The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club
Quest - A Zetetic Treasure Hunt

Quest - A Zetetic Treasure Hunt was written by Martyn Lambourne and published by Tree House in September 1992. ISBN 0 9518757 0 1.

Quest is a £15 (€25, US$25) hardback book with each page comprising a verse surrounded by an intricate line-illustrated border in the style of an engraved picture. The clues are based on British history and geography although answers can be obtained though standard research resources - without needing to visit any of the locations used.

Back in 1992, the prize 1kg 18ct golden chest was valued at US$45,000 (£30,000) and waited to be claimed by whoever submitted the first correct solution on an official entry form found at the back of the £15 book.

Author, and club member Martyn Lambourne had the casket revalued in 2006 when the experts put a US$75,000 (£45,000) price tag on it. Weeks later, in March of 2006, another club member and treasure hunt master, Shaun Whitehead, together with with Cheryl Jones and Karen Stephens of Wyoming, finally claimed the prize. They correctly identified the solution as "The cairn at Ben More, Island of Mull".

Visit the Quest website for further information on the hunt and ordering details for the solution.

Over the years Martyn Lambourne has generously provided a number of copies of Quest for club prizes.

Among the various articles on Quest published in the club newsletter was the following piece by Martyn, from 1997:


It was one of those cold, wet and windy Autumn evenings in 1990 when almost the only thing to do was watch TV after dinner, when the idea came to me as I sat in my armchair with my mind more focused on my thoughts than the TV screen. Well, for the sake of The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club where else could I have had the idea?

The moment of realisation came to me after several months pondering and sifting a whole range of ideas. I had long been mulling over a combination of ideas that would utilise my various skills, interests, abilities and experience, and these suddenly crystallised with the concept of a treasure hunt in a book.

Some thirteen years prior to that evening Kit Williams had published his book Masquerade, which I had found engaging….. but I was also aware of the problems and resultant adverse publicity which had been associated with it. I determined that my book should not slip into the same pitfalls.

Before developing my idea I collected as much information as I could about previous treasure hunt promotions and concluded that whatever I did the one major area for potential disaster should be avoided, and that was to hide or bury the prize at a real location. In Conundrum the Cadbury's sales promotion where golden eggs were hidden at various sites throughout Britain several were found by accident before the competition had even got under way. In another competition organised by Longboat Butter silver models of Viking ships were buried, and at least one of these was also discovered accidentally. Apart from the real danger that a prize might be unearthed by use of a metal detector or by accident there is also the danger that treasure hunters would damage property in their search by digging in a supposed location. Such activity gave the National Trust cause for concern in respect of Masquerade. It was examples like these which led me to conclude that a notional location would provide the best safeguard, with the prize actually lodged in a safe place elsewhere.

By using the mechanism of a claim form I would also ensure that only someone who had truly earned the prize could secure it.

The idea of Quest was however just the beginning of a very long process of development. Had I anticipated the amount of hard work and the problems with which I would have to contend it is quite likely that I would have stopped right there.

Almost the easiest part of the whole project was formulating the concept and writing the rhyming clues. This took maybe two or three weeks, with maps and reference books spread around me on the traditional creative altar of the kitchen table. Only once did I have to check a fact at the public library, all the rest was compiled with books in my own possession; the AA Reader's Digest Book of The Road, various Shell guides to Britain, history books, a literary companion, a small encyclopaedia, and so on.

Once the writing was complete I could concentrate on the form of the illustrations and the design of the prize. Through long held interest in the Dark Ages I was drawn to using this period as a basis for the illustrations and prize and I collected pictorial reference to stimulate my thoughts without recourse to slavish copying.

The concept of the prize came early on from seeing reliquaries and chests with a similar shape. The surface designs were developed at first with the idea of decorating the casket with champleve enamel, much as the enamelled artefacts from the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Raised lines of gold would separate the fields of coloured enamel. After visiting the goldsmith and discussing the design and its production however I later decided to drop the idea of enamelling, leaving the richness of the gold to glitter on its own.

Once the idea of colour had been abandoned then the line illustrations could be subtly altered; no longer required to mimic the prize in separating areas of colour the lines could become more enigmatic and ambiguous, creating shapes which became parts of more than one element.

The printing process also encouraged me to produce black line drawings, partly because the ambiguity is greater, but also because it is cheaper than running full colour on a press.

