In 2008, Peter Bellerby decided to buy his father a globe as an 80th-birthday present. The options, he found, were unsatisfactory. The majority were plastic, poorly made, and intended for schoolrooms. The rest were priceless antiques. So, despite having no artisanal background—he had previously worked in property development—Bellerby decided to build one himself. Two years later, through much trial and error, he had turned a birthday present into a business. Bellerby & Co. Globemakers has been remaking the world ever since.
Working out of a well-lit warehouse in North London, Bellerby, 55, has a team of 25 that includes fabricators, painters, woodworkers, and cartographers. It takes between six months and a year for him to train each person in the craft of globe-making. Last year they made some 600 globes, from 8.5-inch desk globes (starting at around $1,520) to the 50-inch, 6.5-foot-high “Churchill” globe (starting at around $90,280), inspired by the matching globes George Marshall gave the prime minister and Franklin Roosevelt for Christmas in 1942.
The construction of a Bellerby globe is a painstaking process. First, a perfect sphere needs to be created out of plaster of Paris, fiberglass, or resin, depending on its size. Then thin strips of paper, known as gores, are hand-painted and carefully glued to the sphere. This is the tricky part. Gores have a tendency to rip, tear, and bubble with tectonic irregularity, and if they don’t line up perfectly on the sphere, they have to be scraped off and thrown away. Once applied correctly, the gores are painted again and sealed, before being placed on a carved wooden or metal base.
Bellerby runs the company with his longtime partner, Jade Fenster. They have noticed French and Chinese companies that have seemingly tried to copy their production techniques. But, says Bellerby, “no one else seems to have got close.” What makes their globes unique, aside from their stringent quality control, is that customers can personalize them. Specific towns or cities can be highlighted, past voyages illustrated, the movement of a family over generations plotted. On the larger globes, more than 100 unique illustrations can be added to display anything from historic sea battles to mythical monsters, to the house you were born in.
The company has never paid for advertising or marketing. Ironically, this most analog of businesses found much of its clientele through being an early adopter of Instagram. They’ve relied on word of mouth ever since. They’ve had to turn down commissions when they are blatantly intolerant—for example, demanding the erasure of Israel. And Bellerby has had to be careful when dealing with ardently nationalist countries; the globes he ships to China refer to Taiwan as Chinese Taipei. Customs officers in India once destroyed one of his globes because they didn’t approve of the location of the frontier between India and Pakistan. “The border was correct,” he recalls with cartographic indignation.
Although the company remains tight-lipped about its client list, Bellerby says he has sold globes to heads of state, Hollywood actors, and “secretive organizations.” The globes themselves have appeared in movies such as Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. One might imagine that all this world creation might have given Bellerby a God complex, but he demurs. “No, it makes you become very protective about the globe and makes you more interested in the ways we are abusing the planet,” he says. “It makes you kind of want to get your arms around it.”