Gazing Ball History

12 things you may not know about the popular lawn ornament.
Gazing Ball

Gazing Ball

Gazing balls have served many uses beyond the ornamental.

Photo by: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo by Mick Telkamp

Gazing balls have served many uses beyond the ornamental.

First introduced in 13th century Venice by artisan glass blowers, gazing balls are now a common sight in yards and gardens as decoration. And the reflective spheres have served many purposes over the years. Those colorful globes may bring an attractive bit of flair to the garden, but did you know the popular lawn ornament has also been used to ward off evil, bring good luck, spy on young lovers and alert a considerate host when guests might need attention?

12 things you may not know about the “Globe of Happiness”:

  1. The ubiquitous lawn and garden ornament goes by many names, including lawn balls, yard globes, witch balls, fairy balls, mirror balls and globes of happiness.
  2. The shiny spheres range widely in size, from less than two inches to over two feet.
  3. The reflective globes found popularity in Victorian England, where they were displayed inside affluent homes.
  4. “Mad” King Ludwig of Bavaria so loved gazing balls he had them produced in many sizes to be hung in trees, floated in ponds and displayed atop ornate pedestals around his castle. King Ludwig’s obsession led to the use of glass baubles as Christmas tree ornaments.
  5. After falling out of favor in the 19th century, gazing balls enjoyed a resurgence in the U.S. in the early 20th century as a sign of wealth.
  6. Southern hosts would place the reflective spheres on porch rails to easily spot an iced tea glass that might need a refill.
  7. “Witch Balls” were once used as protection from evil spirits, as witches would catch sight of their visage and either be trapped inside or frightened off, depending on the folklore.
  8. A kinder version of the tale suggests fairy globes would attract friendly spirits, bringing good fortune to the home.
  9. If a fragile, hand-blown gazing ball is cracked or its seal is broken, the spell is lost as moisture fogs the reflection.
  10. Once known as “butler balls,” the reflective globe would be placed strategically on a dining room sideboard so Victorian Era servants could remain outside the room and still see when service was required.
  11. Indoor gazing balls were also used to unobtrusively chaperone young couples during courtship.
  12. Although many are still made from delicate blown glass, some modern gazing balls are manufactured of reflective metal for durability.

Most gazing balls are now used as outdoor decoration. A colorful gazing ball doesn’t just add style, these colorful globes will also attract birds to the yard, if positioned conspicuously. Place gazing balls in low-traffic areas to avoid breakage. Glass gazing balls should be stored indoors during winter months to prevent cracking and the escape of captured witches.

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