Collecting snow globes is like collecting winter memorabilia; there is some kind of magical secret world inside a swirling snowstorm. Snow globes can take you to a different world where you won’t be able to resist the urge to grab one and shake it.
It is not certain when the first snow globe was made, but it appears to date from France during the 19th century. Originally used as paperweights, these glass balls contained snow (glitter) made from porcelain and porcelain chips, bone fragments, ground rice, metal flakes, treated wax, or a mineral called meerschaum. Initially, snow globes consisted of a heavy hand-blown glass dome that was set over a ceramic figure or interior scene cast in plaster on a black cast-iron, ceramic, or rubber base filled with water and then sealed.
In 1879, at least five companies are known to be producing snow globes and selling them throughout Europe. The snow globe became more popular after the Paris Exposition of 1889, where a snow globe of the Eiffel Tower was the souvenir.
As the snow globe became more sophisticated, the glass became thinner, the bases were made lighter using Bakelite which was popular during the Art Deco period, and they are more valuable than plastic snow globes. Furthermore, the snow was made of particles of gold foil or insoluble soap flakes. For health and safety reasons, small white plastic parts are used inside and outside. The fluid was changed to light oil, then distilled water and antifreeze (glycerin or glycol). An additional benefit was that the glycerin and glycol slowed the descent of the filler. The snow globe became more affordable and was no longer considered just for the upper class elite.
Today many different types are available and are produced by various countries, from China to the finely crafted balloons still produced in West Germany. They feature many different scenes ranging from holiday memory Christmas scenes like the Nativity to Disney characters and more. They may include music boxes, moving parts, internal lights, and some include electric motors that make the snow move so the globe doesn’t need to be shaken.
When creating a collection, it’s often fun to find a theme like Christmas or Disney and then the age and manufacturer. Some valuable snow globes feature tourist landmarks or famous cities. Old and vintage snow globes of good quality materials hold their value. Display them away from direct sunlight. Sunlight is dangerous and the balloon can act like a magnifying glass and cause a fire. Balloons can also be frozen, so keep the temperature in mind when storing them. Keep in mind that the liquid in most snow globes can evaporate, change color, and the filling can clump and settle. Just don’t throw them away for that reason, as restoring them can be very rewarding, but it can reduce the future value of a snow globe. Save the box with the balloon if possible.
Plenty of snow globes can be found at certain gift and souvenir shops like Target or Macy’s, and since they’re always popular collectibles, check online with sites like Etsy. There are good chances of finding a nice collectible item while browsing a flea market or antique and collectibles malls.
At Treasures Under Sugar Loaf in Winona, owner Brenda Jannsen says, “Snowballs are in short supply at Treasures these days. We have some small ones priced around $5 each with Easter, zebra and teddy bear themes, and we have a large Christmas snow globe priced at $18.”
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on antiques, antiques, and collectibles. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at