WHEN charity shop staff opened a box of donations and saw the book Temples of Flora inside, they knew they had something special on their hands.
Measuring 20 by 24 inches, weighing 28lb, and filled with beautifully detailed paintings of exotic flowers and plants, the book made an instant impression.
But staff at Age UK in Bath Road, Cheltenham, did not realise just how big an impression the book would make until they opened it up and saw the original price – £795.
An online search later and they realised they had one of just 600 copies of renowned botanist Robert Thornton's fabled book, which he first began work on in 1797.
Shop manager Sheila Gidley said: "We were absolutely staggered when we saw the book and realised how much it is worth. We had to sit down and have a cup of coffee.
"The book had been in a sealed up box of donations in the back of the shop for three weeks. We'd had so many donations we hadn't got round to opening it."
The book is now on display in a glass case with a £500 price tag, but Sheila has no idea who the kind-hearted donor was.
She said: "We don't know who brought it in. Whoever it was didn't tell us the book was inside the box or that it is so valuable.
"We think they either didn't know the book is worth so much, or they're just generous. Whoever it is, I'd like to say thank you to them." Sheila said the book would be on sale in the shop until after Christmas, and if there were no buyers it would then be put up for auction.
Money from the sale of the book will be used for the charity's Winter Warmth scheme, which helps elderly people pay energy bills and buy blankets.
Temples of Flora turned out to be one of the great publishing follies of all time, as Thornton ran into money problems when creating the book and the enterprise ultimately financially ruined him.
The book was re-published by the Folio Society in 2008, with 600 copies printed. A slip of paper found inside the book suggests whoever donated it originally bought it when it was offered to readers of The Telegraph newspaper in 2008.
For more information on the book, call the shop on 01242 252454.