A visitor to Salt Lake City in September happened to read a story in the Deseret Morning News about the $105,600 sale of a first edition Book of Mormon and he immediately thought about an old leather-bound book sitting on a shelf back home.
This week, that first edition Book of Mormon goes on the auction block, too, one more example of increased interest in rare LDS documents.
Wednesday's sale, at Hessney Auction Center in Geneva, N.Y., features an 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, which LDS Church founder Joseph Smith said he translated from gold plates. One of 5,000 originally printed and less than 600 believed to still exist, the first edition's estimated price is between $70,000 and $90,000, according to Hessney manager Mark Witmer.
That was also the estimate back in September for a similar first edition of the book, but that auction fetched $96,000, plus a commission that boosted the price nearly $10,000. Publicity about that sale apparently prompted other owners of similar 1830 editions of the Book of Mormon to scan their bookshelves, leading to two more auctions since then.
"People say, 'Let's pay the mortgage off,"' Witmer said about the owners' decision to sell the books. As for the buyers, according to AuctionPublicity.com, "The cornerstone of the Mormon religion, the 588-page text has soared in value over the last several years as collectors vie for the increasingly scarce work."
A 1997 Sotheby's auction brought $32,200 for a first edition Book of Mormon.
A March 2007 auction of an 1830 edition brought $180,000, the highest amount yet. It was signed by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apostle Orson Pratt, with an inscription noting that the book had been given to its first owner by Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith's brother.
Wednesday's auction of the Book of Mormon will take place at noon Eastern time, following an estate sale that includes items ranging from Civil War bayonets to an antique Buddy L school bus and an 1840 cast iron parlor stove.
The auction also will include two letters written by LDS Church President Heber J. Grant in 1932, correspondences that provide a touching glimpse into his life and times.
The letters, both on LDS Church stationery, are written to the chairman of the National Employment Commission during the height of the Depression. In response to an appeal for donations to the commission, designed to provide jobs, President Grant's letter said, "I am supposed to be a wealthy man and drawing an immense salary, neither of which is true."
"Outside of my little bungalow of a storey and a half, the present market value of my assets would not reach ten thousand dollars," Grant continued. "It so happens that out of my fifty years of business life, because of losses in the panic of 1898 and subsequent losses through having endorsed notes for friends and corporations, I have spent thirty-two years of my life with every dollar lost before I made it."
In a subsequent letter to the National Employment Commission, Grant wrote that "The Church over which I have the honor to preside is taxed to capacity in taking care of its members who are out of employment and in need of assistance during these distressing times."
Hessney Auction Center did not reveal the name of the owner of the first edition Book of Mormon to be auctioned Wednesday. But Witmer said that it was previously purchased in a Hollywood bookstore in 1944 by Harold Lundstrom, former music critic for the Deseret News.According to Missouri-based rare book collector John Hajicek, who owns 80 1830 editions of the Book of Mormon, 250 copies of the book are now in the hands of private collectors, 50 are owned by libraries or museums and another estimated 250 are still undiscovered.
Recent sales of rare LDS books and documents
• October 2007: 1830 Book of Mormon, $103,900
• September 2007: 1830 Book of Mormon, $105,600
• March 2007: 1830 Book of Mormon, $180,000, and second edition LDS hymnal compiled by Emma Smith, wife of church founder Joseph Smith, $180,000.
• December 2006: 1835 hymnal compiled by Emma Smith, $273,000• June 2005: Last will and testament of LDS prophet Brigham Young, $70,000