This Globe Unfolds Like an Umbrella

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Around 1852, John Betts published the first of his innovated folding globes.  Published with the cartouche of “By The Queens Royal Letters Patent. Betts’s New Portable Terrestrial Globe. Compiled from The Latest and Best Authorities. London, John Betts, 115 Strand” the 15 inch globe came with a box container.

By the Queen's Royal Setters Patent. Betts's New Portable Terrestrial Globe. London: John Betts, n.d. (ca. 1850). Source: Princeton University.
By the Queen’s Royal Setters Patent. Betts’s New Portable Terrestrial Globe. London: John Betts, n.d. (ca. 1850). Source: Princeton University.

The advent of portable globes occurred in the 19th century as a cheap and easy means of storing globes.  In 1850, Betts was the first to conceive of the idea of a globe that could be folded when not in use.  In 1856, John Betts acquired patent GB 1338 for “Collapsible Geographical Spheres.”  The globe was a lithographed map on linen which was then mounted on a pliable spherical metal frame which could be expanded and contracted like an umbrella.


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Prior to the invention of Bett’s foldable globe, portable globes were designed like balloons, needing to be blown up with air.  While the first inflatable globe didn’t debut until 1830, the concept was first proposed by Richard and Maria Edgeworth, a father-daughter pair of educationalists.  The Edgeworths asked in their 1798 publication Practical Education: “To assist our pupils in geography, we prefer a globe to paper maps.  Might not a cheap, portable, and convenient globe be made of oiled silk, to be inflated by a common pair of bellows?”  These early inflatable globe maps were map up of fabric gores stitched together and requiring an air pump to inflate.

1885 advertisement for Betts's Folding Globe in Publisher Weekly.
1885 advertisement for “Betts’s Folding Globe” in the Publishers’ Weekly.

With the debut of the first edition of Bett’s foldable globe around 1852, air pumps were no longer required.  Betts’s 15 inch (37.5 cm) diameter collapsible globe expanded much like the mechanism by which an umbrella unfolds.  When closed, the globe could fit into a thin wooden box for storage.

1860s edition of Bett’s portable globe published by George Philip & Sons.

Betts’s globes continued to be updated and published into the 1920 by George Philip & Son, a publishing firm that was established in London in 1834.

Further Reading

Globes from the Western World, by Elly Dekker & Peter van der Krogt; 4to, 183 pp., illus. with 55 color photos and 82 b&w photos; London & Edinburgh: Zwemmer Books (1991), ISBN 978-0302006184

Lanman, J. T. (1987). Folding or Collapsable Terrestrial GlobesDer Globusfreund, (35/37), 39-44.

Betts, J. (~ 1850). A Companion to Betts’s portable globe and diagrams.

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