Box of treasures

14 September 2015
Ben Pentreath

This is a short blog this week…. Partly, because yesterday I was writing an article for the FT, and there’s only so much writing you can do in a day; and partly, because on Saturday, when Charlie and I had a long, lovely afternoon exploring new corners of Highgate with our brilliant friend Ruth Guilding (she of Bible of British Taste which is the only blog I read immediately upon a post arriving in my email in tray… Ruth has incidentally promised to start blogging a bit more now that she’s got her major book projects out of the way..) well, because I’d decided for once to leave my camera at home. Intentionally. I wanted a day of just looking and chatting, and not entirely seeing the world through the lens of the camera.

One day I can anticipate popping back up to the back streets of Camden and Highgate that we explored…. but I also already had a blog in mind, to be fair. Early on Saturday morning Charlie had set off (while I was reading in bed) to Portobello for a date with his favourite dealer – who for the purposes of the blog had better remain nameless.

An hour or so later he returned with these. The box on the left is a tiny, beautiful herbarium which may or may not make it into Charlie’s pop-up shop when it opens next door to us in October at some time (he is very elusive as to when the date will actually be, or, for that matter what will be going on). The box on the right is what I’m going to write about now.


The case is made of the most beautiful marbled paper, faded and battered.

But pull it apart and you reveal the most beautiful, freshly coloured paper, perfectly laid across the seam.P1020472 The box contains sheets of linen bound paper, neatly folded.
P1020476 P1020477 P1020478 P1020479 P1020480

Each is slightly water-stained, to create its very own Rorschach test…P1020481

And reveals the most beautiful map of England and Wales, and the lowlands of Scotland, that you have ever seen.P1020482 P1020483 P1020484 P1020486

It is a dream.P1020488 P1020489

The quality of the engraving and cartography is beautiful.P1020490

Laid out altogether it would be a huge thing.  I think we will get the map framed – it is so beautiful – making sure to keep the box with it for ever.P1020491 P1020492

The German Ocean was a phrase I had not heard before.P1020493 P1020494 P1020495 P1020496

Here is the South coast…P1020497

And here is Dorset, where we were both slightly dreaming of being this weekend…. but were in London for a birthday party which was also lovely.P1020498

J. Cary’s map was sold from his shop on 181 Strand, which according to Google is now a Cafe Nero… but a little search on the internet also reveals that from this address, for some thirty or forty years, John and William Cary also sold globes, and other philosophical and mathematical instruments. How civilised a place it must have been.P1020499

It is wonderful to imagine the first day this map was sold. Who bought it? For what purpose?  A little look on Wikipedia reveals that June 1794 was a month of wars and battles as far a field as Haiti and Mykonos. Plus ca change.

But staring at this beautiful piece of cartography, typography and engraving, one is reminded how permanent the underlying things are, too.
P1020500 P1020501 I would love to talk to the map about its 221 years of history.  Inspiration for the week ahead.

8 comments on this post

Ben, how very, very beautiful, and evocative of times past. As well as of crafts, happily not past! In addition to cartography, typography & engraving, I would offer kudos to the paper-makers and marblers (both of which crafts I’ve practiced, so I’m prejudiced.) I enjoyed Jonathan’s comment, it put me in mind of “Antiques Roadshow,” an American TV series where people bring in their treasures for on-the-spot, expert appraisals. I also look forward to seeing the map framed. Hopefully it won’t be as long a wait as for those gorgeous Piranesi prints you acquired quite a bit ago (hint, hint!)

Hugs to you both,

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Wow! This is exquisite, both map and little marbled case. I love the comment from a reader who has a map framed for planning horseback journeys. I am looking forward to seeing (virtually) Charlie’s pop-up shop which I’m sure will be full of wonderful treasures. Kind regards, Nicola


You are too modest, my dear, neglecting to mention that the shop carries the most beautiful replica maps in marbled paper slip cases. I had the pleasure of visiting the shop in August (before the great do-over), and bought the lovely London map with the red marbled case. I enjoyed temendously the brief tenure of McGonigle Books and was thrilled to find amongst their stock a fine volume of criminal trials, a happy addition to my collection. I am, incidentally, a barrister — as such, still feeling a bit prickly over your critic’s reference to “gaga housewives.” I’ll be back in London in October and am looking forward to seeing the changes you and Bridie have wrought, and hopefully Charlie’s pop-up as well!


A lovely and important find. John Cary and William Faden were highly respected engravers who had the good sense to hire the talented geographer and hydrographer Aaron Arrowsmith the Elder in the 1780’s. Trained by his new employee, Cary began to publish revolutionary cartographic products for the period. Your map was published in both book form and on linen boards in marbled slipcase. It is one of the earliest forms of a road atlas and there are few survivors of the version Charlie discovered for obvious reasons: Rain, mud, wear and tear from being carried about and consulted. The firm was wildly successful and Mr. Arrowsmith became hydrographer to King George IV. Your map has some stories to tell…
In many years of dealing in antiquarian books and maps, I have only seen a few survivors of this edition in comparison to its bound counterpart.


Beautiful! Thank you also for the link to The Bible of British Taste, after one look at the post ‘The Best Handmade Wallpaper in the World, is by Marthe Armitage’ I had to sign up 🙂
Maybe you could do a blog on this gorgeous paper? It does remind me somewhat of the lovely marbled paper..

Marvellous, I have a similar linen mounted folding map of Somerset dated 1825 (plenty of canals but NO railway lines!) ‘Significant’ houses and ‘Gentlemen’s Estates’ are marked.
My father found it in an antique shop in the Borders, I’ve had it framed under conservation glass above the breakfast table for mentally planning journeys on horseback!

What a delicious treat hidden in an equally delicious box, such a nice way to finish my day on the other side of the world, thinking of roads less travelled and German Oceans waiting to be explored. I hope you will show us the map when it has been framed….it will look spectacular!


This is gorgeous – I can see why you are so taken with it. Old maps (and globes) are things of rare beauty. It inspired me to look out an old map that I own, which I have not opened for some time, and the musty smell emanating from it was so evocative of times gone by. Wonderful.

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