SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church paid a record-setting $35 million Monday to buy the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ.
Donors provided all of the money for the purchase made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The two churches jointly announced the sale Wednesday night. Both faiths treasure the document, which is the most complete copy of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon dictated by Joseph Smith to several scribes.
The printer’s manuscript is a handwritten copy of the original manuscript. Smith provided it to the printer, E. B. Grandin, in Palmyra, New York, in 1830, and Grandin used it to set the type for the first edition of the Book of Mormon.
The Grandin printing press that was used to produce the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon in Palmyra, New York, is on display in the LDS Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. Using funds from donors, the LDS Church purchased the manuscript from the Community of Christ on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. | LDS Church
"We hold the Book of Mormon to be a sacred text like the Bible. The printer’s manuscript is the earliest surviving copy of about 72 percent of the Book of Mormon text, as only about 28 percent of the earlier dictation copy survived decades of storage in a cornerstone in Nauvoo, Illinois," said Elder Steven E. Snow, LDS Church historian and recorder, in an LDS Church news release.
A Community of Christ news release included the purchase amount and the information that it was funded wholly by donors. The release said the amount is the most ever paid for a manuscript, exceeding the $30.8 million paid by Bill Gates for the Leonardo da Vinci Codex in 1994.
"It's new territory for any manuscript for sure, or any book," said Reid Moon, owner of Moon's Rare Books in Provo, Utah. "Just to give it a comparable, George Washington's annotated copy of the Constitution sold for $9.8 million in 2012."
Moon expected the sale to increase the value of other rare Mormon books and documents.
Elder Snow expressed appreciation to the anonymous donors who funded the purchase.
The LDS Church is making plans to display the manuscript for the public at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City later this year, its release said.
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The Community of Christ is based in Independence, Missouri, and previously was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Community of Christ bought a collection that included the printer’s manuscript in 1903 for $2,500.
The printer’s manuscript is missing only three lines of text, according to the Community of Christ release.
The LDS Church announced last month that it had acquired several tiny fragments of the original dictation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith placed the original manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1841. When it was removed decades later, water had ruined most of it.
As for the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery, who wrote it out by hand, gave it to David Whitmer shortly before his death in 1850. Whitmer guarded the manuscript until his grandson George Schweich sold it to the Community of Christ in 1903.
The first page of the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon, provided by Joseph Smith to the printer, E.B. Grandin, in 1830. Grandin used the manuscript to set the type for the first edition of the Book of Mormon. The LDS Church purchased the manuscript from the Community of Christ on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. | LDS Church
The LDS Church and Community of Christ have worked jointly on conservation projects to preserve the manuscript over the years.
"We are pleased to transfer stewardship of this important document to those who will treasure it and continue to care for it for future generations," Community of Christ leaders said in their news release.
Still, the sale was not an easy decision.
"Church leaders know that letting go of this document will cause some members sadness and grief," the Community of Christ statement said. "We feel sad, too. However, the church’s use of the Book of Mormon as scripture and our appreciation and respect for our history are not dependent on owning the printer’s manuscript. Letting go of this document does not affect the rights of Community of Christ to publish and protect the copyrights of its editions of the Book of Mormon. When a decision had to be made, we chose the well-being of people and preserving the current and future mission of the church over owning this document. “
The Community of Christ's Presiding Bishopric set the price after evaluating the market for the manuscript with consultants. There were multiple potential buyers, according to the Community of Christ release.
The LDS Church published the entire printer’s manuscript in 2015 in Volume Three of the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. It plans to post digital images of the entire manuscript online at josephsmithpapers.org.
Moon said the da Vinci manuscript was an only copy of 7,000 pages of his notebooks. The $31.8 million paid by Gates would be worth $49 million today, adjusted for inflation.
"But for actual dollars paid, this does set a record, and it will get the world's attention," Moon said.
Moon said if the original, dictated copy of the Book of Mormon existed in complete form, it could fetch as much as $75 million.
A first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon sold for more than $50,000 in 2016.
"Early Mormon books have appreciated at a far more rapid pace than comparable 19th Century literature. I think it's because Mormons really appreciate their own history and want to own a piece of it."
Community of Christ leaders affirmed the Book of Mormon's place in the church.
"The Book of Mormon is an important part of our church’s heritage and ongoing sacred story," they said in their release. "We affirm that these sacred writings do not replace or improve upon the witness of the Bible; they confirm its message that Jesus is the Christ."
The Community of Christ released an eBook edition of the Book of Mormon in November 2016.