With the prize concept almost fully evolved I began to consolidate my ideas about the format and presentation of the book. I had already had face to face discussions with several big publishers, but none had taken up the challenge of producing Quest. This left me with the single option of publishing it with my own imprint, Tree House. More research followed; into marketing; into the legalities of running a competition; into the mechanics of publishing; into marketing and distribution.

The sums which resulted from this investigation were frightening in terms of cost and stupendous in terms of possible returns. I realised that I needed to put all this information together as a comprehensive business plan and then approach banks, venture capitalists and business angels in order to try and obtain the necessary funding.

All this time I had been working on the illustrations and now had the book complete in a rough form, although the final size, paper, colour and binding were still all undecided. In general I managed to do one illustration every day and a half, though there were some days when things didn't go right and I was deserted by the creative muse; then inspiration might be sought in a brisk walk along the sea wall, or the artistic spirit refreshed in one of my home town of Burnham-on-Crouch's low-beamed waterside pubs.

After many abortive attempts to raise funds I came to the conclusion that I might have to try to finance Quest myself. As another resort I approached several newspapers and suggested that they might consider running Quest as a sales promotion for their publication. Most were frightened by the risk, but one, The Sunday Correspondent asked me to work up an idea for a weekly competition. Full of hope I started this project, seeing in it a way to finally advance interest in Quest. Of course, such is life, that once I had started this project the newspaper ceased publication before even one competition had been used!

I was no further forward. All my hard work so far seemed to have been a waste of time. But I had invested so much time and effort that I was not going to let Quest die before trying everything in my power.

Again, one of those flashes of insight came to my aid. It occurred to me that Quest could succeed if it was launched and marketed through network marketing. In such promotions members invest in advertising leaflets or press advertising and hope to share in the profits from sales of the books through several levels of members. I won't bore you with the mechanics of this, but I am sure you will have seen similar things; Dorling Kindersley sells educational books the same way.

This idea opened a whole new area of legality to be carefully examined. Regulations relating to network schemes had to be satisfied, and be seen to be satisfied. And advertising for such schemes had to meet with the approval of the Advertising Standards Authority or I would not get advertisements accepted for publication in the national publications that I had in mind.

More research. Visits to marketing consultants. Meetings with my solicitor. Talking to the printer. Finding a distributor. All adding up to increasing expense, not the least of which was incurred in arming myself with the professional legal opinion of a Queen's Counsel.

Time passed without my seeming to make any progress but eventually all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place…. and it looked as if it was going to be a success.

By now I knew that the book would be sent by mail, so I settled on a size that would fit a standard mailing envelope and which would pass through most letterboxes easily. The paper and board to be used needed to feel of good quality but not weigh too much in view of postal costs. I also wanted the quality of the book to reflect the high value of the prize, so it took some time to find the right materials for the binding, eventually using the same binding cloth used by the Folio Society for their high quality collectors' editions.

Much as merchant adventurers would have bought a share in the expense of fitting out a ship for a voyage of discovery and trade in Elizabethan times, so I had found a small band of people willing to fund the project.

Press releases, writing advertising copy, designing press ads and leaflets, printing, production of the casket, photography sessions….. with me dressed as a Viking with the plundered prize in one hand and a sword in the other….. everything seemed to come together in an accelerating rush towards the publication date in September 1992.

Just when everything seemed set fair I had a call from the printer. Delivery of most of the print run was being delayed because the binding had taken longer than anticipated. For a moment it looked as if this was going to be a publication date without a book, but then news came that a small number could be delivered in time ahead of the main delivery. Saved!

And then the orders began flooding in.

Seeing the books being sent out to addresses all over Britain, and soon as far away as South Africa, America or Australasia gave a great sense of achievement and satisfaction. At that point all the effort suddenly seemed very worthwhile.

Now Quest has been running for several years, and longer than I had ever anticipated that it would. Surely it's not that difficult! Sometimes people who have enjoyed attempting Quest ask if I will publish another. Well, I can't see myself taking on all those problems again. The treasure hunt was the easy bit, and I may devise another, but I wouldn't want to have to face all that ancillary work, and I certainly wouldn't suggest that anyone else did either! If I'd known how difficult it was all going to be I don't believe that I would have pursued the idea….. well, not that way anyway..... but maybe that's the beginning of the next story.

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