How we ended up owning a framing shop

As of last year my wife manages her art framing shop in Soest. It's an interesting business and here's how we ended up owning it.

Shortly after taking over the framing shop, the local newspaper wrote an article about it.

When I was 16 and living in Middelburg my mom introduced me to a bit of an odd man. His kids went to the same school as my siblings and his wife told my mom they needed a new website. My mom suggested I could help because I was always on my computer and she wanted me to do something useful. Thanks mom!

Jaap (as he was called) smoked a lot, had long hair, and always listened to hippie music like Pink Floyd. Most importantly, he had a lot of interesting antique maps which he dealt in. His passion for the maps and the stories he told about them were incredible. His knowledge is encyclopedic, he can tell you exactly which edition of a map it is by subtle variations in the paper. I really liked him and we are friends to this day.

One of the maps he showed me was only one of thirteen surviving editions in the world. It is known that both Columbus and Hitler had at one point owned one. He gave it to me so I could touch it. No latex gloves or glass covers or anything. I was holding it in my bare hands and there was a chance that this map had been owned by either Hitler or Columbus, or maybe both ;). That was a mind blowing experience!

The exterior of Dat Narrenschip in Middelburg

So after some time I was done creating the site, we re-launched it on my php stack, and customers could view his collection. I have maintained the site ever since even though I do more "important" things now. Over the last 20 years it has gone through 2 more complete rewrites (php, php + jquery, now shopify). Now on Shopify it is virtually maintenance free, and if needed, other people can handle it. You can also buy maps online now, which I heartily recommend that you do. I personally have an antique map of every place I've lived in.

The website and hanging out with Jaap started my love for antique maps. In my view they are:

  1. Beautiful pieces of art.
  2. Full of interesting history, geography, and exploration.
  3. Still pretty reasonably priced, you can buy great maps for 500 - 5000 USD.
When I see an antique map I think of all the people that must have collaborated to make this come true. The explorers who went all over the world, the surveyors who measured all the distances, the businessmen who brought the resources together to print hundreds of maps. The workers who carved the copper plates, the millers who made the paper in their mills, the painters who colored the printed sheets of paper. And finally of course the customers who bought the atlases, the rich merchants for their enjoyment or the seafaring navigators who needed proper maps to navigate the world.

Whenever I created something for the website I was paid either in cash or with an antique map. Later I had some more money and I would buy one every other year or so. The one I like most is a 1782 edition of the United States by Klockhoff. One of the very first editions recognizing the new country with their 13 states and their own flag. I think it is just absolutely beautiful, and from just 6 years after the declaration of independence. I often ask visitors to point out Washington DC (which is not on the map because it wasn't built yet!).

The very rare 1782 Klockhoff

Anyway, when I wanted to frame it, the local framing shop in Utrecht asked about 300 euros for it. I thought that was a lot of money, but still had it framed. It's on my wall today and many people who have had virtual meetings with me will have seen it behind me.

A couple years later I bought another map. Coming from a very DIY family, I thought I could frame it myself for way less money. How hard could it be? So I ordered some materials and tried it. It turned out that it was very difficult to get the corners in exactly 45 degrees and cutting the mats (passe-partouts) was pretty difficult too. Making sure the art work is kept safe and the materials are acid free turned out to be a requirement we didn't think about back then. Nevertheless, I managed to do it for about 80 euros and in my ignorance I was happy with the result. Then we framed some more maps together with Stephanie (my wife) and we both enjoyed doing it! Since then she has been selling antique prints and also framing a couple, but always as an extra activity besides taking care of our family, and with non-professional equipment. Which means it was slow and needing a lot of rework to get the quality right.

On weekends she would sell her framed art on fairs etc.

Now that the kids are a bit older, she wanted to go full-time into selling art and framing and began looking for equipment on Marktplaats (the Dutch ebay). She looked for some professional equipment like a Morso miter chopper. To her surprise she found an entire shop for sale that also mentioned it had a Morso. That's how she found it! The owner was asking for a reasonable price for the store. We went over and it looked like this:

The workshop in Soest

Apparently the owner was 88 years old and finally retiring. We went over once, and on the way back decided that we should just do it. We had some extra money as I was freelancing that year. Buying a store wasn't really "the plan" as Stephanie first wanted to finish her professional framing course which would take a year, and I wanted to start my own software company, but the seller was in a hurry and chances like this don't come often. So I decided to work a bit less and Stephanie could do her course and work in the shop, while I took more care of the kids. The deal was finalized quickly.

The Art of the Deal

By now in mid 2024 she is a certified framer and runs the shop about 4 days a week. It's a lot of fun and she's really good at it. You can visit the store in Soest, look up her website here.

Life is a bit weird sometimes, and this string of random events is how we ended up owning a framing shop.


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