Centuries-old globe includes early depiction of Newfoundland, scholar says

Steve Bartlett
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The New World on the ostrich egg globe. — Photo courtesy of Washington Map Society

A 16th-Century, softball-sized sphere is being heralded as the oldest surviving globe to show the New World, including Newfoundland.

It depicts North America as a group of small, unnamed islands.

One of them is Newfoundland, Belgian scholar Stefaan Missinne said in an email.


Not known before

The globe, previously unknown, has generated international headlines since late August, when Missinne’s paper on it was featured in The Portolan, a cartography journal published by the Washington Map Society.

Missinne spent more than a year researching the globe, which was purchased at the London Map Fair last year by an anonymous institution.

It had apparently been in a European collection for some time before that.

Missinne’s efforts included lengthy analysis and a variety of scientific tests such as carbon dating.

He also consulted with numerous scholars and experts.


Oldest surviving New World globe

His conclusion: it’s the oldest surviving engraved globe to depict the New World.

Until now, the Lennox Globe, which belongs to the New York Public Library, held that distinction.

But in his paper, Missinne says the bronze Lennox Globe was actually cast from the “new” sphere, which was made from the lower halves of two ostrich eggs some time around 1504.

And if that’s not fascinating enough: in his research paper, Missinne suggests the globe was made in Florence, Italy, and that the engraver was influenced by Leonardo da Vinci or worked in the artist’s workshop.

That’s no doubt an incredible finding, and it’s been met with some skepticism.


Major discovery

In a release, Tom Sander, the Portolan’s editor, called the globe a major discovery.

“We undertook a very extensive peer review process to vet the article, which itself was based on more than a year of scientific and documentary research,” he said.

As for the sources for the globe’s depiction of New World, Missinne says the engraver based it on the accounts of explorers such as Columbus and the Corte-Reals, Gaspar and Miguel.

The latter is where the inclusion of Newfoundland originated.

The Corte-Reals made voyages to Newfoundland and/or Labrador in the early 1500s. (There is a statue of Gaspar at the Confederation Building.)

Missinne elaborated in a Postmedia News story that a ship on the globe backs his theory the depicted island is Newfoundland.

He said the vessel, which is near the island on the globe, is Gaspar Corte-Real’s “with full sail going west, trying to find new territories.”

If Missinne is right about this stuff, if nothing else, the ostrich egg globe is a reminder of Newfoundland’s importance in world history, and that it has literally been on the map for a very, very long time.


Email Steve Bartlett at sbartlett@thetelegram.com.

On Twitter, he’s @TelegramSteve.



Organizations: Lennox Globe, London Map Fair, New York Public Library Postmedia News

Geographic location: Newfoundland, North America, Florence Italy

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Recent comments

  • Don II
    September 09, 2013 - 10:07

    This Globe is a very interesting find with an apparent historical connection to Newfoundland that was previously unknown. It appears that there are many documents regarding Newfoundland history which have been lost, hidden, suppressed or misinterpreted . The long promoted myths about the history of Cupids, Newfoundland is a case in point. The Government of Newfoundland has promoted Cupids as being the site of the oldest English settlement in Canada that was founded by John Guy. The historical record shows that Cupers Cove, NOT Cupids was the oldest English settlement in Canada. Cupers Cove was located near to Salmon Cove which is now the modern day town of Avondale. In addition, the historical record shows that Cupers Cove was located within the boundaries of the Colony of Avalon which was owned by George Calvert the first Lord Baltimore. Letters from the Governor of the Colony of Avalon Edward Wynne and Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore show that Cupers Cove was part of the Colony of Avalon . It appears that the public may not know that the Colony of Avalon encompassed the area from Ferryland to Petty Harbor to Salmon Cove (now Avondale) to Placentia and back to Ferryland. Governor Wynne referred to: "our northern plantation" and Cecil Calvert wrote that: "Sir George Calvert late Lord Baltimore...sent his Majesties subjects to plant in several harbors, maintained them, built houses for them, made forts for their and the Fishermens defense and placed sundry Governors there as Captain Wynne, Captain Mason and Sir Arthur Aston...." The fact that Sir George Calvert sent Captain John Mason to be a Governor of his Colony of Avalon confirms that the Cupers Cove Plantation, or the northern plantation, of which John Mason was the Governor, was located within the boundaries of the Colony of Avalon and was located near Salmon Cove (now Avondale). The boundaries of the Colony of Avalon did not include the area where the town of Cupids is located so it is not possible that the Cupers Cove Plantation was ever located in Cupids! The history of Newfoundland has been distorted for many decades. Finds such as this historic Globe will assist historians to correct the misinterpretations regarding the history of the Cupers Cove Plantation which was never located at Cupids.