Book of Mor­mon sets new record for most ex­pen­sive manuscript ever sold

Sunday Trust - - ARTS & IDEAS - Source: Guardian.com

Found­ing text of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints re­turned to fol­low­ers of Joseph Smith for $35m The printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mor­mon has been sold to the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints (LDS) for $35m (£26m), set­ting what is be­lieved to be a new record for the most ex­pen­sive manuscript ever sold.

The doc­u­ment is a hand­writ­ten copy of the orig­i­nal manuscript di­cated by Joseph Smith, ac­cord­ing to the LDSowned news­pa­per the De­seret News. It was ac­quired by the Mor­mon church from Com­mu­nity of Christ, a faith cre­ated by early Mor­mons that was for­merly known as the Re­or­gan­ised Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints, and which also con­sid­ers the text sa­cred.

Com­mu­nity of Christ an­nounced the sale price, say­ing that it was the high­est ever paid for a manuscript, beat­ing Mi­crosoft bil­lion­aire Bill Gates’s pur­chase of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Le­ices­ter for $30.8m in 1994.

“As far as I know that prob­a­bly is the record for a manuscript,” said Mark James of the an­ti­quar­ian book­sell­ers Bernard Quar­itch. “But ob­vi­ously $31m in 1994 would be worth much more now.”

Rare book dealer and au­thor Rick Gekoski was also un­able to name an­other manuscript to have fetched more money at auc­tion: “It seems a re­mark­ably high price, but with a will­ing seller and buyer that can hap­pen. Cer­tainly there are lots of items that would go for more … the Dead Sea Scrolls; one of the four orig­i­nal Magna Car­tas - or per­haps the manuscript of Ham­let? It would be a nice party game to think up oth­ers.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mor­mon be­lief, in 1827 Smith found gold plates en­graved with an­cient Egyp­tian writ­ings. He trans­lated them with the help of God and they are seen by Mor­mons as a com­pan­ion to the Bible. Ac­cord­ing to the De­seret News, the printer’s copy was given by Smith to the printer, EB Grandin, in New York in 1830, and it was used to set the type for the first edi­tion of the Book of Mor­mon. The manuscript was then given by scribe Oliver Cow­dery to early Mor­mon church mem­ber David Whit­mer, who passed it on to his grand­son, who then sold it in 1903 to Com­mu­nity of Christ, which has held it un­til now.

“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% of the Book of Mor­mon text, since only about 28% of the ear­lier dic­ta­tion copy sur­vived decades of stor­age in a cor­ner­stone in Nau­voo, Illi­nois,” said Steven Snow, LDS his­to­rian and recorder.

The LDS said that “gen­er­ous donors” en­abled it to ac­quire the doc­u­ment. It plans to dis­play the manuscripts to the public in the com­ing months.

Com­mu­nity of Christ said in a statement that the sale did not mean it was chang­ing its be­lief. “Church lead­ers know that let­ting go of this doc­u­ment will cause some mem­bers sad­ness and grief. We feel sad, too,” it said. “However, the church’s use of [it] 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 well­be­ing of peo­ple and pre­serv­ing the cur­rent and fu­ture mis­sion of the church over own­ing this doc­u­ment.”

Photo: CODY BELL

The first cou­ple of pages of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mor­mon.

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