Blizzard Over Tahiti: How to Collect Snowdomes

The appeal of snowglobes is hard to define. You shake it up and snow falls on places that in real life have never seen snow…but without the snow, it isn’t a bone fide snowglobe.

An investment banker received a snowdome from his wife when she returned from Florida. He liked it. Thirteen years later, his collection had grown to

1,500, displayed in his home and office. A newlywed lawyer’s wife encouraged him to expand his own small collection. At last count he had around 3,000 snowdomes set out in display cases. A college scavenger hunt yielded a $1 snowdome for a Manhattan student who, a dozen years later, had more than 1,000 arranged on her shelves.

Although they go by the name snowdome, others know them as snowglobes, snow shakers, blizzard weights, shakies, shake-’em-ups, and water domes.

SNOWDOME ANATOMY

The variety of internal designs give them character. Thousands of operators of tourist sites found they could get their own customized snowdome, often created by an Asian snowdome-maker working from a photograph. The resulting range in designs is beyond number, from tourist destinations like Seattle’s Space Needle, Paris’s Eiffel Tower, or St Louis’ Gateway Arch, to zoos and they’re animal residents, Santa Clauses in all poses and of all descriptions, war heroes popular during World War Two, holiday themes, snowmen, sports, cartoon characters, religious subjects, even company products and symbols. The all-important internal design might consist of a simple figure made from shaped bisque of the early snowdomes or designs built around several panels.

The basic snowdome comes in the original spherical glass shape as well as the later flat-bottomed plastic design introduced in the 1950’s. Naturally, all snowdomes contain some type of snow, whether the usual white snow, or gold glitter or even plastic snowflakes shaped like leaves, currency, or something else appropriate to the design. The source of the regular white snow is a closely-guarded secret in some circles. Early snowdome makers used ceramic bits, treated wax, rice, or sawdust, among other things.

Many snowglobes often have plain water inside. Nowadays, an additive helps prevent freezing which would naturally cause the snowdome to break. These days, the liquid contents are often regulated for safety as well.

SNOWDOME AS COLLECTIBLE

Snowdomes are the answer to the low-budget collector’s problem. They’re inexpensive, easy to find, and displayable and not overlarge. Prices vary, but you might find snowdomes at flea markets and garage sales for under $1. A thrift shop, second hand store, or antique shop may have plastic snowdomes for as little as $5. If you can’t find any snowdomes locally, check collectors magazines and the internet. If you insist, you can find more expensive globes, of course, going for $100 or more, but then you’re dealing in high-end collectibles.

Consider the water level inside, but remember that you can often find a small, removable stopper at the bottom which will allow you to fill the globe with distilled water using an eyedropper. Consider also the condition of the figure inside, though fading is not uncommon in some old snowdomes in otherwise fine condition. Check to see if the original decals are on the base.

SNOWDOME HISTORY

Snowdomes may have debuted as early as mid-19th century in France. In any event, they spread throughout Europe, became a favorite in Victorian England, then crossed the Atlantic in the 1920’s. The earliest snowdomes of the 1920’s were leaded glass spheres atop cast ceramic or Bakelite bases. In popularity, snowdomes peaked twice, in the late 30’s and in the early 40’s. In a different form, they soared again in the 50’s when a couple of German firms began making a plastic, flat-base snowdome with injection-molded figures inside. Other firms helped answer the demand by turning out

their own snowdomes, especially in Hong Kong and Japan.

DIFFERENT DESIGNS

In fact, it was the Asian firms who experimented with the design, even bringing some out in unusual shapes like bottles, cubes, bullets, or miniature TV sets. Other variations were introduced during this period, as well, like the unit which consists of a flat snowdome flanked by a small salt and pepper shaker. There is also the once-popular snowdome set on a plastic base complete with perpetual calendar, operable with a plastic dial on the side. Some even have a small plastic seesaw inside, usually with a small figure on each end, and it rocks up-and-down when the snowdome is shaken and the water inside swirls about.

Still another variation is the highly-prized figural in which, for example, a plastic Santa Claus or snowman would have a snowdome for a belly.

Snowdomes came to fill every available niche in the world of tourism and they continue to sell quite well.

DECLINE OF THE SNOWDOME

After their peak in the 1960’s, the costs in making snowdomes began going up.

The variety suffered and generic designs took over. A snowdome with a standard figure like a fish could be sold anywhere. The only customizing done was accomplished by using a decal or baseplate to indicate where it came from.

Even if you decide interesting new snowdomes are few and far between, there are so many of the old ones around, you won’t have trouble finding them. In fact, you might find it advisable to specialize according to a theme, like Santa Claus or Hollywood movies. Or you can specialize in a type, like snowdomes with plastic snow with special shapes or salt and pepper shaker snowdomes.

Beware, though, acquiring snowdomes is addictive. People start with one or two and often wind up with enough to fill a room, an apartment, a house, or the Rose Bowl Stadium.

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