PROVO — One year ago, Reid Moon acquired a first-edition Book of Mormon signed by Hyrum Smith, the older brother and fellow martyr of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.
The book, still in good condition, is presumed to be the copy Hyrum Smith purchased after it was printed in Palmyra, New York, in 1830. There is no mistaking the handwritten words inside the front cover: "Hyrum Smith's Book."
To say the owner of Moon's Rare Books in Provo, Utah, is thrilled is an understatement.
“Smith brother copies of the scriptures are the holy grail of Mormon book collecting," Moon said. "Joseph, Hyrum and Samuel Smith — those are by far the most sought-after and the rarest of these early Mormon books."
The Book of Mormon is a book of scripture for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But what makes this particular copy even more interesting and valuable is its history of ownership. This historic book of LDS scripture once belonged to a non-Mormon African-American family from Chicago for more than a century, Moon said.
"This one has just a spectacular story as to where it was and how it disappeared for 140 years before it resurfaced in 2004," Moon said. "That's the real story."
The book's journey starts with Hyrum Smith selling it to fellow Mormon Reynolds Cahoon for $1.25 in February 1832, when the two men were made counselors to Bishop Newel K. Whitney in Kirtland, Ohio, according to a book dealer's 2012 catalog of early Mormon books and documents, along with family records.
There are references to Smith's interactions with Cahoon on Feb. 10 and 11, 1832, according to Hyrum Smith's diary at BYU's digital collections library.
Reynolds Cahoon later gave the book to his son, Pulaski Cahoon, who added his name below Hyrum Smith's signature: "Pulaski S. Cahoon's Book Bot of Hiram Smith."
Pulaski Cahoon didn't go west to Utah with Mormon pioneers. Instead he settled his family in LaGrange, Lewis County, Missouri, where he acquired a family of slaves. After U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Pulaski Cahoon freed his slaves and gave them his Book of Mormon, according to family records.
Hiram Bradshaw, the patriarch of the clan, moved his family to Chicago where his posterity kept the "Mormon Bible" for four generations, according to family documents.
Hiram Bradshaw and his wife, Melissa, gave the book to their daughter, Emma Bradshaw. She gave it to one of her daughters, Mrs. Earl B. Hicks, who passed it on to her only child, Carole "Caroline" Lee Hicks.
Carole Lee Hicks was an only child who never married. She signed an affidavit on June 1, 2004, describing her family's history with the Smith Book of Mormon.
"The Book of Mormon was always a prized possession to the generations of owners in my family," wrote Hicks, a graduate of Northeastern Illinois University and a teacher in Chicago public schools for 38 years. "It was a sincere gift given by the Cahoons to wish them safety, prosperity and freedom as they moved north and onto new lives. … Considering the end of the lineage, as the last survivor I decided to return the book closer to where it started and to someone who will love, appreciate and cherish it as much as my family did."
In 1960, the family contacted Gerald G. Smith, then president of the Eastern States Mission, who in turn reached out to Hyrum Smith's grandson, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in an attempt to sell him the book. The family also contacted various book dealers to gauge interest and appraise the book's value.
That same year, Hicks traveled to the Library of Congress to see its first edition copy of the Book of Mormon and compare it with her own. She wrote a five-page letter to her family detailing the experience.
"They wouldn't tell me the value but I would guess $1,500?" Hicks wrote in the letter.
The family succeeded in selling the book in 2004. It's changed hands twice since then, Moon said.
A few decades ago, a first-edition Book of Mormon might sell for several thousands of dollars. Today one typically sells for around $100,000, possibly many times that if it's a book with significant provenance, Moon said.
Curt Bench, the owner of Benchmark Books, isn't personally familiar with the Hyrum Smith Book of Mormon, but said, “generally speaking, while there are often recognized price ranges (but which can vary widely) in the marketplace for rare items such as the first edition of the Book of Mormon, there is no exact formula to determining values. There are many factors to consider, especially rarity, condition and demand. It can be very subjective.
"The old rule of thumb, and it's not confined to books, is that ultimately, something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it," Bench said.
But when a rare item for which there is significant demand, such as the 1830 Book of Mormon, can be demonstrated to have been owned by a prominent person, is signed or personally inscribed by that person, and has a record of ownership over time, its value could be greatly enhanced, Bench said.
"Those factors make a big difference, especially when you involve the Smith family," Bench said. "This book would be worth significantly more than just a garden variety copy."
Moon declined to say how much he paid but indicated his acquisition cost was "significantly more."
"Mormon books are on the radar as being highly, highly sought-after, especially books with a story," Moon said. "I personally think that this first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon is the most important copy in private hands."7 comments on this story
Moon, a 1985 graduate of BYU, returned missionary and longtime collector of rare Mormon books and documents, also owns a first edition Book of Mormon that belonged to Joseph and Hyrum's brother, Samuel Smith, the first missionary of the Restoration. Moon also owns scriptures that belonged to more than 10 church presidents. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he often speaks to groups in settings where he can display the rare books and tell their stories.
“It brings church history alive. It makes these people real," Moon said. "It’s hard to describe the feelings you get, but it really brings you closer to those people."