When Peter Bellerby wanted to find a decent present for his father's 80th birthday in 2007, he decided to get a globe, a unique piece of décor, linked to his passion for travel. “I didn't want to buy him another pair of socks,” Bellerby told hiEurope. Given the occasion, the present had to be beautiful and precious. “However, I was not able to find any,” Bellerby recalls. “The globes were all pieces of plastic, while the ancient ones sold at auctions cost a fortune. So I decided to make one myself.”
Little did he know that this project would cost him almost two hundred thousand pounds and two years of trial and error. But it also led to his new business venture. “At some point, I realized I had gone too far. I had already spent a lot of money and time, and if I backed down I would have wasted both of them. Moreover, I was totally obsessed with completing the task. So I decided to go right up to the end, turning it into a sustainable business. I did no market research, but I knew that nobody else was hand-crafting globes based on original maps and drawings. The first globe I sold was to an Australian museum curator. He paid half the price it was worth.”
To achieve his goal, Bellerby had to overcome many obstacles. “I had to find exact maps, which did not exist. So I had to fix and adjust the one I was able to buy, correcting names and borders. Then I had to ask a friend to write a specific programme to morph a rectangular map into 'gores', the triangular shapes that fit onto a sphere. After that I had to find a perfectly-round mould, which also proved to be very difficult.” The slightest imperfection would have made it impossible to obtain a perfectly even result, as 24 hand-cut pieces of map are stuck on a sphere. “Finally, there was a “eureka” moment, when I found the right solution to all problems and I was going to achieve my goal,” he says.
Today, 4 globe makers, 3 painters, 2 mould makers and one map maker work full time in Stoke Newington, a residential area in the London Borough of Hackney. A two-storey cottage with a bright garret, it's half-way between an artist's atelier and a workshop, full of round chalk moulds of different sizes, self-constructed tools, paintbrushes and paint while the cut gores are hung out to dry completely as if they were laundry. “Globe making is more about handicraft,” Bellerby points out. “It requires a lot of patience and concentration. There is a very long training and the utmost precision is needed.” Of course, there are no proper schools to become a globe maker, so applying at Bellerby&Co is basically the only way.
The whole process is time-consuming. The globe makers create the globes using moulds and fibreglass; the single gores are printed on special paper, precisely cut by hand and let dry before being stuck onto the surface. Then, using a special “metal pencil” the surface is polished, and hand-painted with watercolours to give an antique colour, which is then shielded with a special gloss. Just the painting part can take six days for a medium-sized globe.
Bellerby&Co makes terrestrial and celestial globes, the latter featuring star cartography and astronomy themes. The maps can be modern or history-inspired, such as the Galileo - Cassini Edition based on the design of a Dutch cartographer in the 17th century. The unique globes featured in Martin Scorsese's movie Hugo (2011) and in many installations by the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare. They were also showcased at the first globe exhibition ever held at the Royal Geographical Society. Bellerby and his staff are currently working at a reproduction of a globe by the Venetian cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli, who worked for the French King Louis XIV. The result will be part of an exhibition at the Louvre museum in Paris.
Bellerby&Co is a fast growing company. While they produced 220 globes in 2015, they plan to reach 350 in 2016 and are already accepting orders for 2017.
Bellerby & Co. Globemakers, 7 Bouverie Mews - Bouverie Road, London N16 0AE. + 44(0) 20 8800 7235, www.bellerbyandco.com