Off the chart: the big comeback of paper maps

As Stanfords travel bookshop moves into new London premises after 118 years, its cartographer explains how the ability to tailor-make any map is keeping their magic alive

When I was living in Yemen during the 1980s, someone gave me a battered old map. Information was scarce then, and accurate maps were extremely hard to come by. So departing expatriates tended to pass on any treasures to new arrivals. As he did so, my benefactor paused. “Be careful,” he said, “You don’t want to get caught with this.”

Maps, you see, can be dangerous. I think of this when I meet Martin Greenaway, a cartographer at Stanfords in London. Martin is sitting by a couple of computer screens behind a treasure trove of maps: tables covered in vast colourful countries, wall racks groaning with continents, drawers stuffed with cities and mountain ranges. Stanfords has been making maps since the mid-1850s, and has operated from this purpose-built site on London’s Long Acre since 1901. Now it is moving on – opening new premises in nearby Mercer Walk on 10 January.

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