[The Blank Slate Globe]. Forrest Shepherd.
[The Blank Slate Globe].
[The Blank Slate Globe].
[The Blank Slate Globe].
[The Blank Slate Globe].
[The Blank Slate Globe].

[The Blank Slate Globe].

[Ca. 1865?]. 6” blank black globe, painted wood with ring of tiny nails encircling the north pole and corresponding nails tracing the equator, attached to brass meridian ring stamped “Shepherds. Patent Dec. 22. 1857,” set in original wooden stand on three turned and varnished legs with brass horizon ring set in black wood horizon circle with a hand-brake attached to the underside; height approx. 9”. A note affixed to the underside of the horizon circle indicates ownership by Henry Ainsworth Parker (1840–1919) and William Ainsworth Parker (1874–1943).

A rare mid-nineteenth century American “slate” globe, devised as an aid for geographical instruction in schools.

This curious and surprisingly captivating black orb, known as the “Blank Slate Globe,” was invented by Forrest Shepherd (1800–1888) of New Haven, Connecticut, a geologist, professor, and consultant to various mining companies in the midwest. In 1857 Shepherd secured a patent, US #18,931, for an “apparatus for illustrating conic sections and the lines of the globe.” Shepherd’s invention was a globe covered with a substance upon which one could draw with a pencil, which could be easily erased, accompanied by a segmented cone. Shepherd claimed the use of the cone, which served as an aid to drawing the parallels, meridians, ecliptic, etc., as his invention. The technicalities of his globe and cone combination are explained at length in his patent description, which can be viewed here: patents/US18931.

Shepherd did not manufacture his globes himself, but instead contracted with C. T. Candee, son of Leverett Candee, a well-known manufacturer of india rubber. By 1858, commercial agents were offering Shepherd globes of 4, 9, 12 and 18 inches in diameter throughout the country. Shepherd’s globe seems to have met with a warm reception, as witnessed by a review that appeared in the New Englander and Yale Review in 1859:

for want of a cheap and convenient spherical apparatus, our schools have, as a whole, continued for centuries to teach the configurations of the earth, with the local relations of its different countries upon a flat surface, thereby from the first plunging the learner into a labyrinth of perspective, from which he is seldom if ever extricated. This long-felt evil is now remedied by the simple Blank Slate Globes, invented by Prof. Forrest Shepherd, of New Haven. At a price less than the ordinary Geography and Atlas every child may be supplied with one of these globes mounted in a neat frame…With it the child gains at once the ideas of north, south, east, and west; of axis, and revolution from west to east. Then, with an ordinary slate pencil, he may draw his meridians for east and west longitude, and, as it were, in a moment, by turning the globe, mark the equator, tropics, and polar circles…

By 1862 the firm of Dean & Munger had taken over Shepherd’s business. George Munger, an inventor interested in school apparatus, established a factory where he produced school furniture well into the 1890s; in 1865 Munger partnered with J. W. Schermerhorn & Co. of New York, America’s largest distributor of school materials. In 1869 Schermerhorn advertised that “Slated globes are now finding a place, hitherto unoccupied, in every grade of school…As now made, these Globes, or Spherical Blackboards, are an improvement of the original of Professor Shepherd.” By 1876 Schermerhorn was manufacturing Shepherd’s Slated Globes of 4, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18 inches diameter.

Slate globes originated in Europe and were advertised as early as 1848; some of the earliest were manufactured by Malby & Son of London and imported to America. The Encyclopaedia Americana (1856) noted that globes had lately been “made in England, for the use of learners, with nothing but the meridians and parallels of latitude drawn indelibly on them. They are covered with a substance on which drawings can be made with a slate pencil, and easily effaced.” The earliest known American slate globes were manufactured by Josiah Loring and Robert Piggott.

An excellent note on Shepherd appears in Rittenhouse: the Journal of the American Scientific Instrument Enterprise (to which our description is much indebted). Although popular, few of Shepherd’s globes seem to have survived. The author of the article cites “one known example”—a six-inch globe identical to the one offered here. Since Shepherd did not advertise a six-inch globe in 1858, these are likely of a later date. No cone is present with either of these examples, and it may that Shepherd’s globe was later simplified. The small nails that encircle the north pole and trace the equator are not mentioned in the patent and may have been intended as a simpler substitute for the cone, perhaps constituting the “improvement” touted by Schermerhorn.

A rare and appealing example of Professor Forrest Shepherd’s blank slate globe, an important fixture in 19th century geographical education.

REFERENCES: Shepherd, Forrest. US #18931: Apparatus for Illustrating Conic Sections and the Lines of the Globe, 22 December 1857. United States Patent Office at Google.com; Warner, Deborah Jean, ed. Rittenhouse: the Journal of the American Scientific Instrument Enterprise, vol. 2, #4, Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. and Dracutt, Mass., 1988, pp. 127-129; Lieber, Francis, ed. “Globes” in Encyclopaedia Americana, Boston: Sanborn, Carter & Bazin, 1856; Tyler, Edward Royall, et al, eds. New Englander and Yale Review, Volume 17 , New Haven: T. J. Stafford, February, 1859, pp. 829-830.

CONDITION: Good, two cracks in paint on sphere (of no structural consequence), horizon ring rubbed with some paint loss at edges, possibly some old retouching to sphere.

Item #4449

Price: $5,500.00

See all items in Maps
See all items by