Bellerby & Co Globemakers
The lost art of globe making – reinvented
Peter Bellerby on his amazing journey into the world of globe making
»I had to teach myself by trial and error. There are no guides and no books that can help.«
What happened in your life before you started globe making? If the lore is correct, all you really wanted to do was to make one globe …
I always had a love for world maps and geography. I think it is natural to want to know more about the planet we live on. Globe-making itself started as a hobby. I wanted to find a gift for my father’s upcoming 80th birthday. I found the options were either poor replicas or priceless antiques.
It seemed the art of traditional Globe-making was gone. I decided to go about making my own, thinking I would make one for my father and one for myself and that would be it, but after two years of teaching myself and hundreds of globes that were not good enough – and after nearly bankrupting myself a business was born!
Previous careers including working in television, buying and doing up houses, and I helped a friend launch a music venue.
When did you realise, that this would become bigger than expected and give your own life a new direction?
It got to the point where I got in too deep. I had spent so much time, sold my house and car, and I had to have something to show for it! On top of the pressure, I also really enjoyed the craft, I had learned so much, and I saw a gap in the market.
When I was in the early stages I also met a few people who had been searching anywhere between twenty years to fifty years for a high quality globe and the interest and enthusiasm really helped propel things forward, it is amazing to be able to make a product I am really proud of and that other people really love and appreciate as well.
Did you learn the traditional way of making globes solely through research, or did craftsmen also advise you?
I had to teach myself by trial and error. There are no guides and no books that can help. There is nothing online that can really help and no people I could turn to. How you make a globe relies on developing techniques around the sizes you are creating, the materials you are using, the style and outcome you want, as well as training your hands by repeating the process over and over and creating that muscle memory.
What did the first steps of Bellerby & Co look like? How many people were in the very beginning?
It started as just me. I then hired a watercolour artist to help as I realised I was not the best painter. And then hired a wood-turner to help realise my base designs. From there I trained up an apprentice to assist me and a cartographer soon followed to improve the maps I had first stated developing.
What were the biggest challenges and how did you get your first customers?
All of our customers have always come by word of mouth. We have never done any paid advertising or paid marketing and just been lucky to have a unique product and unique story to tell.
My partner started helping me with social media and luckily got on to Instagram in the early days. Our Instagram got press attention which helped spark further sales and TV and news coverage from around the world.
Creating a perfect globe is among other things all about building two perfect moulds. Which materials do you use?
Our first moulds were for plaster-of-paris spheres which we inlaid with hessian fibres for strength. We have since branched off to lighter and stronger spheres from resins and grp’s.
The next step is to create the maps, which your customers can also personalise if they wish. Where did you find the artists to draw all the beautiful maps?
Our maps are all of our own design, we work with our customers to further personalise them to their wishes. Hand drawing and hand painting illustrations land and sea. London is full of talented artists luckily, you don’t have to look far to find amazing people to work with.
Once the map is finished, it is printed and cut by hand into precise shapes called gores. Each of these gores are hand-painted with watercolours. What is the biggest challenge in this part of the process?
You are working on a sphere which always has huge challenges. And you are working with incredibly fragile paper which you are wetting and stretching, making sure to not overlap, rip, ripple tear or bubble the paper. And at the end all your pieces need to perfectly match up. One fraction of a mm off with one gore and you will have big issues once you lay that last strip.
How long does it take to produce a globe?
It takes between a few weeks to six months and depending on the size we are working on and the detail of the globe and base. Each globe passes through at least five sets of hands from start to finish, meaning this is not a set and timed process. Each globe is one of a kind and goes on its own unique journey.
How many people do work in your core team in Stoke Newington?
We have over twenty people working with us here.
Can you give us one or two examples of special client briefings that you and your team have experienced in the past?
We are currently working on a globe that has been specially designed to also be an Urn. We created a globe that was an illustrated history of the Silk Road. And we are working on a globe now that has over two-hundred illustrations all of flora and fauna, placed where they naturally are seen around the world.
We worked with a well-know band that had us plot every flight route of every tour they did around the world. And endless requests we will never publicly be able to speak about, lots of non-disclosure agreements have been signed.
Are there also customers who want not only the earth but also the moon or other planets produced?
Yes we have made the Moon, Mars, we make Celestial globes … and we have made imaginary globes and fictional maps of all sorts.
Apart from globes, is there another gift that you would like to give and make one day?
We have started works on various fun things, you’ll have to check back to our website or social media for updates soon (smiles).