200-year-old book helps fund shop revamp

published on 17 Feb 2014

A 200-year-old book of lithographs unearthed by a Salvation Army volunteer 15 years ago has helped transform the very shop where it was found.

Former Londonderry Corps Sergeant Major Leslie Smyth discovered an obscure Alexandre Pluchart-published Souvenirs de Saint-Pétersbourg among a pile of books donated to the church and charity’s Londonderry shop in 1999.Now almost two decades later, the collection of lithographs by various artists dating back to 1825 has breathed new life into the John Street shop after being auctioned at Christies in London for over £4000.   Sadly Mr Smyth died in 2012, just weeks before the book was put under the hammer at the world-famous auction house.   But the proceeds of the sale have allowed the Londonderry Salvation Army to give their shop a much-needed revamp.    And as Mr Smyth’s Daughter Christine Williams prepares to cut the ribbon at the official reopening ceremony tomorrow (Tuesday February 18) at 10am, she said her dad would be looking down from heaven with pride.   Mrs Williams, from Ballycastle, said: “Dad was responsible for establishing the shop around 1989 and worked in it until he was 80. He loved rooting through the donations of books and looking for any of value to stop dealers snapping them up.   “It was around 1999 that he came across a book called Souvenirs de Saint-Pétersbourg, which was a tatty looking thing that you’d barely have looked twice at.   “But dad thought differently and we eventually took it to Phillips auction house in Glasgow, where I was living at the time. 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 £9000.

Christine Williams, with the Derry Mayor Martin Reilly, corps officer Lieutenant Philip Cole and Divisional Director for Personnel Major Colin Hylton-Jones

  “When I told dad of my find he just about fell off his chair. But our book was in poor condition and its cover was torn so we didn’t get our hopes up.   “I emailed Christies who said they’d get back to us in six weeks but they emailed the next morning saying they were very interested.   “I was scared to send them the book by courier so I decided to take it to London myself. Unfortunately, dad passed away on the day I was due to travel.   “We eventually got it to London and it was sold for over £4000. The buyer was Russian and expressed his delight. Christies told us we did the right thing in holding onto the book because the demand for it had soared in recent years. I’m just sorry dad didn’t live to see it sold. He would have been so proud.”  Corps officer Lieutenant Philip Cole paid tribute to Sergeant Major Smyth and Mrs Williams, and also thanked staff at Marks and Spencer’s in Foyleside who helped fit out the shop.   Lt. Cole said: “We are grateful to Leslie and his daughter for making the revamp possible. Leslie was a big believer in the shops 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.    “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.  M&S did this as a good deed to The Salvation Army and we’re grateful for their support.”