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1835 hymnal sold at auction for $273,600

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 6 2006 9:25 a.m. MST

A rare 1835 collection of hymns by Emma Smith for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fetched $273,600 at auction Tuesday — possibly the third-highest price ever for an LDS book.

The small hymnal, in mint condition, is a previously unrecorded copy and had been estimated to be worth $200,000 to $300,000.

Christie's Auction House in New York City handled the sale and believes this was one of the rarest of early Mormon works; the book sold Tuesday was a complete copy in its original binding. The buyer's identity wasn't made public.

The auction house's research revealed that only two other copies of this rare book are confirmed to exist. Both other copies are imperfect and one is very defective. The last confirmed sale of such a hymnal was in 1945, although one may have also been sold in 1968.

"It's certainly one of the rarest of Mormon books," said Ken Sanders, owner of Ken Sanders rare books in Salt Lake City.

He believes any LDS hymn books from the 1830-1840 period are so rare and scarce that they always attract extraordinary prices.

Sanders had created his own value list for LDS books last spring, after a robbery at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum, and had estimated the worth of the Emma Smith hymnal at $250,000.

"These prices are fluid and they change," he said.

He also noted the buyer pays an additional 15 percent commission to Christie's. The seller of the hymnal was also kept secret. The book was listed simply as the "property of a gentleman."

Sanders said the 1833 Book of Commandments is believed to be the rarest of LDS books. One was sold for $500,000 some time ago in Utah and another sold through an auction house for $350,000.

He rates the 1835 hymnal as the second-most valuable LDS book, followed by the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and an 1855 Hawaiian Book of Mormon.

The 1830 Palmyra Book of Mormon is the most sought-after LDS book, though not the most expensive. One sold three weeks ago for $90,000.

Sanders believes there may be some 30 of the hymnals, though he's never handled one in his 30 years' experience in rare books. Sanders said it is all but impossible for the hymnal to be a forgery. That's because letter presses make creating a fake book too difficult.

"A few leaves maybe, but not a whole book," he said.

Sanders said LDS books from the 1830-50 period always seem to fetch unusually high prices, above any other Christian books from the same era.

A description of the hymnal on the Christie's Web site states, "In response to a revelation to Joseph Smith in July 1830, Emma Hale Smith (1804-1879) was enjoined to compile a collection of hymns for the use of the new church."

It continues: "W.W. Phelps was delegated to correct and print her anthology, but the project was delayed while the Book of Commandments (1833) was prepared and printed. Then, before that work was completed, a mob destroyed the Independence, Missouri, printing office (20 July 1833). Once a new press had been acquired Phelps was then occupied with the issuance of the Doctrine and Covenants (Kirtland, 1835). Finally in the fall of 1835 Phelps was able to devote his attention to the editing and printing of the hymnal.

"According to one scholar ... 33 of the 90 hymns are of Mormon authorship: 26 are attributed to W.W. Phelps, 3 to Parley B. Pratt, 1 to Thomas P. Marsh and Pratt, and 1 each to Liza R. Snow, Edward Partridge and Philo Dibble. The remaining 57 hymns were adapted and partially rewritten versions of hymns in general use by the Baptists and the Campbellites, including 17 by Isaac Watts. Forty-two had been printed in one of several Mormon periodicals," the Web site stated.

The book's preface is unsigned but is believed to have been written by Phelps. It states: "In order to sing by the Spirit, and with the understanding, it is necessary that The Church of the Latter Day Saints should have a collection of 'Sacred Hymns,' adapted to their faith and belief in the gospel. .. Notwithstanding the church, as it were, is still in its infancy, yet, as the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God, it is sincerely hoped that the following collection ... may answer every purpose till more are composed, or till we are blessed with a copious variety of the songs of Zion."

The verses of the hymnal are numbered and are arranged by subject — "Morning Hymns," "Farewell Hymns," "Evening Hymns," "On Baptism," "On Sacrament," and so on.


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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