Can you remember the first globe you set your eyes on?
This is the first question globemaker Peter Bellerby throws out during a talk at New York’s Explorers Club and the question certainly evokes emotion with many people in the audience reminiscing.
The 58-year-old now stands as one of the world’s last remaining traditional globemakers and his company Bellerby & Co in London was born out of his frustration at not being able to find an 80th birthday present for his father back in 2008.
He tried finding a globe as a gift but there was nothing decent on offer and the antique orbs he found were being auctioned off for extortionate amounts. Bellerby quickly spotted a gap in the market and set to work learning everything he could about the archaic craft of globemaking.
In just over a decade, he has gone from being a one-man band to a team of 26 and his stunning, hand-painted orbs sell for more than $78,000 in their largest format with the waitlist currently up to 14 months.
Peter Bellerby started his globe company in London in 2008 and today he employs 26 staff
In just over a decade, Bellerby has gone from being a one-man band to a team of 26 and his stunning, hand-painted orbs sell for more than $78,000 in their largest format with the waitlist currently up to 14 months
The entrepreneur said the first globe he made sold for just over $1,000, but it cost more than $3,000 to make so he had to do a bit of work around rejigging the balance sheets
Marketing was another thing Bellerby had to master but luckily his partner, Jade, helped him with this task and quit her job to do so. The couple found Instagram allowed them to connect with customers all over the world and orders flooded in
Bellerby – who admits to having a rather bizarre career trajectory from nightclub owner to property developer to globemaker with a stint in television also in the mix – says his industry is very niche and there weren’t any how-to books when he started out.
It took him a good few years to learn the ropes, with lots of outgoings and not much income to begin with.
He explains: ‘I had to learn all these different things… cartography… how to make a sphere… finding the right balance points for a globe to spin… [and] the most important thing was grasping how to cast a piece of flat paper onto a sphere.
‘It was trial and error over and over again. I didn’t know if I had the right paper or glue. I started off using wallpaper paste, which wasn’t great, but after two years I was happy where I was and I started marketing the globes. My dad eventually got his globe. It was the fourth one I made.’
Slowly it dawned on Bellerby that he had to become more business savvy in order to make globemaking a viable option.
The first globe he made sold for just over $1,000 but it cost more than $3,000 to make, so he had to work hard at rejigging the balance sheets.
Marketing was another thing Bellerby had to master but luckily his partner, Jade, helped him with this task and quit her job to do so.
Prior to Jade’s input, Bellerby remembers selling around one globe a month in 2011 and the company ‘wasn’t really going anywhere.’
However, Jade realized the power of social media and after setting up an Instagram account, the orders started rolling in.
Touching on his business’s rise to success, Bellerby says: ‘Jade knows her stuff and she started uploading lots of beautiful photos of our globes and the workshop to Instagram.
‘We went from my family and friends following me to thousands and today we have more than 150,000 followers.
‘To be honest, I didn’t realize that this was an amazing way of promoting the company. I thought Instagram would just be young kids but it’s an amazing thing and attracts people of all ages from all over the world.
‘We were soon inundated with requests for photoshoots and videos and at one point I was doing two photo shoots a week!’
As more money came in, Bellerby took on a rental space and he went on to establish a full-time workshop in east London
The orbs – which can require the work of 18 craftspeople during the production process – come in various sizes, with the smallest ‘pocket’ version having a 12cm diameter and the largest ‘floor standing’ orb spanning 127cm
Today Bellerby makes about 500 globes a year with the US being his biggest market
‘I also didn’t realize how political globemaking can be,’ Bellerby muses as he reveals how map markings can vary. He explains: ‘Taiwan isn’t recognized by China, so if we sell to China we have to mark it as Chinese Taipei’
Bellerby says he will never go mass market and the business ‘will always stay bespoke and very special’
Bellerby originally started the company in his living room, which he said wasn’t ideal as ‘it was like the Sahara’ with fine dust everywhere.
As more money came in, he took on a rental space and he went on to establish a full-time workshop in east London.
Today Bellerby makes about 500 globes a year with the US being his biggest market.
The orbs – which can require the work of up to 18 craftspeople during the production process – come in various sizes, with the smallest ‘pocket’ version having a 12cm diameter and the largest ‘floor standing’ orb spanning 127cm.
During his time in the world of globes, Bellerby has amassed a stack of wild stories.
Digging into the archives, he unearths some treasures including a client who lived in a Spanish castle, who had to knock a wall down in his stately home and rebuild it to fit a Bellerby & Co globe in.
Another client in Miami had to crane his 127cm globe into his 20th floor apartment as the orb was too large to fit in the elevator.
Shipping his globes has also proved problematic. When he was starting out, he used to use lead weights in his globes and one got opened by US customs as officers were concerned the orb was hiding contraband.
Bellerby said he only realized what had happened when he got a call from his client, who explained that she had received the globe but some of the countries were in the wrong place as customs had glued it back together incorrectly.
‘I also didn’t realize how political globemaking can be,’ Bellerby muses.
Explaining how map markings can vary, he continues: ‘Taiwan isn’t recognized by China, so if we sell to China we have to mark it as Chinese Taipei.
‘Likewise, with Indian clients, we have to remake the border between India and Pakistan so there is no disputed border with Kashmir.’
Asked about the future of his business, Bellerby says he will never go mass market.
He concludes: ‘We have an incredible team and we are quality checking more than we have ever done.
‘It will always stay bespoke and very special. I don’t want to turn it into a factory where we have 100 people churning things out.
‘All this started from me being ridiculously over confident in my ability. But I wouldn’t change things for the world.’
The Globemakers: The Curious Story of an Ancient Craft by Peter Bellerby, published by Bloomsbury, is out now and available to purchase here.