In modern culture Snow Globes often symbolize childhood, innocence, and being happy.
You place the Globe (or dome) in your hand, turn it over and beautifully, magically the New York skyline, Snowmen, Reindeer, or your favourite Disney character is engulfed in a swirling slow-motion blizzard. Everyone can relate to them – evoking a childhood memory or nostalgia of a simpler time. From the moment the snow descends, we have created a whole new landscape where everything is quiet and all you can do is watch the ‘snow’ fall.
There are many names for these Globes: Snowdomes, Snow globes, paperweights, snow machine, snow shakers, snow scenes, water domes, water balls, dream globes, blizzard weights or dream balls.
The origins of the Snow Globes are thought to have derived from heavy glass paper weights which were popular in the latter part of the 1800’s. The glass paperweights were made from costly materials which made the popular item inaccessible to the general public. Not only were Snow Globes less expensive, but they engaged the viewer. Snow globes are dynamic — creating a miniature snowstorm descending on the encased diorama.
Originally the globes were made of glass and the figures inside were made of porcelain, bone, metals, minerals, rubber, or wax. The ‘snow’ (or “flitter” as it is called), could have been ground rice, wax, soap, sand, bone fragments, meerschaum, metal flakes or sawdust. Producers tried everything. The base was either round or square and may have been made of stone, marble, ceramic, or wood. Today, all but the best quality globes are plastic.
The water filling the globes was also frequently mixed with glycol, to make the snow fall more slowly, although sometimes it was mixed with far more lethal substances. At least one manufacturer began mixing antifreeze into the water to keep the globes from freezing and cracking during shipping. Stories of children becoming ill after drinking the ‘water’ from snow globes sometimes made headlines.
The dreamy little orbs containing your favourite landmark – a pocket-sized diorama, or scene, encased in a permanent magical winter wonderland – can be found in nearly every gift shop in the world. They came into existence by sheer coincidence, created by Erwin Perzy an Austrian Inventor in 1900.
Following the recently invented light bulb this Austrian surgical instrument mechanic, was researching a way to improve the brightness of operating theatre lights. Inspired by the shoemakers of the time – who used water-filled glass spheres mounted in front of a candle to get more light – Perzy wanted to recreate their method with an electric light bulb instead of a candle.
During his experimentation, Perzy poured semolina powder into a glass globe and discovered that it created an atmospheric effect similar to that of a snowfall. Recognising the potential of this accidental invention, he abandoned his original idea, and instead created a miniature diorama of a church scene inside the globe.
The Perzy Company ‘Original Vienna Snow Globes’ started mass production of Snow Globes in Vienna in 1905, and 108 years later, the company is still going strong.
Erwin Perzy III has been in charge since the early 1980s and introduced different designs, such as Christmas trees, Father Christmas, and snowmen figurines. He also introduced a new material for the artificial snow, which remains a company secret. The company, despite having only 30 employees, 15 of which work from home, produces about 200,000 snow globes a year.
The company now has 350 different designs in its standard range, but thousands of others that customers can specially order. Unlike cheaper rivals from the Far East, the company’s snow globes are hand painted and manually assembled, and the actual globe is still made of glass rather than plastic.
Despite the company’s small size, and relative obscurity among those not knowledgeable about snow globes, it continues to have some illustrious customers. Recently it has made globes for ex US President Barack Obama’s children, and in the past, it has produced them for former White House incumbents Bill Clinton and the late Ronald Reagan.
Snow Globes have also been used as props in the film industry: the snow globe, containing a log cabin, that falls and smashes so dramatically at the start of the 1941 movie Citizen Kane was made by Original Vienna Snow Globes.
In the 1940 Ginger Rogers vehicle ‘Kitty Foyle’, young Kitty launches a flashback scene when she shakes a snow globe containing the figure of a girl on a sled.
Mr Perzy III says he continues to be most enthused about the business when he sees how excited children they are as visit his factory, which doubles as a museum for all things snow globe. He says: “Nowadays kids have everything… I mean, they have computers and lots of other electronic things, and our snow globe has nothing, no battery, no nothing. When the kids come here, their eyes are wide open, they are enchanted, and everyone has one or two snow globes in their hands, and they are shaking them. That is a very nice moment for me.”