Johnston’s Library and School Globe, London 1850

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Johnston’s Library and School Globe

Diameter 32”; height with stand 57 1/2”

London,ca. 1850


Johnston’s Library and School Globe, c. 1850, made up of two sets of twelve finely engraved gores,engraved brass hour dial, brass meridian circle with graduated degrees, the papered horizon ring with degrees of amplitude and azimuth, compass directions and houses of the Zodiac, raised on carved mahogany stand, the legs ending in brass-wheeled casters, height 57 1/2 in., diameter of stand 32 in 

This remarkable large-scale globe, which is nearly five feet tall in its stand, captures one of the most fascinating time periods in United States history. At the time the globe was assembled around 1850, westward expansion was well underway with the Union’s gains of California and New Mexico in the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In addition to the historical significance of the piece, the globe is also a superb example of mid-nineteenth century craftsmanship from the distinguished workshop of W. & A.K. Johnston. Though the globe is undated in the cartouche, several cartographic clues place its creation within a four year time period between 1849 and 1853.

California and New Mexico: Johnston’s inclusion of California and New Mexico in the United States is significant in dating the globe to post-1848: following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which formally ended the Mexican-American War, the United States assumed control over vast new territories, including the land that became California and New Mexico.

Texas: The globe also includes Texas in its entirely, firmly placing the globe’s date of creation after 1848. Though Texas was officially recognized as a state in 1845, border disputes with Mexico continued for several years after the war. The borders of Texas, which exceeded the original boundary lines of the Republic of Texas lasting from 1836-1845, were established in 1848.

New Mexico: The Southern portion of New Mexico was purchased from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, and it is not shown on this globe as US territory. The southern part of New Mexico Territory has a concave gouge on the globe (illustrated at right), which clearly indicates that the mapping pre-dates the Gadsden purchase.

Indian Territory: The inclusion of unnamed "Indian Territory" dates the globe to pre-1856: By 1856, the land designated for Indians under the Intercourse Act of 1834 had been reduced to the boundaries of present-day Oklahoma. On the globe, the larger boundaries of what later became known as "Indian Territory" thus re-confirms a date prior to 1856, the year the territory was reduced to the modern day borders of the State of Oklahoma. These lands quickly became known as Indian Territory.

Minnesota Territory: This territory, with boundaries precisely indicated on the globe, was formed in 1849 with larger boundaries than the modern State of Minnesota. After Minnesota gained statehood in 1858 with its present, smaller boundaries, the western part of Minnesota Territory was dissolved and became an "Unorganized Territory." 

Russian America: An additional point of interest is the labeling of Alaska as “Russian America”, which dates the piece to pre 1867. The Russian colonial possessions in the Americas included what today is the U.S. state of Alaska and settlements farther south in California and Hawaii. The United States purchased the territory that became Alaska from the Russian government in 1867, following a decline in trade that weakened Russia's interests in the region.

This superbly crafted large-scale globe was created by Alexander Keith Johnston (1804-1871), who, along with his brother and partner William Johnston (1802-1888), were among the most esteemed globe makers of the late nineteenth century. The British manufacturers began their careers as apprentices to Scottish publisher and globe maker, James Kirkwood (fl. 1774-1824). After Kirkwood's workshop was destroyed by a fire, William and Alexander Keith were compelled to open their own globe manufacturing business. This venture proved extremely successful. In time, William and Alexander Keith earned a royal appointment, which is why the cartouches on their globes are topped by royal coats of arms.

The success of W. & A.K. Johnston the brand long outlived its namesakes. Throughout the beginning of the twentieth century, the companies of A.H. Andrews, Rand McNally, Weber Costello, and A.J. Nystrom all continued to commission globes from W. & A.K. Johnston, frequently selling Johnston globes without a visible Johnston cartouche.


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