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Unrecorded Globe Calotte with Map of the North Polar Regions

Interesting polar calotte, which was printed as part of a set of globe gores for which we can find no records.

The calotte shows features of north polar geography, including Greenland, Nova Zembla, and the large Arctic Ocean.

The majority of the calotte is filled with the Northern Glacial Ocean. Gerard Mercator created the first map of the North Pole in the late-sixteenth century; he postulated that there were four islands circling the pole, with great straits running between them. By a century later, when this calotte was made, these islands had been abandoned, replaced by more recent discoveries and more open conjectures.

The Davis Strait (Fret. Davids) is named for John Davis (ca. 1550-1605), half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh. He led three voyages to the far north (1585, 1586, 1587), specifically to Greenland, Baffin Bay, and Labrador, in pursuit of the Northwest Passage. He was the second Englishman to search for the Passage; the first was Martin Frobisher.

Farther west is Nova Dania, or New Denmark, named after Danish Captain Jens Munck who wintered in the area in 1619. Although unlabeled here, Baffin’s Bay is included between Greenland and New Denmark. William Baffin’s (ca. 1584-1622) voyages were in search of the Northwest Passage. He had served in the Muscovy Company in the early 1610s before entering into employ with the Company of Merchants of London in 1615. As a pilot, he sailed 300 miles farther north than Davis; his northernmost mark was not surpassed until 1852.

Two toponyms that came from Baffin are S. Thomas Smits Bay and Lancaster Sound. S. Thomas Smits Bay refers to Smith Sound, a strait between Greenland and northern Canada. It is named for an English diplomat, Sir Thomas Smythe. Baffin named Lancaster Sound for Sir James Lancaster, one of the funders of his exploration, in 1616.

Greenland is divided into old (east) and new (west) coasts. While intermittently settled by the Inuit for thousands of years, the first Europeans to encounter Greenland were Norsemen who came to southern Greenland in the tenth century. The Norse colonies disappeared in the fifteenth century, due to the Black Death. The Portuguese briefly visited at the end of the fifteenth century. Danes and Norwegians returned in the early-seventeenth century, at the same time the coast was visited by various European explorers seeking the Northwest Passage.

Moving east, north of Scandinavia is Spitsbergen. Spitsbergen, an archipelago, was first sighted by William Barentsz (ca. 1550-1598), Dutch map maker and navigator. Barentsz led three Arctic expeditions in search of the Northeast Passage in the 1590s; he died on the third attempt. By the early seventeenth century, the islands were a major base for whaling operations.

Nova Zemla thrusts out from northern Russia. It is shown as a peninsula, connected via Terra Ielmer. The year 1664 is also labeled. Terre de Jelmer was encountered by Cornelys Jelmerson in 1664.

Globe calottes

The word calotte refers to a curved cap. Of French origin, it can refer to a skullcap. In architectural terms, it is defined as a concavity in the form of a niche or a cup, serving to reduce the apparent height of an alcove or chapel.

On a globe, the calotte serves as a cover for the join of the globe gores. The gore segments are aligned north to south, coming together at the poles. A paper calotte is then applied over the convergence of gores.

This calotte was printed, but left on the sheet. We have not found record of gores with this specific calotte. The inclusion of Terra de Jelmer helps to date it to ca. 1665, however.  

As explained, a variety of expeditions are referenced on this calotte, representing European desires to sail shorter distances to reach Asia and other markets. However, to the date this map was made, the Arctic ices were still too dense and southerly to allow ships through.

The survival of globes in general, and gores in particular, are quite rare, making this calott a scarce commodity seldom seen on the market. 

Sylvia Sumira, Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation, and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); Roy Howgego, ed., Encyclopedia of Exploration to 1800 (Potts Point: Hordern House, 2003); Glyn Williams, Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for a Northwest Passage (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); Richard I. Ruggles, “The Cartographic Lure of the Northwest Passage: Its Real and Imaginary Geography,” in Meta Incognita: A Discourse of Discovery; Martin Frobisher’s Arctic Expeditions, 1576-1578, edited by Thomas H. B. Symons (Hull, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1999), vol. I, 179-256. KAP