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Crystal Sphere

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Object TitleCrystal Ball
Object Number:C681A
Current Location: Asia Galleries
Currently On Display
Provenience: Unknown
Period: Qing Dynasty
Date Made: 19th century CE
Early Date: 1800
Late Date: 1899
Materials:Rock Crystal
Height: 25.4 cm
Width: 25.4 cm
Credit Line:Purchased from Wanamaker's Department Store; subscription of Eldridge R. Johnson, 1927


The origins of the Penn Museum's crystal ball, both the location where the crystal was mined, and the place where the sphere was polished, are unknown. It was purchased in 1927 from The Far East Shop, a fine arts division specializing in objects made of special gems inside the Wanamaker's department store in Philadelphia. It was given as a gift to the Penn Museum in memory of George Byron Gordon, the director of the museum at the time, who had recently passed away. It came with the name "Dowager Empress" attached to it, named after the Empress Dowager Cixi who ruled over China's last Dynasty. However, no evidence has ever come to light that connects the sphere with the Empress, or any other account of the sphere's origins. The silver stand, in the shape of a wave, was made in Japan, and may have been made to order after the sphere was purchased.

It is the fourth largest crystal sphere in the world, with a diameter of 25.4 cm, and weighing 49 lbs. Two spheres in the Smithsonian (32.7 cm) and (27.6 cm) and the Crow Collection in Dallas (28.9 cm) are larger.

The sphere is not made of glass, but rather from a naturally-occurring crystal of pure quartz, and was shaped into a sphere through years of constant turning in a semi-cylindrical container filled with abrasive powders and water.

Current & Past Exhibitions:

In A Rush? Take a Quick Tour of The Museum ( Sep 1996 - Jun 1997) View Objects in Exhibition
China Gallery (22 Feb 2017) View Objects in Exhibition
Chinese Halls (1941 - 1966) View Objects in Exhibition
Chinese Rotunda (1968 - 22 Feb 2017) View Objects in Exhibition


[Article] Fernald, Helen E. 1928. "The George Byron Gordon Memorial Collection of Chinese Objects in Jade, Crystal, Lapis Lazuli and Coral". The Museum Journal. Philadelphia. The University Museum. Vol. XIX. no. No. 1. pg. 35-71 Actual Citation : Page/Fig./Plate: Pg. 41View Objects related to this Actual Citation
[Book] Quick, Jennifer. 2004. Magnificent Objects from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.. Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. ed. 1st. Actual Citation : Page/Fig./Plate: p. 66, fig. 56View Objects related to this Actual Citation

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