The daughter of a man who unearthed a valuable 200-year-old book that helped transform the Salvation Army shop where it was found helped reopen the store yesterday.
The Londonderry shop underwent a five-week-long refurbishment using the £4,000 paid by a Russian buyer for the book of lithographs at a London auction two years ago.
Former Londonderry Corps Sergeant Major Leslie Smyth, who helped establish the John Street shop in 1989, came upon the book Souvenirs de Saint-Pétersbourg back in 1999 while on his regular root through donations for valuable items before they were snapped up by dealers.
Described by his daughter Christine Williams as a “tatty-looking thing that you’d barely have looked twice at”, she paid tribute to her now-deceased dad for sensing it was worth more.
“We eventually took it to Phillips auction house in Glasgow, where I was living at the time,” said Christine.
“They told us it was worth several hundred pounds and recommended we take it to a book expert.
“We kept meaning to get around to it but it was only when I retired that dad and I decided to contact Christies in London. We typed in the name Alexandre Pluchart and discovered Christies had sold one in 2009 for £9,000.
“When I told dad of my find he just about fell off his chair.”
Leslie, who worked in the Salvation Army store until he was 80, died on the day Christine was due to bring the book to London for valuation.
“Christies told us we did the right thing in holding onto the book because the demand for it had soared in recent years,” she said. “I’m just sorry dad didn’t live to see it sold. He would have been so proud.”
Corps officer Lieutenant Philip Cole said Leslie’s keen eye and generosity would be a lasting legacy for the whole community.
He said: “We are grateful to Leslie and his daughter for making the revamp possible. Leslie was a big believer in the shop’s ministry and service to the city.
“For many people the shop is the face of the Salvation Army in the city. We therefore feel it is important to invest in something which will benefit the whole community.”
Staff at Marks and Spencer Foyleside spent a day fitting out the revamped shop.
“We’d also like to thank staff from Marks and Spencer who spent a day in the shop putting up wall units, creating window displays, helping to arrange items in a presentable fashion,” said Lt Cole. “M&S did this as a good deed to the Salvation Army and we’re grateful for their support.”