Snow globes: a popular collector’s item

Petra Bjelica
Christmas Snow Globe With Santa Claus

Whether they are a reminder of your childhood fantasies or you see them as an epitome of kitsch, snow globes can be found in great variety in shops around the world.

And even though today’s toys have developed into numerous styles, shapes, and forms, it seems that something as simple as a water-filled globe with the slowly falling snow has yet to lose its charm – they remain one of the most popular items for collecting.

Snow ball. EllasPix. CC BY 2.0

It is suggested that snow globes originated in 19th century France.

The first recorded model was made by a Parisian glassware firm and shown at the 1878 Paris Universal Exposition. It contained a man with an umbrella.

For the second time, again at the same exhibition but in 1889, the French made a model that featured a small Eiffel Tower. It is believed that they were inspired as a replacement for glass paperweights.

Winter snow globe. Chris Young. CC BY-SA 2.0

However, that’s not the only story of the creation of snow globes. The Austrian Perzy family claims the right to its invention. To be more precise, Erwin Perzy, who produced surgical instruments, created them by mistake at the end of the 19th century.

The so-called Schneekugel was intended to be an extra source of light for surgical lamps.

The movement of the particles he had added to the liquid reminded him of snow, and the further addition of a model of the Basilica Mariazell to one of his light globes led to the creation of his first snow globe. He eventually patented the invention and opened a shop in 1905.

Snow globes. Andrew Malone. CC BY 2.0

The family company Original Vienna Snow Globes, which is perhaps responsible for the enduring popularity of snow globes, is still running and will soon be passed onto the fourth generation.

It is a small company whose expensive and exclusive products are handmade and manually assembled, and the materials used for snow are still a guarded trade secret.

If you happen to be in Vienna, don’t miss a chance to visit their shop since they have a little museum included.

Santa snow glow. Brett Neilson. CC BY 2.0

When snow globes came to America, they began to be cheaply mass produced. It was possible because a development by Joseph Garajha of Pennsylvania introduced a new glass which allowed the sphere to drive into a socket base.

Branding and the right product placement in two influential Hollywood pictures in the 1940s did the rest for the great boom of popularity of the snow globe in the USA.

First was Kitty Foyle with Ginger Rogers and the second is the famous opening scene of Citizen Kane by Orson Welles in which he drops the globe at the moment of his death and it dramatically shatters into pieces.

Snow globe by Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz. Becky Stern. CC BY-SA 2.0

Since the 50s, snow globes could be cheaply made from plastic, which influenced the creation of a very large market. Although they initially typically featured famous landmarks or winter scenes, today they can contain practically anything.

Roadside travel, touristic interests, Disney characters, or references to pop culture are just some of the contemporary themes.

The material for snow varies as well – from gold foil to glitter. Glycol is added to the water as antifreeze and glycerin help to slow the movement of particles.  Keep in mind that this water is toxic, and can be deadly to children and pets.

A collection of snow globes. Loïc LLH. CC-BY-SA-3.0

A simple snow globe can quite easily be made at home. You will need a jar, the model item you would place inside, material for the snow, glue, glycerin and distilled water.

Firstly, glue the figure to the lid of the jar and fill the jar three-quarters with water and a few drops of glycerin. Then add the material you would like to use for snow, fill the jar to the top with water, and screw the lid.

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The only thing left to do is to turn and shake the snow globe.