Bidder to pay $70,000 for Young's will

Auction among 5 — online and on phone — lasts 2 to 3 minutes

Published: Thursday, June 9 2005 9:04 a.m. MDT

The reported original last will and testament of LDS prophet Brigham Young sold Wednesday at a Pennsylvania auction house for $70,000 — right in the middle of the range consultants estimated it would go for.

The buyer, who requested anonymity from the Alderfer Auction Co., will pay a 15 percent buyer's premium for handling fees, which puts the total price of the will at $80,500.

Five people participated, placing 15 bids. The first bid started at $25,000 and was placed through eBay Live Auctions. The other four bidders, from Utah, California and Florida, placed bids over the phone. From start to finish, bidding lasted two to three minutes, starting with $2,500 increments. Once the will price reached $50,000, bids were done at $5,000 increments.

Bob Lucas, a consultant for Alderfer, said five bidders is a "pretty good number" of people interested in the piece.

"There are not that many people that compete in that realm," he said. "They're going to have to love history, love Mormon history. You need a person that has all those elements: interest and money."

It is unknown whether the buyer or the other bidders were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but Lucas said the buyer's interest was probably historical.

"The will itself is known," he said. "It's a known entity. It's not something that's shocking news. There are no surprises in this. The historical beauty in this is that Brigham Young touched it, Brigham Young signed it."

By the time bidding ended, the will was viewed on eBay more than 1,100 times. Although Lucas didn't have an exact number, he said many people called inquiring about the will, and some came into the auction house for private showings.

"It's kind of a benchmark now," said Curt Bench, owner of Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City, which sells and appraises rare and out-of-print books. "It's something to measure all Brigham Young documents."

Bench said the selling price is the most he has seen for any original Young document. He said letters with Young's original signature go for $5,000 to $10,000 and sometimes more, depending on the content.

Because there are so many clerical copies of the manuscript, there was a lengthy and detailed process to prove authenticity of the will, Lucas said. First, the document is checked for inconsistencies from the time period, such as paper, ink, printing or folding. Next, signatures are compared. In this case, 35 examples of Young's signature were used to match the 12 signatures and nine initials on the will.

"He has a very distinctive signature," Lucas said, noting that the 'B' at the beginning of Young's name and the 'g' at the end are especially unique.

Signatures were also compared of the three witnesses who signed the will: Joseph F. Smith, David McKenzie and James Jack. Six originals of Smith's signature were used for verification.

Dated Nov. 4, 1873, the 12-page will details monetary allotments left among 18 of Young's wives and 47 children when he died on Aug. 29, 1877, at age 76.

After Young's death, the will was contested between his family and the LDS Church.

"It was not always clear what belonged to the church and what belonged to the family," Bench said.

The family of James Clifford McNally, a Salt Lake probate attorney and judge during the late 1800s, sold the will along with 29 other historical pieces the family has acquired, such as a manuscript dealing with Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Other documents included a variety of commission papers for the positions McNally held as U.S. ambassador to China and Belgium. McNally's certificate to be a probate lawyer in Utah was also in the grouping, but only sold for $475.

Lucas said it is not known how McNally, a non-Mormon, acquired Young's will. Most of the McNally family currently resides in Pennsylvania.

And for aspiring LDS history collectors, Lucas said it is possible Young's will could be back on the market someday. Recently, Alderfer sold a rare Benjamin Franklin document that the auction house had sold 10 years earlier.

"You see a lot of that, particularly at this realm," he said.


E-mail: astowell@desnews.com

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