PROVO — BYU's Harold B. Lee Library houses national, international and local treasures of history. Located in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections area of the library are items of great monetary value — but more importantly they are items of great value in understanding history and humanity.
This past week the curators and archivists of the library provided a tour of the area behind the desk and into the vaults of the library. Not many people get that tour, but a colleague from the Deseret News and I accompanied curator John Murphy of the library staff and a security officer to go behind the scenes.
After seeing photographs, manuscripts, books and accompanying art — any one of which is invaluable — I understood why the tour required a security officer. It wasn't just large sized items that were worth so much. On one shelf there were two small books, about 3 by 5 inches: An original Book of Commandments — the first collection of Joseph Smith's revelations was next to a copy of the first hymnal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both books are highly prized by collectors — a copy of the Book of Commandments alone has sold for more than $1 million.
Prior to the tour I met with four curators — one each over photography, movie and film history, music, rare books and LDS material. Photo curator Tom Wells, shared some of the earliest examples of photos ever made, a photo of the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in May of 1869, an inaugural photo of Utah's first governor, a daguerreotype of LDS Church President Brigham Young and a 1927 folio of Ansel Adams photos.
Film expert and curator James D'Arc exhibited an Oscar from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that was won by Max Steiner for best original score of the movie "Now Voyager." He also showed the original hand-written scores of "Casablanca," "King Kong" and "Gone with the Wind." BYU sells its own line of film music CDs online.
Rare books curator Maggie Gallup Kopp showed a French hand illuminated manuscript on vellum from 1496. This was followed by a book which, when unfolded, would stretch out many feet. It was a full hand-colored panorama of the Duke of Wellington's funeral procession in 1852.
Music curator David Day, exhibited some wonderful handwritten and printed early musical scores from the 17th and 18th Centuries, and gave a tour of an extensive music library of scores and recorded sound records.
Lastly were some recent acquisitions of photos of racecar driver and Mayor of Salt Lake City, Ab Jenkins, letters from LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley to Hugh Nibley and a manuscript of a Zane Gray novel. View more of these images at the gallery accompanying this story.
Even with the treasures they have, BYU's library is always looking for rare and important items to preserve and make available to students, researchers and the general public. BYU is also rightly proud of the fact that new acquisitions are processed and quickly added to the online catalog. Some institutions can take years to put them online.
We invite you to submit to us at UtahHistoryPhotos@gmail.com any scans of photos of movies and TV productions made in Utah (movies have been made here in Utah since about 1908). Also, we would like any photos of early BYU. If you would like to find out a little more about the importance or value of your old photograph please send it to us. Please also consider donating your old photos to colleges and universities and state and local historical societies or church history libraries, rather than see historic images fall into disrepair or be tossed away.