Now it has to be said that Mark adores old maps. We have a considerable collection filed away in cupboards and drawers, and displayed on shelves and the walls. It soon became obvious that I wasn't going to get him out of the shop very easily! I actually went off to have a mooch around - then felt guilty because I wasn't helping to sift through the 1000s (literally) of maps in this shop.
When I got back I found Mark in the back room clutching this old leather box, with a slightly stunned expression on his face.
"Look," he said. "It looks like a complete set of Cyclist's Touring Maps" (The exact set that he's been chasing on a piece-meal basis for about 12 months). "It's a no-brainer," I said. " You've got to get it. Find out the price and I'll give you an advance on your birthday money if necessary."
So we pottered off to find the owner of the shop in the other room. He explained that there were actually two maps missing from the set - the two which covered the London area. This is the area of least interest to us anyway so it didn't put us off. We agreed an extremely good price and brought the set home. Crafting time was sacrificed to do internet research.
By mid-evening we'd established that Stanfords (a travel book company which I believe still exists in London) had sold these leather-boxed sets between 1905 and 1911. The circle of leather in the lid should hold a small device for measuring distances on the maps. There should also be small leather straps that go under each set of maps to make it easier to lift them out.
We also discovered that one of the duplicate maps that Mark had already collected was an older edition - printed between 1901 and 1905. Along the way we also picked up that there's a similar boxed series of maps for Scotland (with only 29 sheets) and that Bartholomew's Maps were an Edinburgh company. Coincidently there's even an exhibition about the company on in the city at the moment.
There still a little mystery. The box has a pair of initials on the front - "T.B.". We know from a slip of paper in the box that the set was re-sold in Oxford at some stage. Unfortunately there's no other clue to flesh out 100 years of history.
It's definitely got pride of place in Mark's collection.