, which were naturally placed closest to the royal dedication (figure 3).

A pair of globes made by Adams for the King remain in the collection in the Science Museum in London, although these date from 1766 and, therefore, have more old-fashioned stands than the present pieces (figure 4). Upon his father’s death in 1772, George Adams Jr. took over the firm along with his brother Dudley. George Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, publishing a number of works on astronomy, geography, physics and microscopy, and was appointed instrument-maker to King George III and optician to the Prince of Wales. It is under the direction of George Jr. and Dudley that the present pair of globes would have been constructed. An important distinction between the King’s globes of 1766 and the present pair is the labelling of new voyages and discoveries by explorers such as Captains James Cook and Charles Clerke (i.e. “Cooks Return 1775,” “This Continent disc. by Capt. Cook 1778,” “Clerke’s Track 1779”) (figure 5). George Adams Sr. had provided James Cook with the instruments needed to observe the transit of Venus in the Southern Pacific in 1769, and he may have supplied other navigational instruments on the ship. The present globes are also updated to show the expanded knowledge of territories such as New Holland (Australia) and the division of new territories, namely the eastern American states.

Several of Adams’ globes can be found across continental Europe. In 1768 the Astronomer Johann Bernoulli saw a pair in the library of the University of Göttingen that were presented by Queen Charlotte, and there is a smaller model at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Josiah Wedgwood, the famous ceramics manufacturer, is known to have been a customer and bought three large globes to give as gifts to friends and family. Fascinatingly, there is an Adams terrestrial globe at Mount Vernon, Virginia, bought by George Washington soon after the American War of Independence in 1789, during his first year as President (figure 6). Washington asked the London merchants Wakelin Welch and Son “to send me by the first vessel which sales for New York, a terrestrial globe of the largest dimensions and of the most accurate and approved kind now in use.”9 Wakelin responded to the president: “One Adams here is Suppos’d to be the first optician we have, he purposes to make the Terrestrial Globe upon the New & approv’d method, it may take up to two months to Complete & that will be as early as a Conveyance may offer, for after this vessel none is expected to sail before February.” Washington would have already known of Adams; he had a copy of his treatise on globes in his library.10 The globe cost twenty-seven pounds and, after he retired as President, he took it with him to Mount Vernon to be retained his study.  Its stand is of a similar style and format to the present examples, but of a simpler design.

The bases of the present globes are elaborately detailed. Apart from being extremely fine in their carved execution, they appear unique in their pylonic form and reflect some of the main neoclassical design influences of the 1780s, drawing on the ancient architecture of important classical Greco-Roman buildings and Egyptian temple doorways. Furthermore the use of fluting in conjunction with paterae can be found on refined examples by, or in the manner of, Robert Adam and George Hepplewhite.

These objects symbolize the age from which they come: of enlightenment and discovery in terms of science, geography and astronomy; and the considerable leaps and bounds that were being made in the development of a number of related technologies.

1. Morton, Alan and Jane Wess. Public and Private Science: The King George III Collection. London: Oxford University Press, 1993. 17.
2. Millburn, John. The Adams of Fleet Street, Instrument Makers to George III. Ashgate: Hampshire, 2000. 3.
3. Lubbock, Constance Anne. The Herschel Chronical. London: Cambridge University Press, 1933. 124.
4. Millburn, 104.
5. Ibid., 69.
6. Ibid., 120.
7. Ibid., 113.
8. George Adams. Treatise Describing The Construction And Explaining The Use Of New Celestial And Terrestrial Globes. London, 1766. p. ?.
9. Cadou, Carol B. The George Washington Collection: Fine and Decorative Arts at Mount Vernon. Manchester: Hudson Hills Press, 2006. 184-185.
10. Ibid., 184.

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