Peter Bellerby, 50, started Bellerby & Co. in 2008 after failing to find the perfect globe for his father. Julian Love/Bellerby & Co.

There are only a few dedicated artisanal globemakers left in the world—and there’s good reason for that.

To be an artisanal globemaker, you’ve got to be patient and stubborn.

Ask Peter Bellerby, one of the few people left who still makes globes by hand. Nowadays, globes are mostly made by machines, and Bellerby says he knows why. “It’s horrendously difficult. You have to retrain your body to work in a much slower and guarded way,” he says. “They’ve got to want to do it and not be beaten by the process.” It took him more than a year to learn the art.

Bellerby, 50, founded Bellerby & Co. Globemakers—one of the world’s only handcrafted globe making studios—in London in 2008 when he couldn’t find a quality globe for his father’s 80th birthday. They were either too cheaply made or too expensive and fragile. So he decided to make one himself. How hard could it be?

Bellerby gave himself three months and a few thousand pounds to get the job done. “It very quickly got out of control,” he says. The meridian alone, the metal band that encircles the globe, cost more than 15,000 pounds (or $23,000) to perfect. “I realized that if I was going to continue, I had to at least have a stab at making a business out of it because the cost was not justifiable for anyone’s birthday present.”

When asked if he had initially worried about a lack of demand for globes, particularly with the widespread adoption of GPS and digital maps, Bellerby simply says that he “put it out of my mind.

Fast forward seven years, and Bellerby and his staff produce 200 globes a year in his studio in Stoke Newington, London. Their clients range from students to businessmen to filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, who commissioned four globes for his 2011 movie Hugo.

Each globe can take months to complete because for Bellerby, precision and accuracy are key. He makes most of the components in-house, from the sphere to the actual map. “Essentially, in the 20th century, people forgot how to make globes accurate,” he says. “Because the competition seemed to have disappeared, they allowed themselves to make them in a more factory environment. You would have sections of maps overlapping [each other], which would make you lose entire countries.”

The individual strips, or gores, are given color and then meticulously applied to the globe. (JadeF Fenster/Bellerby & Co.)

Bellerby licensed a map from a reputable source, but still had to go in and correct the spelling and positions of different cities and capitals. In the next step, the map is then cut into strips, then applied to the sphere one piece at a time so that each lines up perfectly with the panels on the globe. “Ultimately, the art within globemaking is attaching a wet piece of paper to a sphere,” Bellerby says. “You have to get the timing right so that it relaxes the bond between the paper, and so you dont overdo it so it falls apart.” It’s a process that took Bellerby 18 months to initially perfect.

Globemaking became a well-established craft in Europe during the Renaissance, with the earliest surviving terrestrial globe made in the 1492 by German geographer Martin Behaim. Globes were intricate, and documented what explorers had uncovered. They were also decorative and often exchanged as gifts among powerful figures.

Today, Bellerby sees globes as inspirational rather than everyday-functional. “You’ll never use it to navigate; you use GPS and Google maps because that is completely amazing and fantastic,” he says. “But when you have a globe, it allows you to see the planet we live on and see the countries as they relate to each other—which is really important and far more inspiring.”

Inside the studio of Bellerby & Co. in London (Gareth Pon/Bellerby & Co.)
(Jade Fenster/Bellerby & Co.)
(Ana Santl/Bellerby & Co).
(Jade Fenster/Bellerby & Co).
(Jade Fenster/Bellerby & Co).

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    The ‘Marie Kondo Effect’ Comes at a Weird Time for Thrift Stores

    Netflix’s hit show has everyone tidying up, but that's not the only reason second-hand stores are being flooded with donations.

  2. A photo of a Family Mart convenience store in Japan.
    Life

    The Language Debate Inside Japan's Convenience Stores

    Throughout Japan, store clerks and other service industry workers are trained to use the elaborate honorific speech called “manual keigo.” But change is coming.

  3. Transportation

    Paris Will Make Public Transportation Free for Kids

    In a plan to help families and reduce car usage, anyone under 11 years old will be able to ride metro and buses for free, as will people with disabilities under 20.

  4. A man charges an electric bus in Santiago, Chile.
    Transportation

    The Verdict's Still Out on Battery-Electric Buses

    As cities experiment with battery-powered electric buses, some are finding they struggle in inclement weather or on hills, or that they don’t have enough range.

  5. A brownstone in Brooklyn, where Airbnb growth has been particularly strong in recent years.
    Life

    What Airbnb Did to New York City

    Airbnb’s effects on the city’s housing market have been dramatic, a report suggests. And other cities could soon see the same pattern.