What are Snow Globes?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Snow globes, also known as water globes or snow domes, are small decorative paperweights often sold as commemorative novelties or personalized gifts. Most contain small flakes of white plastic to simulate a snow fall whenever they are shaken. Some, however, may contain bits of glitter or small plastic representations of real objects such as dollar signs or musical notes. The "snow" usually falls over a holiday scene, a personalized photograph or a popular tourist destination.

A homemade snow globe can be made using mineral oil.
A homemade snow globe can be made using mineral oil.

Experts think that snow globes were developed in Europe during the late 17th or early 18th centuries, perhaps as a variant on the decorative and functional glass paperweights popular at that time. Early ones were made from leaded glass formed into the shape of a dome. The "snow" may have been pieces of bone or shards of broken porcelain. These globes often featured very detailed and well-crafted scenes of castles or picturesque cities. The bases might have been made from the finest ceramics available. The snow globes would be filled with distilled water and a sprinkling of fake snowflakes, then sealed with the base permanently.

Eventually, the expensive process of molding leaded glass for snow globes gave way to a more inexpensive production process using thinner glass. These less-ornate domes became very popular souvenir items, finally reaching the American market by the 1920s. Snow globes, particularly their bases and scenery, were also created from an early commercial plastic called Bakelite during the 1930s and 1940s. This type is highly prized by collectors of Art Deco decorative pieces.

Modern snow globes may be made from materials ranging from leaded crystal to cheap plastic. Elaborate ones often have carved bases, music box mechanisms and interior lighting effects. Tourists looking for keepsakes or gifts, however, are often presented with cheaper, mass produced plastic versions. There are still artisans throughout the world who specialize in creating high-end globes for discriminating collectors though.

Homemade snow globes can be constructed from clear jars with watertight lids, insoluble soap shavings or glitter, small plastic objects and a hot glue gun or florist's clay. The scene or photograph should be small enough to fit within the circumference of the jar's lid. The scene should be attached to the lid with clay or hot glue. The jar should be cleaned thoroughly, then filled with distilled water or mineral oil and the snowflake material, leaving a small gap to prevent overflow. The lid containing the scenery should be screwed on completely, then sealed with a bead of hot glue around the rim.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


You said "...snow globes mass produced in places such as China or Singapore. There are still artisans, primarily in European countries, who specialize in creating high-end snow globes for discriminating collectors."

There is still one snow globe manufacturer in the United States: Snowglobecentral. They make very high end custom snow globes. Thought you'd want to know. They are based in Colorado where they know a lot about snow.

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