this thing's incredible

The Snow-Only Snow Globe Is Like a Sophisticated Fidget Spinner

Photo: MoMA Store/MoMA 2011

One of the earliest known descriptions of the snow globe comes from the U.S. government’s official report on the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878. About halfway through the 600-page document, its authors — who were nothing if not thorough — enumerate the various glasswork exhibits, which included “paper weights of hollow balls filled with water, containing a man with an umbrella. These balls also contain a white powder which, when the paperweight is turned upside down, falls in imitation of a snow storm.” For their next Exposition, in 1889, the French built the Eiffel Tower. They also produced tiny replicas of the Eiffel Tower, enclosed in glass spheres full of water and fake snow. Almost as soon as there were snow globes, in other words, there were snow-globe souvenirs.

That’s what most snow globes still are: miniaturized versions of attractions seen, or cities visited. The ones that aren’t usually contain generic scenes (a cozy cottage, a country village), famous cartoon characters (often Disney), or some sort of Christmas tableau. For years, I longed for an alternative. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a snow globe that was just that — a globe full of snow?! It turns out there is, and also that I was right: It’s very cool. The Snowball Snow Globe is made by CoolSnowGlobes, a Vermont-based company founded by Liz Ross and David Westby.

Ross is a designer and former product developer; Westby, a painter and photographer (the globes are sold at the MoMA store). All of their globes are lovely (other designs include the Crystal with rose quartz, multicolored mini-globes, and a spring-themed globe with cherry blossoms), but for me, there’s nothing like the Snowball. A clear glass ball mounted on a satisfyingly heavy black base; its vibe is more fortune teller’s crystal ball or objet d’art than souvenir kitsch. And as plain as it sounds, it’s truly lovely to look at, and also to play with — a rare combination of austere minimalism and actual fun. The “snow” inside is mostly flecks of white, with a touch of glitter for some subtle iridescence. When you shake the globe, the flakes swarm and twinkle, the way wet snow shines and refracts when it catches the light from the street. It’s like watching a storm from the window of your apartment, safe from the night and the wind. A number of visiting friends have been transfixed by it — my cat is, too.

CoolSnowGlobes Snowball Snow Globe

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This Snow Globe Is Like a Sophisticated Fidget Spinner