Origins: The Vienna Snow Globe

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the snow globe? Despite being a beloved winter trinket, many people don’t know where they come from. Let’s explore the history of this charming object.

The snow globe has been a long-standing symbol of winter and is a popular item in gift shops. While some may find it kitschy, many of us can’t resist the allure of the whimsical miniatures inside that promise brief and easy entertainment.

Despite being ubiquitous, the history of the snow globe remains widely unknown. However, it is believed to have originated in Europe towards the end of the 19th century. The earliest known description of a snow globe-like object comes from an 1880 U.S. Commissioners report on the 1878 Paris Universal Exposition. At the exposition, a local glassware company showcased a group of “paperweights of hollow balls filled with water, containing a man with an umbrella.” These paperweights also contained white powder that fell “in imitation of a snowstorm” when turned upside down. Glass-domed paperweights were popular in the late 1800s, but this particular object is the first to include such a playful feature, making it the world’s first snow globe.

Erwin Perzy 1 - Vienna Snow Globe

The Perzy family has been creating unique snow globes in Vienna for over a century. With more than 2,000 hand-painted scenes to choose from and the ability to customize miniature models, they have continued to evolve while staying true to their roots. Their dedication to craftsmanship and attention to detail inspires us all.

A Charming Invention from Vienna

Large cities foster great inventions: New York brought forth the telephone, Paris the hot air balloon, London the subway. But none of these creations is as magical as Vienna’s groundbreaking invention: the snow globe.

Erwin Perzy accidentally invented the snow globe while trying to improve the brightness of Thomas Edison’s lightbulb for an operating room in 1900. He placed a water-filled glass globe before a candle and sprinkled tiny bits of reflective glitter into the globe to help brighten it. When the glitter didn’t work, he tried semolina flakes instead. Although it didn’t work as planned, the small, white particles drifting around the globe reminded him of snowfall. Perzy filed the first official patent for a snow globe, or Schneekugel and began producing handmade snow globes through his company, Firm Perzy. 

The snow globe gained popularity among the wealthy Austrians who collected and displayed intricate artistic objects in their homes. Although the cost of these early globes is still unknown, they were likely expensive due to the time required to paint, mould, and assemble them. After the First World War ended in 1918, the snow globe became a popular tourist souvenir.

Robert Townshend at a Christmas Market in Vienna.

The Vienna Snow Globe: A Testament to the Creativity and Ingenuity of People

Perzy’s invention of the snow globe is a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of people. He invented it accidentally in Vienna while trying to solve another problem. It’s fascinating to see how an object that started as a solution to a lighting problem became a cherished decorative and souvenir item.

The snow globe is a fascinating invention that has become an American icon. Its popularity began in 1927 when Joseph Garaja, from Pittsburgh, patented a new snow globe assembly method. This new method made the snow globe more affordable for everyone. Innovations in plastic production and injection moulding during the 1950s made them even more affordable, and they became popular souvenirs during the post-war tourism boom.

Vienna Snow Globe - Traditional

Grub aus Wien – Greetings from Vienna

Evolution of the Snow Globe

Today, snow globes remain a beloved item in many homes and gift shops across the world. They are charming and whimsical decorations that can add a touch of magic to any room. It’s fascinating to see how the snow globe has evolved and become such an iconic part of Western culture.

Snow globes have a long history and are still popular today. While the Viennese Perzy family still produces traditional glass globes, many unique and creative snow globes have emerged in recent years. Some artists and designers have turned the traditional object into a work of art, subverting its playful nature and adding deeper meaning.

For example, Brooklyn-based duo Ligorano/Reese have created snow globes with cuss words, drug references, and the seven deadly sins while designing “History of Art” globes showcasing significant art movements. Similarly, Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz have created globes that feature mini-humans living and working in solitary landscapes, showcasing the dichotomy between expectation and surreality.

Vienna Snow Globe Factory and Museum

A Unique Way to Celebrate and Explore

Despite being viewed by some as “kitschy” or “low-brow,” snow globes have proven to be a versatile and fascinating object that continues to captivate people’s imaginations. Snow globes offer a unique and creative way to celebrate and explore the world around us.

Martin and Muñoz took an interesting approach to the typical winter fantasy scene that snow globes present. Instead of completely discarding it, they transformed it by adding unsettling elements. They elaborated via email to Artsy that within the limits of the globe, they can safely encapsulate our deepest fears and anxieties and reduce them to miniature.

In today’s turbulent and hyper-anxious world, using this once-innocent object in such a cathartic role can be advantageous and therapeutic. However, if you still find yourself craving the joy of picking up a Vienna snow globe with a smiling, dancing elf inside and giving it a shake, that’s fine, too. ⬛

Christmas in a Globe: The Origins of the Vienna Snow Globe

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