We are a family business that began over 40 years ago in other forms. I am the founder, Phillip, and I used to work for the Ministry of Defence. One day I was given the task of testing materials for use in artificial limbs for service men. The worksheet had come to the lab four years previously and was marked in big red letters ‘URGENT’. I needed a fairly cheap piece of equipment to do the job but my request for it was turned down. On protesting I was told I would learn that in the Ministry of Defence, and the Civil Service in general, “the longer you leave things, the less urgent they become”. After a brief discussion in which my choice of words may not have been the best (what’s wrong with calling your boss an idiot?) I was told that my career in the MOD was unlikely to progress.
Shortly after the 'incident' my father in law happened to mention that waste newspaper was now £20 a ton that was quite a lot in 1973. Wait a minute I thought and scurried home and weighed the week’s newspaper - they came to 16 lbs. – that’s 140 house to the ton per week – collect each month - that’s roughly 35 pickups. I stated monthly collections round and about exchanging Co-op trading stamps for the paper. On our best ever day we collected 11 tons off doorsteps and when collecting people also left out a lot of books, maps and other stuff, a lot of which I kept. What could go wrong?
Well, quite a bit. In 1976 the price of used paper crashed, over supply, and I could no longer sell the paper. With no money coming in another plan was needed. One Saturday the dog found a way to open the fridge, he’d been trying for weeks, and ate the Sunday lunch. I know, I thought, I’ll take some of those old books to that second hand bookshop. I received £5 for one of them. Riches restored! I went back to the bookshop the following week and noticed the shop owner had just torn out 100 illustrations from one of the books I had sold and was selling them for £1 each.
I can do that I thought. Frenzied activity followed - destroying all the books for the illustrations and selling them on Petticoat lane on a Sunday morning. That source of prints dried up so I had to find other images to sell and found some birthday cards, nice little views of London but the image had a crease down the middle. I contacted the company that published them and found that they did indeed sell them as prints without the crease but they would not supply me as in their view I was not a proper company. They would sell me the cards though so I bought them and scuttled back home and spent a day ironing all the creases out of them. They sold very quickly and when I went back and told them what I’d done they said if you are that determined we will supply the prints.
They sold well and on driving back from the Lane on a Sunday afternoon I noticed how there was always a big queue of tourists outside Madame Tussaud’s. I thought if I could sell to them that would be a great market. However trying to get Madame Tussaud’s to take them was not easy. I knew if they took them they would sell so after several months of effort trying to get them to stock them I gave 100 small framed prints. They said OK, we will give it a go then. That was Friday, I got a small order on the Monday and eventually they ordered 10,000 at a time. We started selling them to outlets all over town.
I needed somewhere to make them so I opened a gallery/workshop and started bespoke framing - prints, illustrations, original maps etc. In the beginning the gallery was open 7 days a week, with my wife and friends doing the evening shift. Unfortunately disaster struck again when China began supplying the London Tourist trade and so once again I had to rethink. We moved the gallery to smaller premises on a High Street but the high rent, high rates and constant vandalism of the shop front meant we closed the gallery in 2006. I have always been passionate about maps, and folding ones in particular, and started to deal in them. However w3henecer I sold one I always wished I’d kept it. They are very scarce and finding new stock has always been a problem. From here came the idea to try to make re-issues. I built a workshop in my garden and it has taken us a long time to learn the processes needed to make our re-issues as close to, and as beautiful as, the originals.
We are now a family business based in rural Devon on the fringe of Exmoor. Our maps are sold to individuals and to shops large and small, including museums like the V & A. We have supplied the BBC and they have even appeared in a Hollywood film!