The mystery of the deep-sea glass sphere
The glass sphere with the wide green band around its middle resembled a transparent globe with gadgets inside. It was even tilted like the earth on its axis.
But it wasn’t a globe, and none of the auction-goers seemed to know what it was. Many of us stopped to look at it, spin it around and read what little information was printed on its side. One man mentioned that it was used in the ocean, and he was closer to the answer than he or we knew.
The manufacturer’s name on the sphere was Benthos Inc., and the auction sheet described it this way:
“Benthos Inc. Glass Sphere Instrument Housing for Oceanographer”
That still did not mean a thing to me, so I went sleuthing. When anything unusual turns up at auction, I’m always curious about what it is and how it got there. Like the time when some hornets nests found their way onto the auction table and I learned that people actually pay big money for them.
This Benthos sphere was a “what is it and how would you use it if you bought” inquiry for me.
Benthos bills itself as the largest maker of deep-sea glass spheres, which apparently are used to “house electronic instruments in marine environments.” The device at the auction appeared to have not been used; it was clean and the instruments could clearly be seen inside.
The company patented glass flotation spheres in 1969, according to its website. But spheres are not the only products it makes, and some of those others have been extraordinarily used.
Its mini rover located a sunken Revolutionary War gunboat linked to Benedict Arnold, according to its website. Its deep-sea camera provided photos of the German battleship Bismark off the coast of France. Its imaging equipment helped find remains of the Titanic. Its instruments have also helped locate sunken wreckage from the Challenger explosion and some major airline disasters.
The spheres seem to have value beyond the ocean. I found used spheres selling on the web and was amazed at the prices being asked for them. None were as clean as the one at auction; these were dirty and had been used.
One retail site was selling three spheres for $675. It suggested that they could be used in the garden, which makes sense since you can buy reflective spheres from garden shops. I’m not sure of the wow factor on these underwater spheres, except for how they were used.
Another site was selling one sphere with a stand for $429, and another sphere on a stand was selling for $1,050.
My quest took me to another definition for Benthos, small organisms that live on the floor of oceans, lakes, rivers and streams – called the benthic zone. Now, I knew I’d gone too far from the auction sphere and needed to double back.
I wasn’t around when it was sold but at those retail prices, the next time one comes up for auction, I’ll look a little more closely.