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Charity shop stunned by mystery donation of £795 Temple of Flora book

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: November 27, 2012

  • Fully booked: Shop manager Sheila Gidley with some of the plates

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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.


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  • Lecorche  |  December 01 2012, 10:58AM

    Thanks,Spindles. I took yours and Coingrass's advice and got a hardback copy in immaculate nick and laptop sized for 12 quid......delivered.

  • spindles12  |  November 27 2012, 11:41PM

    Lecorche, you can see the contents of the book if you Google: Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture Thornton, Robert John. It should be at the top of the list. If you click on Display Gallery View you'll see all the pages and if you click on an image you should be able to print it out when you click Image for printing on the left hand side of the screen.

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  • Lecorche  |  November 27 2012, 7:54PM

    This is one awesome book. It's beyond my pocket but I wish a Gloucestershire museum or Authority would buy it,or even an individual,and post the pages online as reasonably priced downloads.Then I could create my own copy. Failing that,how about posters being made available.

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  • Coingrass  |  November 27 2012, 7:20PM

    ...or you could just buy a new copy from Amazon for £140.

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  • daudji  |  November 27 2012, 1:37PM

    @spindles12how tedious are you!!!

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  • spindles12  |  November 27 2012, 9:55AM

    There's no doubt this is a beautiful book but perhaps a bit more research should be done as there are one or two discrepancies regarding the description. The Folio Society is still advertising a limited edition of 600 copies of this book and appear to have 60 left but a newspaper article dated 29th August 2008 talks of an edition of 1,980, as do various adverts for this book for sale on various websites. The article says"- The Temple of Flora is published in a limited edition of 1,980 copies by the Folio Society (http://tinyurl.com/c68l2nl). Reader offer Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora is published by the Folio Society and is available to Telegraph readers for the members' price of £795 plus £6.95 p&p. To order, call The Folio Society on 020-7400 4200 and mention the Telegraph" Another puzzle is the size, the Folio Society describes it as being 22.5" x 18.25" and yet the shop description says it's 20" x 24", a difference of a couple of inches each way so quite a difference. Other questions raised are: Did the book have a slipcase, a hard "box" that the book slides into or is that missing? Is the book numbered inside or is there a piece of paper that gives the number? Just because research has brought up the 600 on the Folio Society that's not enough, it needs to have the right paperwork or numbering. Without the numbers or the slipcase the value can plummet, as would any first edition book without a dustwrapper, sometimes as much as 50% or more. To ascertain exactly which book this is, EVERYTHING needs to be checked. The size, the weight, the number of pages, the number of coloured plates, the publisher, any number of the edition of how many, the colour of the cover, what it's covered with, any gold lettering, whether the cover looks the same as the one on the Folio Society website. Read descriptions given by other booksellers who appear to be selling the same book, check all their details to see if any match the book that the shop has. It's all too easy to jump to conclusions from an initial bit of research. I have what I thought was a first edition of a Richmal Crompton book, William and the Pop Singers, mainly because inside it says First published 1965. It has a red cover or "boards" but on looking it up in a book price guide it appears that the first edition was published in a green boards, so can't be a first edition although I've no doubt people like me have bought the book believing it to be a true first. Book buying and selling is a minefield!

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